A letter came in November, familiar for its light blue color and recognizable overseas stamps. Airmail. New Zealand, said the envelope.
You must slide back a bit in time to know of whom I speak. There, you will find Stuart. Or, Stew-ert, as he claimed my pronunciation to be. But I could not help it. I was a 'yank'.
He would be here, in the States, in a month. It was his fondest dream to experience this country first hand, and he'd saved diligently for this adventure. Stuart told us once that every Kiwi he knew secretly disliked the U.S. while wanting desperately to visit it. Joyce and I wondered why so many people from a place we so loved would conflict themselves in this way. He never did explain it to our satisfaction but still we begged.
"What is there not to like, Stuart?" we would say. "Name one thing so many people there would reject here?"
Stuart, to his everlasting credit, did not or would not exactly say. The only thing we could get out of him was that the Liberal government there had had 'cool relations' of some kind with the U.S., perhaps surrounding the Viet Nam conflict.
"But what do YOU think, Stuart?" we would persist.
"Me?" he said quietly. "Well. I love this place. Full stop."
We understood. Joyce and I took him to supermarkets ("Brilliant!"). We dragged him to our favorite haunts, and to meet all our friends ("Super!"). One weekend we drove him several hours east to visit my father and his wife. Dad had finally forgiven me (I think) for going to University on someone else's advice and not his own.
But my father pulled me aside, and said in an embarrassingly loud whisper, "Are you going to get married and move to the other side of the world again? He's too young for you, you know. And his hair..."
"Dad, shhhhh - his hair's fine, it's just longer than you are used to. I am not marrying him, he is my friend. Don't talk like that please."
"Well, alright. Don't get me wrong, I like him. He's smart and funny. But a bit too young, you know.."
By the time we left the next day, my father was 'best chums' with Stuart. Knew all about his family. Could imitate his Kiwi accent. And secretly suspected I might run off to a Justice of the Peace.
"Well you just be sure and tell me before you do anything drastic, ok?" (in a loud whisper).
I didn't tell Stuart about it, it was all too embarrassing. But as we drove away, I looked back at my father and saw him making hand motions. It looked like he was miming a pair of scissors. Cutting away at something - could it be? - Stuart's hair!
See you along the way!
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/batega/1467019878/">Josep Ma. Rosell</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>