Sam stayed for two more years teaching English after I, as she put it, “cruelly abandoned” her. During this time, she and Jeff (Remember our friendly neighborhood Canadians?) got married.
Sam soon got pregnant and the newlyweds decided to return to Jeff’s homeland for a while. In Canada, they had their first child, Hannah. Sam and her new family lived in Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, for two years, where she taught ESL (English as a Second Language) part-time at a community college and where Jeff worked as a tour guide for Japanese tourists.
In 1997, Sam and Jeff decided to return to Japan, this time to Hiroshima and then, to Okayama where they taught for 7 years at a private girls’ junior high/high school. In 1998, they had their second daughter, Emily. Both girls were educated in the Japanese public school system until they decided to return to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Sam has continued teaching: first ESL, then high school, and now Kindergarten, at the only public elementary school in BC to teach Japanese as a second language. Jeff and Sam now own and operate a foreign language academy.
After keeping in touch over the years and finally reuniting after 20, Sam and I remain great friends who still continue to make each other laugh.
I also reunited recently with Greg, our other fine Canadian friend, who also lives in Vancouver. He came to visit my family and I in Prescott and I’m pleased to report that we had an awesome visit which I hope will be repeated before another two decades pass.
So wonderful to see such heart behind old friendships.
As for me, the years following my time in Japan proved less fruitful than Sam’s. I returned to Chicago where for the first year I, yet again, lived and struggled to make ends meet alongside my sister, Mia.
I managed to find yet another underpaid, dead-end job managing a photographer’s studio and the occasional gigs substitute teaching and freelance writing, until an ad in the newspaper prompted me to apply for a position in Italy, as a nanny.
Desperate to be abroad again, thinking it would be inspirational for fulfilling my (then) dream of writing children’s stories, I donned my best Mary Poppins garb (carpetbag and all) and talked my way into a job caring for a handful-of-a-seven-year-old boy and a sweet-tempered, round-faced two year old girl and (unbeknownst to me prior to my arrival) living the life of a cloistered nun in a once beautiful, ancient, multi-partitioned, family villa on the top of a mountain overlooking Lake Como in northern Italy.
Talk about your opposite ends of the spectrum.
This lasted just under a year until I resigned (both parties being quite happy about the decision) and returned to Chicago where, once again, I struggled to make a living and a life for myself, returning to old employers and old jobs which, however grateful I was for the opportunity, would lead me absolutely nowhere.
In 1994, having had enough of big city lights, butting heads with my sister, and living in the midst of some truly terrible neighborhoods, I headed north to join my parents and some siblings already living in Wisconsin. Here, I found an apartment, a job at a small newspaper and, eventually, my husband – and best friend, Kurt.
For a few years, I regularly corresponded with a couple of my friends and a few of my best students from Japan, but as the language began to fade from my memory from disuse and their letters became far more complicated, I regrettably stopped trying to respond.
For many years, I corresponded with Tom, the Australian sailor I had met in Malaysia. It was always wonderful to hear about where his sailing adventures had taken him of late, even though each letter seemed tinged with a profound sense of sadness and loneliness. Even more sad was when, after telling him of my impending marriage, Tom decided not to write any further. Saddest of all, however, was when fact-checking for this book, I learned that Tom had passed away a few years back.
During my twelve years in Wisconsin, while raising my two daughters, Eva and Sophia, I honed my craft as the master storyteller you see before you, working as a writer and editor for local and regional newspapers and magazines and writing four remarkably fascinating Wisconsin history books.
Moving to Prescott, Arizona in 2010 and finding myself unemployed and steaming headfirst into middle age, I knew it was time to tell my own tales.
Honestly, I had as much fun writing this as I did living it.
And when my daughters read these pages, it’s my sincere hope they’ll still listen to my advice about life.
Most definitely NOT do exactly as I did.
Strive to do their own thing.
Have their own remarkable adventures.
And ALWAYS find good friends to both live and share them with.