All my life, diversity, curiosity and adventure have fed my inner child, for whom creative work is play. I never could relate to the Calvinists who frowned on fun, or the Evangelicals who, at Wheaton College (the only school away from home I was allowed to consider), required that I eschew drink, dance, playing cards, movies and secret societies. I have so valued my Pakistan childhood that I was quite taken aback when my sister Julia, who was the same age when we left Pakistan as I was when we arrived, suggested that it was irresponsible of my father to take his family to such a war torn country. A long-time friend has similarly concluded that my parents had made “a blind bet on the protections of God.”
Such quite sensible observations had never so much as grazed my nostalgia, so I shared them with Dewey, who was equally dumbfounded. Dewey, though only five and a half at the time, still remembers stepping off our New York freighter into a cacophonous Egyptian port buzzing with thieves. Our passports were stolen. Soon sinuous calls to prayer from nearby minarets coiled into our hotel room. But we were not alone. We trusted our parents, who, passports somehow retrieved, appeared to have things in hand. “Audacious and idealistic might be a better assessment of Dad’s decision,” Dewey now concludes. Years earlier, having helped liberate Buchenwald after World War II, Dad had promised himself that he would use his life to help balance out the evil in the world. Never a Bible beater, he seemed more interested in fixing people than converting them. We take pride in the hundreds of kids with repaired cleft lips or palates who may still be alive today, or who stride the streets of Lahore because Dad did that triple arthrodesis operation on their club feet.
In 1954 our family returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where my grandmother Abbie Blocksma gave up her home on Prospect Street, moving to an apartment so we could start yet another new life. Reading at an eleventh grade level and refusing to go to the “baby school” across the street, I joined the two thousand students at South High School and started seventh grade. I was so small for my age that, in the vast halls, I was often called “little girl” and asked if I was lost. For quite a while, I was.
I knew how to be alone, however, and, although I have never fully adjusted to American culture—I’ve felt more at home in Nigeria and Costa Rica—I have found friends and lived an eccentric life doing pretty much what, when and where I wanted, an indulgence that has cost me a cushy retirement but earned me a solid sense of self. After years of wanderlust, I’ve put down roots in Bay City, Michigan, where I enjoy the comforts, pleasures and friendships of a real home town and, now and then, find myself checking Craigslist for a nice RV, about 21-feet, not too pricy, good to go.
MEMOIR WORKSHOP: This concludes my Pakistan memoir. I may do another memoir about my wild-oats-sowing Peace Corps years in Eastern Nigeria, but first, I have to finish a bunch of mushroom-hunting chapters to be added to a new enlarged exciting edition of Great Lakes Nature, to be published by Indiana University Press. My 10,000 new words and accompanying illustrations are due by Christmas, so this may be goodbye until 2018. Thank you all so much for your many kind and interesting responses to my Pakistan memoir I will let you know if it finds a publisher or if Little Red Hen style just publish it myself.