Friends from Faraway and Long Ago: Kitsa and Lydia

Kitsa and Lydia were among the very few women in my graduating class at Eastern Mennonite College who did not wear a prayer veiling atop their heads. Why? Because they were not Mennonite.

Lydia Mattar from Jerusalem, Jordan and Kitsa Adamidou from Salonika, Greece were international students and my good friends when I attended EMC. Their origins both have a biblical stamp: Kitsa’s hometown was originally known as Thessalonika, the name of two New Testaments books (Thessalonians I and II) and Kitsa’s father from Jerusalem was the Keeper of the Garden Tomb, the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. (Photos from 1963 Shenandoah yearbook)

KitsaYearbookPortrait

Always on the look-out for fun!
Kitsa, always on the look-out for fun!

And then Lydia . . .

LydiaYearbook Portrait

Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter's Anatomy class
Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter’s Anatomy class with lab assistant

I was drawn to Kitsa and Lydia during my freshman year because I have always been curious about other cultures. In fact, one year Lydia was my roommate. It appears this inclination has run deep in my DNA. Now as I hold in my hand one of my Grandma Fannie Longenecker’s letters from college I can sense her keen interest in my “foreign” friends and a deep longing to know them better.

In this letter dated December 1, 1960, she insists that she would like both girls to spend Christmas at her home. Born in 1892, Grandma Fannie Longenecker was 68 when she wrote these words to me:

Dear Marian – Guess you’ll be surprised to hear from me, I sure wanted to write before, just didn’t get at it – (Reason) older and slower . . . . Ruth was looking for a letter from you so be sure and bring Lydia & Kitsa along home over Christmas, and forget all about paint etc, two of you can stay here & we’ll have a good time that’s the thing that really matters, I think I’ll be Kitsa’s Grandma of America – Do you know what she needs or wants for Christmas? Forgot to say I’ll pay her way up & we really want them to come, so make it strong, times soon here!

Later in the letter, Grandma admonishes:

Be sure and get arrangements to come home early & if possible bring the girls along. I’ll pay Kitsa’s fare on arrival & find out what she would like for Christmas. This $ 5.00 spot is for you, maybe you need a little for odds and ends or transportation home. Tell us what you are hungry for, that you don’t get at school.

Mark tells me ‘Marian will soon come home’ and his face lights up, so we are all looking forward to that day. Hope your old toe is better.

Grandma’s interest in Kitsa persisted through most of my college years. In her letter of March 8, 1962, she referred to Kitsa and her roommate pictured on the front page of Christian Living magazine (February 1962).

For over 25 years, my Grandma and Aunt Ruthie practiced peace and goodwill toward all, as they opened their home to refugee and immigrant families, beginning with Phuong (pictured below), a young woman who arrived by boat from Vietnam. Their home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family; it was a safe haven, welcoming refugees from a colláge of countries including Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.

1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

Although she graciously accepted the Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services in the 1990s, Aunt Ruthie never bragged about her benevolence. From her perspective, she was merely sharing the love of Christ and fulfilling the statement of Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonite faith:

Framed print on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie's sitting room, 1996
Framed illustration on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s sitting room, 1996

In a noisy world where some speak of building tall walls and wish to spread terror and violence, I am thankful for my heritage including an education at an institution, now Eastern Mennonite University, where the language of peace is preached and modeled. In fact, it is now possible to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees in justice and peace-building at the University.

EMUJusticPeaceQuote

 

Regrettably, the contact information I have currently for both Kitsa and Lydia has not yielded any results, so I don’t know what paths their lives have taken. But I do know that their lives, like mine, have been imprinted with the power of peace, a message this world could stand a good dose of in these troubled times.

Postcript:

Just this morning, December 11, 2015, I had a long phone conversation with Kitsa, her smooth, alto voice music to my ears. She now lives with her husband in North Carolina and is very active at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church where she is head of the Hellenic Culture initiative. She also gives private Greek language lessons.


 

How have international friendships affected your life? Have you connected with long-lost friends recently?

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53 thoughts on “Friends from Faraway and Long Ago: Kitsa and Lydia

  1. Marian, I love this post so much with its message of long ago friendship and peace among all people. Thanks for the excerpt from your grandmother’s letter. I don’t know what her voice sounded like, but I heard a voice in my head with the “Pennsylvania Dutch” inflection that I’ve heard. To me, it’s her kindness and generosity of soul that radiates out from that note, more than her curiosity about the women. In this time of hate-filled rhetoric, it is wonderful to know that there are those who espouse peace and goodwill to all.

    I hope you are able to reconnect with Lydia and Kitsa! A family member of mine just discovered relatives of hers that she did not know existed, so it’s possible!

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    1. My sister Jean has referred to our Grandma Longenecker as St. Grandma. But, trust me, if a halo ever had appeared above her head, she’s surely brush it off! She used some Pennsylvania Dutch expressions, but she did not have a noticeable “Dutchy” accent. She was from originally from Dauphin County, not Lancaster; perhaps that made some difference.

      I’d love to re-connect with Lydia and/or Kitsa. Thank you for the re-assurance that it’s possible – and for showing up here, always an early bird!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t contacted any long lost friends Marian but I’m lucky that each new day brings me a friend from somewhere abroad . New understanding, new friendship and new learning. I’m very lucky.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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    1. You are very lucky, as you say, because you reach out with your blog connections – and with your books! Other readers and writers detect your generous heart and respond accordingly. Huge hugs back to you, David.

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  3. That’s some wonderful DNA you’ve inherited Marian! St. Grandma is apt, though I can imagine her brushing away such a title. May there be more BA degrees worldwide in Justice and Peace-building. May there be more people in the world who open their hearts and homes to others in need, more people who know that most people in the world pose no threat. More people who believe in love and kindness, who are prepared to go the extra mile, or who just go about their ordinary day, willing to help when needed. Like that lovely brother of yours. Like you, like St. Grandma, like these lovely people you reach in your blog –

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  4. I echo the words of those who have already commented, Marian. Your grandmother sure was a special lady, and I am sure you have inherited those peace and love genes.
    I love reading your stories of your younger days and of your family. May peace be with you and your family this Christmas.

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    1. Your smiling face here means that we are hearing from another hemisphere, another continent, Australia. I believe you too are writing about your family history in both poetry and prose. Brava to you for that, and thank you for stopping by to comment.

      Peace to you and your family also!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a generous and open-minded grandma you had and I am sure her spirit still lives on through you: I can feel it in your writing. I love the sound of that Justice and Peace-building degree: what a marvellous idea! ☺

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      1. Most Mennonite and some Church of the Brethren and Quaker colleges and universities offer degrees in peacebuilding of some kind. EMU’s CJP is the most renowned graduate program.

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  6. I loved this post! I love your Grandma! I wish I could have known her! Being a former English as a Second Language tutor, I have many friends from all over this world. We’ve had many in our home. I am especially interested in the two girls you talk about in this post. I’ve always wanted to go to Greece and my denomination, Free Methodist, now has a church in Thessaloniki with an extended ministry! I’ve been to Jerusalem and to the garden tomb. Thank you for sharing this very interesting post with us. 🙂

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    1. You’re welcome, Mimi. I often see you chiming in with our mutual colleagues on Facebook. How nice it would be to get together sometime. Remember cooperative learning and one of the 5 tenets: “Face to Face Interaction.” Those Johnsons were really on to something.

      Thanks for commenting here

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  7. Marian — I love that you come from a long line of people who LIVE peace and goodwill day in and day out, not just as a seasonal sentiment. Further, I delightfully floored to know that it’s now possible to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees in justice and peace-building. Who knew?! I enjoyed launching my day with this positive and uplifting post. Thank you!

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    1. Selfishness was one character trait Grandma would never tolerate. The only time I ever heard her criticize someone was for that . . . mentioned it once, and never again. We took the hint!

      I imagine the link to justice and peace-building is getting a workout today. I hope so!. Thanks for the comment and the “share,” Laurie!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a great post.It amazes me how you’ve kept so many things from your childhood and college. It’s always nice to catch up with old friends. One day my daughter got a message on Facebook asking her if her mother’s name was Gloria if so please call me, and left her number. Shanti called me to ask me what to do. I said call to see if it’s a friend or a foe. We laughed. I never knew. Remember I was a bully as a teenager. Shanti called back crying to tell me it was a friend named Mildred who had been looking for me to thank me for helping her when she was homeless with her baby, and she was crying to finally find me. I called her and we’ve been communicating ever since. Life and God is good. Hope you find your friends.
    Gloria

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  9. How wonderful that your grandmother took such an interest in your foreign friends! My grandmother was the same. It is also what I love so much about the Mennonites. If only the entire world would embrace each others uniqueness and learn from each other. It is obvious your family has passed this sense of inclusiveness on to you.

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    1. You have a similar heritage, Darlene: Look at you now – an author whose main character treks the world in search of adventure and meaning. Then you and your husband migrating from Canada to Spain ever widening your world view. Kudos to you too!

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  10. Wonderful post, Marian. When I was doing my undergraduate work (Brethren College) we had two women on our dorm floor from Viet Nam, one from India, and two from Indian reservations. Our floor was a caring, interactive blend of personalities…and great discussions.

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    1. Once again today, I am struck by the similarities in our upbringing: Anabaptist world view and a college with sincere interest in international students. I’m guessing you could write a similar blog post. Actually, maybe you already have – I haven’t “known” you that long online.

      I always look forward to your take on topics here. Thank you, Marylin.

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  11. Lovely story Marian . The more I get to know your incredible family , the more I wish I’d met them …amazing .
    I have a customer that I had when I was sixteen and training in hairdressing . When I left to open my on shop she followed me . She had little money and worked really hard for her family …she suffered from stress related illness …so did I …and there was always and understanding between us …we used to dream together. One day her dream came true. Her husband got a job in Devon, and they all moved by the sea. Thirty years later I’ve managed my dream to live in Wales by the sea. Ann and myself are still in touch after all those years . It’s been many years since we have seen each, so we must arrange to meet up . I reckon we will still be dreaming even now.
    Cherryx

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    1. What a rich, rich story. It reminds me of the Mother Abess in Sound of Music when she sings “Climb ev’ry Mountain”

      Follow every rainbow / Till you find your dream. I’m happy you and your friend have each found a dream come true, Cherry!

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  12. Those early days of “international students” at EMC/EMU certainly led us all in a direction which helped us meet and know the “other” as current President Loren Swartzentruber has talked about recently in regard to terrorism and inter-religious and international relations.

    My parents spent years hosting a variety of international visitors which I intend to write about sometime too! Regarding connecting after we’ve lost contact, I’m thrilled to have recently connected with a high school friend from Florida. She’s an active Facebooker, so it feels like another piece of my life has been connected again. I would LOVE to track down my Spanish roommates from Barcelona (so far no luck). Thanks for this fascinating throwback.

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    1. We introduced our teen-age children to international students through Mennonite Your Way, a great way to connect with the “other,” as you say.

      It seems you would have a good excuse to travel to Barcelona as your renewed connection to your high school friend would warrant. Thanks you for always adding spice to the conversation here, Melodie.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Have you ever read the book Common Fire, Marian? It describes the powerful effect on children when their families show kindness to strangers, especially strangers from another culture. I love the pictures here, all of them. And I see the connections all the way back in time. Gives me hope for the future, too. Maybe EMU can help you find your international friends. In any case, I’ll send this post along to them.

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    1. Just this morning I had a long talk with Kitsa, whose address and phone number I was able to retrieve. Her voice was music to my ears. (I will update my post now to reflect that happy news.)

      I was on the committee chaired by Lee Yoder to help gather letters for our 50-year reunion, but no one was able to connect with Lydia then. I probably need to check with the alumni association in case there is updated information for her now.

      Thank you for keeping your finger on the pulse, Shirley. What an ambassador for peace you are! And thank you for the book reference too.

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  14. Sure seems the world could use a dose of your Aunt and grandmother in these times Marian. A lovely post to remind others about, humanity, mankind and acceptance. 🙂

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    1. Like me, you obviously have found faces, long gone from view turn up in unexpected places. I have poked into your website and have enjoyed the variety, especially the table-scapes which give me ideas about how to jazz up mine and be more bold!

      Thank you for visiting here today. Please stop by again, Sheryl.

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  15. Because of my job with the tour operator I made many foreign friends. Sadly, some I ha e lost touch with and some, like my lovely Tunisian friend, Abdel, are no longer with us. Others though, like my wonderful friend Lesley in Morocco, I still regularly speak to on Facebook. Blogging has introduced me to other friends in places like America and France and given me a window into their lives. Thank you for this look into yours. 🙂

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  16. Marian … I love your Grandma’s welcoming spirit. But I’d expect nothing less of those who hail from the Pennsylvania-Dutch area. 😉

    Central New York, where I grew up, was culturally diverse. I went to high school in an area where many first-generation Polish immigrants lived. In Syracuse, I lived in areas that were predominantly Italian-American (as were my godparents), German, Irish, Vietnamese, etc. I was friends with those from many cultures. I really enjoyed learning about their interests, sharing their food and music. Their friendship fueled my interest in traveling abroad and working with immigrants who are learning the English language.

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      1. I’m teaching 7th and 8th grade ESOL or ELL (English Language Learners) classes now as well as 7th and 8th grade Advanced classes. Before this year, I had a few ESOL students integrated in regular classes. A few years ago, the district decided to have separate ESOL classes. It’s a good thing. This way, they get more one-on-one attention. (The year before I started teaching, I volunteered at Operation Hope’s after school reading program. The participants were mostly children of migrant workers.)

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        1. How fortunate such students have the advantage of your creativity and care. I remember second-language students on the college level having lots of difficulty with subject-verb agreement and use of definite and indefinite articles.

          Liked by 2 people

  17. I just now had a chance to read and certainly enjoyed. You had a very interesting life. I love to read your blogs.

    Pat Stapp Sent from my iPad

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    1. You know, Pat, my life seemed kind of boring as I was living it, but the older I get the more I see the charm and security the boundaries of my Mennonite life provided. Thank you for noticing.

      Like

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