During part of my growing up just outside Washington, DC, we had a family next door where the father (later Ambassador Cleveland) had worked in Indonesia for the State Department; their youngest child, at three, didn’t even speak English when they transferred to DC because his parents figured he’d pick it up fast enough once they moved back to the States.Â He did.
One of the children was a girl slightly older than me, and she told me a few stories on what it was like to live in a place that seemed perfectly normal to her, quite enjoying the fact that in her telling it, it was anything but, to me–having to wait for a hot bath till the elephants delivered the logs for the fire to go under the tub was just not quite in my daily experience.Â Not to mention that the tub was on the outside of their house, I guess because, well, you don’t let the elephants tromp around inside, right?Â But hey!Â She could top that!Â And she told me of the soldiers coming up the hill toward their home with their guns and how scary it was.Â She reiterated the point: there was the government. And there were people fighting the government, and they all had guns and sometimes there was actually shooting going on.
I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around all that at seven or eight years old.
Now, one of the sayings around DC is that the definition of a diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.Â And what I saw of the mom next door, looking back now as a mother myself, I imagine she could probably have dealt with those soldiers just fine by herself, though I don’t know if she ever had to or not.Â She was a strong woman.Â But I imagine that strength had to have been blended with a whole lot of that kind of diplomacy, on both her part and her husband’s, given where they’d been living; and so, her children turned out to be safe.
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