I stayed with so many wonderful families while I was in Tasmania, but my favorite family was one that I never stayed with more than a night or two. Because I want to keep some degree of anonymity with the people I talk about, I won't divulge their complete last name, but I will call them the M family.
The M's consisted of Alan and Rhonda, the parents (Rhonda has been mentioned a couple of times); John, the oldest; Ruth; Stephen; Grant; Elizabeth, the baby. They were a hard working family that made Keith and me feel so at home that for me it made the separation from my family at home so much easier. Here is my favorite picture of all of them together, sent to me by Ruth after I had returned home.
From left: Grant, Stephen, Alan, Rhonda, John, Ruth, Elizabeth
Alan, who has since gone to live with Jesus, was a typical Tasmanian. He was rugged and spoke his mind. But as rough as his exterior was, he had a soft heart...to a point. He relished persecuting me to no end. Rhonda was as complementary to him as Gae was to Ken. She was soft spoken and very sweet and always took up for me when one of the men would start their teasing.
John, the oldest, loved to torture me as well. One night we had a "Slave Auction" to raise money for the youth group, and John "bought" me...the reason he wanted me as a slave was so that I could carry something...dead possums.
There is a practice in the "bush" (our term would be woods) of Tasmania of hunting treed possums. Now, our possums (okay, okay, for you purists out there, Opossums), look absolutely nothing like Australian possums. While ours are ugly gray with nasty looking tails and crossed eyes, Australian possums are actually quite cute. That's sort of beside the point...anyway, John knew that I was squeamish and did NOT want to carry a bunch of dead animals, so he was "kind" enough to let me just tag along with him, Grant, Stephen, and Keith on a hunt, and he carried the dead ones in a canvas bag. Ugh. Gross doesn't even begin to describe the evening. *shudders* He only treated me like that because I was an honorary sister. Whatever.
Ruth was the youth director at the church and one of the first people I met. She and I clicked immediately, and we are still friends, calling each other at Christmas and occasional birthdays (however, she does most of the calling...I'm a horrible friend). She came to visit me a few years after I came home, and we had the best time, going to Graceland (my first time, too) and downtown Memphis. She and Rod got married several years ago and now have two sons who she home schools...how neat is that? Her oldest son and my son are a couple years apart, and have become pen pals of sorts. My kiddo is as bad at sending letters as his mother is at phone calls! I treasure the friendship we have, however long distance it may be. Email is a wonderful thing.
Stephen was the farmer of the family. He loved his family's animals and as far as I know, is still working the same land that was his family's land while I was there. The first time I saw Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, he reminded me so much of Stephen. Stephen also had a great sense of humor, too. I think that if you were a child of Alan, you pretty much had to have one!
Grant and I connected more than any other person in Tasmania, girl or guy. He was (and still is) an artist, with an artist's deep soul. Grant was such a deep thinker sometimes I wondered if he was really an old, wise man in a young man's body. He and his friend Rod (now Ruth's husband) came to visit me after Ruth returned home. We had a great time touring Memphis, once again travelling to Graceland (against my better judgement...once was enough for me) and downtown, even taking them on a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. He just recently got married and is now living in England.
Elizabeth, the baby of the family, was so sweet. She would cuddle in my lap (quite a feat since she was as tall as I was, and at only 13! She enjoyed teasing me as much as John did, but maybe not quite as harshly. Even though Australians speak the same language as we do, some of our words and phrases do NOT match. She found out about one phrase that here in the States is extremely rude, but one that, for Aussies, innocently means "very tired." She would always take a dig at me from that point on by repeating that phrase every time she saw me.
As much time as I spent with them, I felt as if I had become their American family member. I miss them still today, 17 years later. My hope is to be able to visit them again one day. The precious thing about them, though, is that even if I don't get to see them again on this earth, I will see them again in heaven. That makes the separation okay...for now.