In my village of 2000 people, during the decade and a half, after World War II, I came in contact with exactly three foreigners.
Sometimes while standing in line or shopping in a nearby town, I’d hear an ‘accent’ which caused my ears to pick up and my mind to pay attention.
The foreigners in my village were all from The Old World.
The school nurse, an employee of the State Government, was from Lithuania. And in those years Lithuania was part of the Soviet Bloc. She was intelligent, blythe, quick, and efficient. Once when she came to church and answered questions of my youth group, explaining to us about life in her country, some stupid girl asked, “And how to you celebrate Thanksgiving?”
In rural Cook County, GA the country roads were unpaved, and down one of the most unpaved roads of all lived an old German couple, man and wife, and he, Mr. Reuter, played the violin. I though — how quaint, like a Grimm’s fairy tale. He was grey and shy — and played the violin !
The third foreigner of my early youth, was the wife of my mother’s cousin. He went away to war, and when he came home, something called a “war bride” returned with him. Her name was Aliz, and she was a Paris showgirl, and in fact he plucked her right of the stage of the Folies Bergère.
She never fit into the life of South Georgia, but she did write a nice introductory letter for me — to her mother who was still living in Paris, in 1960, when I found a way to buy a ticket - to Paris.
Madame Zimine, Aliz’s mother lived in a poor part of the city, on an upper floor of a decrepit building. The curving stair with an ornate balustrade moved dangerously as I touched it. And as I knocked on the door, it was answered by Madame Zimine’s roommate, another woman who spoke halting English. She was excited and animated by the letter.
My visit, it seemed, was something special. I was whisked away into the Paris night to find a bistrot bar, where we made a telephone call, alerting Madame Zimine.
When we stepped out of our taxi, we were almost within the shadow of the Arch de Triumph, in an area of swirling traffic and elegant apartment buildings.
Marsha’s mother worked as a servant within one of those elegant apartments. The two women received me with the style I’d only seen in old British movies. The mahogany furniture was gleaming and there was an autographed 10 x 14 photo of General Dwight D. Eisenhower placed at center stage on the Chippendale pie crust table. And downstairs the traffic pushed towards the enormous traffic circle around the Arch de Triumph.
I later learned that Madame Zimine was really Russian, most probably an immigrant who found safe haven in Paris.
All this, to me, seemed very Alain Delon and Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron.
And then there was Roger sleeping in an expensive hotel on one of Paris' Boulevards, with a man in a white suit - also a foreigner.