Someone called our house late afternoon on Christmas Eve; someone very special; someone we had lost contact with but never will forget.
When the call came, I had already left for church for the first of two Christmas Eve services where I would help with the music. Thankfully Jim was still home. He showed up at church fairly bursting with the news: “Ranka called.”
I couldn’t believe it for she is a wonderful memory from 20 years ago.
Ranka was a foreign journalist from The Republic of Slovenia who was a guest in our home for all of October 1991. For about 25 years and up until the Flood of 1997, approximately 50 foreign journalists from 30 countries came to the Grand Forks Herald to work with us – to learn about the American media and also to teach us a few things about their homeland, their culture and their way of presenting the news to their readers.
When Mike Jacobs announced that a women journalist was coming from Slovenia he added that he’d like her to stay in a typical American home. I don’t know how typical we are, but our nest was empty and we jumped at the chance. We welcomed Ranka with open arms. She was so personable, so professional, so sweet and endearing and fun. She was a young wife and mother who missed her family but also was very appreciative of her opportunity to visit America.
Ranka went to work with me each day and wrote stories for the Herald about her impressions of America, our towns and our people.
Ranka also wrote stories for Herald readers about her country which lies at the heart of Europe, where the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea meet the plains. You could almost picture its beauty from her descriptions of the mountains and the blue/green waters where she and her husband and their 2-year-old son, Svit, would go for “holiday.”
Ranka, of Roman Catholic faith, enjoyed visiting our church with us. I took her to a country music concert at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. We cooked our favorite American foods for her which she loved and she cooked food from her homeland for us. I especially remember her green salads, simple yet so delicious: shredded lettuce, fresh garlic, a little sweetener and olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
We quickly bonded with Ranka and October 1991 flew by all too quickly. We missed her after she left. We kept in touch for a while and once she came to New York to visit a friend. She called and wanted us to come to New York but it didn’t work out.
Then, for some reason, we didn’t hear from Ranka. I sent her birthday cards in February with no response. Then the phone number I had for her didn’t work anymore and sadly we lost touch – until Christmas Eve day of 2011 when she called.
She had kept our phone number all these years and I’m so glad we still have our land line!
Jim had a nice chat with Ranka and wrote down her phone number. I tried to call her back only to learn international access wasn’t part of our phone plan. After Midcontinent hooked that up I called Ranka back – last Saturday (Jan. 7).
“Oh Naomi,” she said upon hearing my voice. “You sound just like you did 20 years ago. I would know your voice anywhere.”
And I would know hers. It felt like we were embracing in a trans-Atlantic hug.
It was wonderful to catch up with Ranka. She still is a journalist and mostly a columnist writing about everything from family to politics. Her husband also is a journalist. They had another son after she returned to Slovenia who just happened to be 18 on the day I called. And, they had moved which was why she had not received my cards.
After years of unrest in her country, which Ranka told us about in 1991, I read on the internet that Slovenia, after gaining independence from Yugoslavia, now enjoys substantial economic and political stability. It is the only one of the former Yugoslav republics to be in the first wave of candidates for membership of the European Union. It joined in May 2004.
I also read that Slovenia’s incredible mixture of climates brings warm Mediterranean breezes up to the foothills of the Alps, where it can even snow in summer. With more than half of its total area covered in forest, Slovenia is said to be one of the greenest countries in the world – and in recent years it has also become Europe’s activities playground.
Ranka will turn 51 on Feb. 16 and we vow to not lose touch again. And since she called, I feel Slovenia calling me.