Happy Birthday Christina!Let’s give her a special cheer. Not only does she share a birthday with Bugs Bunny and my wedding anniversary, Christina has been my friend for 15 years. I’m sure Congress should issue a medal for that since I can be a very trying friend with my occasional disappearances, rants and laziness.
Hopefully she’s kicking back, taking in the wonderful scenery, weather and pleasantness of Hawaii.
Now it’s time to set the Wayback Machine 15 years which would be 1993. By this time, I had been an employee of Dynamic Graphics for over two months doing external technical support; helping their customers use the clip art in Illustrator. The “new car smell” had faded and I was learning to live through the company’s political order, namely an obstructive, petty piece of work named Celli (pronounced CHEH-lee, like Celios of the Red Wings). I think Pinnocchio was a more appropriate name if Celli weren’t a woman; Pinnocchia maybe? My boss CJ often taking her sidedidn’t help neither. Thus he will always been tied to the inept catchphrase-using boss-character CJ from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
I will return to the trammel twins later in the year but around this time, I met a silver lining in DG’s marketing department, aka the third floor…Christina. I think Mark and Ray told me she was fluent in Spanish and French because they received her assistance communicating with a customer in Quebec who didn’t speak English. My interest in learning French remained then. I was still subscribing to A Suivre to acquire the more colloquial terms and eventually I wanted to return to ISU or elsewhere to earn my degree. We met sometime earlier I think and I asked her if I could practice with her. Christina gave an enthusiastic yes and suggested we do so over lunch.
The French didn’t pan out due to my complacency and other distractions but our near weekly lunches became a routine until I left the following January. We talked about so many other pleasant things: her baby daughter Kyra, her husband Mike (funny story involving him farther down), her parents in Hawaii, my life, etc. Oh there was the usual gossip over work, humans are predictable and it seemed Celli’s reputation for territorial pissing permeated into other departments thanks to her “transfer” from IT to my group some time ago. Overall, lunch with Christina was more of a positive, optimistic matter to talk about most things French; she knew the language, I studied more about the country. We had also found a favorite hangout, the Penguin Cafe or as we called it, Le Manchot Cafe (manchot was the first word I found but it really translates to emperor penguin).
Christina is an amazing person too. She grew up in the Midwest and attended Illinois Wesleyan which is a couple blocks from my Grandma’s house. There she earned her degree in a foreign language, I can’t remember which, I want to say Spanish (hopefully, she’ll post a clarification for me). Regardless of the degree, Christina learned Spanish AND French, spent at least a semester in Spain and became completely fluent in both languages. It doesn’t sound very impressive to my friends who live in Europe, the Southwest or Florida but believe me, fluency in anything other than English in the Midwest is practically impossible, especially if you grew up there during the Seventies and Eighties. Maybe one could master Spanish in Chicago through the right neighborhood yet I’m talking about Central Illinois. Everybody takes a foreign language in high school and college but it doesn’t stick due to the lack of reinforcement. How I wish my brain were wired like hers because Christina achieved the elusive ability I lack, she can think in those languages.
Christina does have other great qualities beyond speaking three languages. I remember her sense of humor (I made her laugh), her generosity (she is wonderful to her step children) and patience (I was a lousy translator and often needed her help).
When I left DG and Illinois, I made sure I had her address to mail her a post card from Graceland and to correspond from Austin; e-mail was uncommon in 1994. It was her birthday that started the tradition we’ve maintained though. Since she is a fellow Leo (and the more rare July kind which makes us “better” than the “common” August ones, kidding!), I scored a Leo-themed card at UT’s Co-Op and included a check for $10 to have lunch at Le Manchot Cafe on me. Christina returned the favor. Nowadays I hunt down a birthday card every Spring-Summer for anything with a lion or Leo element. I can’t recall if I’ve pulled it off every year. I know I have also sent a lion-themed gift. Last year it was this trio of Fisher-Price lion toys; one even roared if you pressed the button on its back. My personal favorites were a song I made for her with Garage Band and on her landmark birthday in 2006, Somara found a stuffed lion toy wearing a grass skirt like a hulu dancer; fitting for a Hawaiian resident. We continue to throw in the checks for lunch but the amounts are higher due to inflation.
Ten years ago, we got to see each other while I was on my way back to Austin. It was a stroke of luck too. Christina and her family were in the midst of moving to Honolulu! It was one of her personal dreams coming true after spending many vacations there to visit her parents; they transferred to the islands after she was no longer living with them. Thanks to e-mail now being ubiquitous, we maintain contact to this day which is nice, the time difference can be confusing because Hawaii doesn’t observe daylight savings time.
My life is certainly richer thanks to meeting her 15 years ago and I hope she has an awesome birthday.
I will close with the funny story about the first time I met her husband Mike.
Outside of DG, I didn’t see much of my co-workers because the company was based in Peoria and I lived 45 miles away in Bloomington. Christina lived somewhere near a half-way point between the two cities. One evening, I was having dinner with another friend and ran into Christina with her family. I thought how cool to finally meet Kyra and Mike. Kyra was still a baby and seemed pretty busy banging on her high-chair tray, it was comical. Mike was rather quiet but cordial. I didn’t think anything of it. When we had lunch the following week, Christina told me Mike was puzzled by my appearance. I asked why. She said it was my jacket which was an old DDR border police uniform (from the defunct East Germany) I bought at an army surplus store. Mike’s mother defected from that country so he wasn’t sure if he needed to salute me by clicking his heels or remain silent until I requested his papers. Good thing I didn’t goose-step up to their table.