Mom and Dad’s Excellent Adventure
Outside Magazine, Santa Fe, New Mexico
In the late nineties, my parents surprised everyone when they applied for the Peace Corps. Recent empty nesters, they were a lifetime older than your typical volunteer. They were also no West African well diggers. A management consultant (Mom) and commodities broker (Dad), they remembered fondly the policies of Ronald Reagan and played tennis once a week at a private club with an all-white dress code. Without every clarifying exactly why they wanted to trade their well-appointed life for “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” they assured me, my two sisters, and my octogenarian grandmothers that we would be fine without them for a couple of years. And then they left.
Mom and Dad posted to Zvolen, a lumber and railroad town of some 43,000 in the hills of central Slovakia. Forget backbreaking physical labor: Mom taught English, and Dad worked as a business adviser. Early letters and calls indicated that they’d ended up installed not in a mud hut but an apartment building. The cement monstrosity wasn’t as luxurious as the sea-view condo they’d left behind in Seattle, but it did have flower boxes in the windows. In short, they had not contracted malaria or strangled each other, as we’d half guessed they would.
So we promptly forgot about them.
…Our parents, meanwhile, were too preoccupied to take a sincere interest. Mom said that Dad’s nightmares had magically disappeared, perhaps because he was getting a full night’s sleep for the first time in decades. Dad wrote that Mom was picking up Slovak with lightning speed. When my sister and I visited roughly a year on, we hardly recognized them.
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