Eva’s Family

Depositphotos_16573309_xsThe next morning I came downstairs for a cup of coffee. Werner and Neil’s had already left the house. Donna, Hanna, and I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh bread, cheese, and cold cuts.  Lively caffeine-induced conversation followed. Hanna planned to take us to the Maximilian Park to see Hamm’s famous giant glass elephant.

As we strolled across the well-landscaped grounds of this former coal processing center, Hanna explained how one particular building was too stout to tear down. They transformed the stubborn building into a huge structure of glass and steel that resembled an elephant. An elevator was embedded in the trunk. From the forehead, we could see all over the park.

Back down on the ground, we found a very cool playground. Instead of the predictable swings and jungle gyms, this equipment stimulated the mind and body alike.

The kids jumped into a giant gyroscope. My head ached just looking at them spinning inside this brain-mashing centrifuge. They got off then disappeared behind a row of hedges.  I followed them and saw the kids scampering up a tower. It anchored a zip line. Chris grabbed the handlebars and glided through the air. The other two followed. I looked at Donna “How much weight do you think that thing can hold?” She shook her head as I ran toward the tower. The liberating feel of weightlessness was worth the cost of looking ridiculous as my middle aged body whizzed through the air. A soft hill of sand awaited me at the other end.

“I’m going again.”

A series of hanging bridges awaited us next, challenging us to keep our balance. They hung mere inches over the ground, but seemed like a mile high. Hanna immediately challenged Alex to a game of King-of-the-Bridge. Alex struggled to stand upward as she jumped up and down – giggling all the while. I admired the way she could revert back to the joys of childhood, and how she inspired us to do the same.

Just like Eva.

Toward the end of Eva’s year as an exchange student, Donna and I took a family trip up to Lee and Shari’s mountain cabin and invited Eva to join us. It was our chance to get to know her better. We liked her immediately and found her quite mature. Her future was all mapped out, including plans to attend UC Santa Barbara. One afternoon, Donna suggested I take the kids on a hike to one of the local peaks. I didn’t want to, but Eva offered to help with the kids so I gave in. Along the tree-shaded trail, Eva managed to interest the kids in a variety of plants and rocks.  As the small lake came into view, we discovered we had it to ourselves. A patch of shade along the rocky shore provided the perfect spot to enjoy the lunch Donna had packed. Eva pulled up the cuffs of her jeans and waded into the lake, waving the rest of us to join her. “It’s warm.” She insisted, “come in.” When the shock of the cold water hit us, she laughed and laughed which inspired a splashing battle that drenched our clothes in the dry mountain air. On the hike back down, the kids spotted a giant tree and Eva insisted we encircle it. We followed her lead and joined hands around its giant base.  Nothing we’d done before. I broke off to take a photo of everybody. Eva was the focal point of the photo as she leaned backward facing the camera. Her eyes expressed the look of pure glee found in someone who could easily summon her inner child.

Just like Hanna.

After she returned to Germany, our family kept in contact with Eva. Months later, she  returned to California for a short visit. She looked happy and confident in herself. A few months after her visit, we learned that she’d fallen ill. The doctors found a tumor in her stomach. Werner and Hanna sent an e-mail asking for our prayers as she went into surgery. Eva’s doctors felt confident they’d removed the growth and we all breathed a sigh of relief. She was healthy for several months until more growth appeared. It had come back with a vengeance. We got another e-mail requesting prayer, as there was a glimmer of hope with a second surgery. Days later the third and final e-mail arrived. Werner wrote that Eva had closed her eyes forever.

Within a year, Werner and Hanna wanted to see “Eva’s California” and planned a visit to the states. Lee and Shari hosted a dinner and invited the entire family. I was hesitant about the whole thing, unsure what to say to these people. The moment I met them, I felt warmth. They were optimistic and eager to hear our stories about Eva. Over dinner that night we did just that – generating both laughter and tears.

* * *

Jill’s voice interrupted my thoughts. She was jumping on the bridge and waving me toward her. Even Donna was jumping. “My back” I said, shaking my head and placing my hand behind me. Donna just rolled her eyes. Suddenly I felt inspired – as if something was pushing me. I moved toward the bridge and climbed onto the moving deck which now oscillated like an escalator gone wild. Alex saw my vulnerability and jumped harder. “You’re going down Dad!”

My jumping was out of control. One by one the others jumped off the galloping girdie until only Alex and I remained. We made a truce and hugged. “Love you Dad.” He said under his breath. I noticed Hanna snapping our picture.

NEXT: Eva’s Lesson

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