Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for.....

N is for.....New Zealand.

When I was 9 we welcomed an exchange student from New Zealand into our family. Steve lived with us for a year, and even though he was busy being a normal high schooler, he always made time for me. I've never forgotten the time he took me rollerskating. I felt like I had a big brother, and when Steve went home after a year of living with us, he was very much a member of our family.

That bond strengthened over the years. Steve came back to the US right after we moved to Green Bay. I was a sophomore in high school, and having a hard time adjusting to Green Bay. I really enjoyed having Steve around for a little while as I tried to find my place. Steve has always been a big music fan, and he brought me a copy of New Order's Blue Monday and a Joy Division T-shirt.  I had never heard of New Order or Joy Division, but I proudly wore the T-shirt to school. It was my interest in New Wave music that finally broke the ice for me at school. I'm not exactly sure how long Steve stayed with us that time, but for me his visit was perfectly timed.

Life carried on, and the next time I saw Steve was in Carson City, Nevada. My parents had moved out West when my dad found a new job, and I was living in Minneapolis by then. Steve had started his own family, and we happily welcomed Jo and their son, Connor, into our extended family.

In 1998, I was the first Riley to make it to New Zealand.  Meg and I went down over Christmas vacation for a couple weeks. Steve is a proud Kiwi, and he made sure we saw as much of New Zealand as possible in our short time. New Zealand is stunningly beautiful. Every time I thought I was looking at the most beautiful place on Earth, Steve would take us somewhere else, and I'd have a new top spot. The scenery was brilliant, but the best part of the trip was meeting Steve and Jo's family. I left New Zealand feeling like my own family had grown exponentially.

After having two more sons, Elan and Henry, and doing the family thing for a while, Steve and Jo couldn't fight their wanderlust anymore. Steve and Jo left the kids behind and came to the States with Steve's Uncle Paul and Auntie Carol. We had a great visit with them In Eagle Harbor, and then a classic night in Minneapolis. I'll never forget Paul and Carol busting a move to Hollaback Girl in First Ave.

The Kiwis value travel, and that was never more evident than a few years ago. Steve, Jo, and each of the kids picked a place they really wanted to see, and they set out on a family world tour. They went to the Great Barrier Reef, Siberia, Mongolia, Brazil, New York City, and they threw in a Tucson stop to see the Rileys.

My parents finally made it to New Zealand in 2009. My dad's health had been dicey for a while, but for those three weeks in New Zealand, he was full of energy and life. He was never really the same after that trip, but I'm glad his body gave him the chance to truly enjoy the experience. I think my parents had the same experience Meg and I did. They loved the spectacular beauty of New Zealand, but the best part was the people. They were among family.

Steve flew up for my dad's memorial service in January. He spoke eloquently at the service, sharing his unique impressions of my dad, a man he greatly admired. Steve ended his remarks by announcing that Jo and the boys had woken up at 6 that morning for a moment of silence to honor my dad. They didn't have to do that. Steve didn't have to come. That's just how it is with family.

And then last week, Steve's oldest son, Connor, called. He's taking a year off before university to travel. He'll come to Tucson in September, the next chapter in a long relationship. I can't wait to see what comes next.


  1. New Zealand is on my list of places to visit. I have never heard a bad thing about that place and it is beyond beautiful.

  2. What an amazing post! It's so great to have a friendship that's stood the test of time (and distance!) like that. I hope you show or link Steve to your post because I'll bet he would love to know how much he means to you and your family. I'd love to get to NZ's on my husband's and my list of places we must see.

  3. Squilla's AuntApril 16, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    There's something profoundly beautiful when people not bound by blood become family. I love hearing those stories. To travel from New Zealand to Arizona is no small thing; what a lovely gift to give to you and your family.

  4. Squilla's AuntApril 16, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    And maybe Scout and Quinn will do a college study abroad thing in NewZealand?

  5. A wonderful post. I'm so glad for your dad that he got to see that beautiful country and spend time with the man he had opened his home and I'm sure his heart to so many years ago. Plus I wondered in which desert you live and now I know.--Inger

  6. It's so cool to see the way people can just be thrown into a set of given circumstances and end up with a lifelong friendship. I spent a few months in Germany shortly after high school, and stayed with a fellow named Peter. After I left we stayed in touch a bit, and as soon as he was able, he made his way to the US. I, being a student in Tucson at the time, decided the best thing to do was to show him Mexico as well (A lot of stories from that night...)
    It's interesting how being in a foreign country can sometimes make you vulnerable in situations where you might not ordinarily be so dependent on others - that definitely opens you up to new people and experiences.

  7. OT: It's a haul, but it doesn't disappoint, it lives up to the hype.

    Sarah: Steve does read the blog sometimes. I'll be sure he checks this one out.

    Munk: Thanks man.

    Squilla: Hopefully we'll get down there as a family soon. It is exciting to think about the possibilities for the girls.

    CG: Thanks Inger, the trip meant a lot to my dad. I remember talking to him when he was down there, he just sounded different, so happy.

  8. Mickey: A night in Mexico with a German. Sounds like serious writing material!

  9. Haha! Unfortunately I don't remember a lot of it, so....
    Man, you're beating me to all the blogs today! The last four I've been to, you've gotten there just before me. I gotta start waking up earlier.

  10. What a touching post! Wonderful that you have this bond, and that it's only strengthened over the years in spite of the distance.

  11. Is New Zealand really as beautiful as it was in the Lord of the Ring movies?

  12. What a great experience. It is so cool how hosting a student can expand your family.

  13. My daughter left for a class trip to Brazil/Argentina yesterday. I wonder who she will meet and if she will make lifelong friends that become family. Thank you for writing this. I'm missing her so much today and it helps.

  14. What an amazing story! It's wonderful that you are all lifelong friends and have been able to visit New Zealand.