HARTINGTON — A Christmas gift that can’t be topped and a sisterhood that spans thousands of miles came together for a homecoming 48 years in the making.
Patti Guy of Hartington recently hosted her foreign exchange student, Monica Espinoza of Santiago, Chile, for an extended visit, thanks to her children who arranged for the travel and reunion as Patti’s Christmas gift.
Espinoza lived with Patti and her parents, Clarence and “Babe” Clausen, from February through July 1973, where they both were juniors at Crofton High School.
Espinoza’s mother had warned her not to be overly affectionate with her host family
- heeding that it was Espinoza’s culture to hug but wouldn’t necessarily be well received in America.
When she stepped off the plane, she was immediately welcomed into open arms and she’s had an extended family in Nebraska ever since.
“She always said ‘Mom and Dad.’ It was just like they were her parents, too,” Guy said. “She calls me sister all the time and we think of each other as sisters.”
During their recent visit, Espinoza recalled that time 48 years ago. She was a nervous 16-year-old who spoke no English, but the Clausens were patient in helping her learn.
“We would have to act out - charades, basically — so we could get her to understand what we had to do but she did catch on very fast,” Guy said.
The women stayed in touch off and on over the years with letters. Moves, marriages and changes in last name caused a letter or two to get returned.
But then Espinoza located one of Guy’s nephews on social media and the two were reconnected through technology.
Guy’s thoughtful children blessed their mother with the gift of a reunion.
Espinoza’s original travel plans were for June but the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel restrictions delayed the trip until earlier this month.
Guy said she recognized Espinoza immediately.
“We both have more wrinkles of course,” Guy said. “If I would’ve seen her on the street, I would’ve known her.”
It was two full weeks and a few more days of laughter and reminiscing and visiting their old stomping grounds - the Clausen family home in Crofton; the baseball field; and elementary school (which had been the high school when Guy and Espinoza attended), and a get-together with other classmates.
Espinoza also wanted to visit the cemetery where her host parents were laid to rest. She immediately put her hands on the headstone and teared up.
“It did mean something, she really had thought about our family as hers,” Guy said.
Both were sad to see their time together come to an end but they got an unexpected extra two days when they found Espinoza not able to board a plane due to COVID protocols. Her most recent COVID-19 test had expired by three hours.
Their extra time was spent going from testing site to testing site, trying to come up with some fast results. Throughout all of that, they still held on to those last moments together, making the most of it.
With neither having another 48 years to wait, Guy and Espinoza are already making plans to see each other again. “My kids say we’re going to Chile some day,” Guy said.
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