Appetite for story, friendship satisfied on Maui

August 8, 2012 

— The lyrics of Neil Diamond's America tell of hunger for a land of freedom, one rich in promise; a country where dreams can breathe and satisfy longing hearts.

Fed by hope for a better life, immigrants leave the familiar for an uncertain journey.

"We thought everyone in America was a movie star or a billionaire," my new acquaintance said with a smile, referring to his memory of when he left Holland for the USA as a 26-year-old.

While we sat in the Maui resort hospitality room -- me thinking I'd pass the time on a freelance project until leaving for the airport, and he waiting to move to a larger room to accommodate arriving family -- the real story unfolded. That's when I set my work aside.

Paul Jacobs -- or "Dickie" as he likes to be called -- told why he immigrated during the mid-1950's when Congress expanded the quota to allow additional Dutch families to our shores. One of two hardships put a person in line for possible relocation to America -- the Indonesian tsunami or a specific World War II experience.

"I was in a Japanese concentration camp in the Netherlands East Indies," this elderly gentleman commented quietly, his jaw tightening with the memory. "It was tough."

The Dutch were enemies of Germany and Japan. Dickie, whose grandfather was a German Jew, had been a teen when he was whisked away from his mother to harsh living conditions in an all-male camp.

"We were given rations, and we older boys tried to help feed the younger ones," he recalled, some as little as 6-years-old.

In a quiet voice, this survivor also spoke of his sister-in-law, Millie, whose father was taken by the enemy to never return. She, too, was imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Nevertheless, the 82-year-old man sitting on the nearby couch didn't elaborate on the hardships he and his family had endured. Instead, Dickie told about the wonderful life our country -- his country now -- had afforded him. A successful career, a home in Southern California and a loving church community were only a few of those experiences he was thankful for.

As he spoke, more of his blessings poured through the front door as his daughter -- a school teacher -- and teen granddaughter joined us after their drive to pickup Millie at the airport.

Initial handshakes soon became hugs as I gathered my computer and purse, my airline departure time approaching.

"Take this sandwich my daughter made for me," Dickie offered as he thrust it into my hand, my plea that I could buy something going unheard.

His sister-in-law Millie reached out with her packaged pineapple-orange muffin, insisting I take it, too.

Later, as I enjoyed the gracious gifts, I puzzled over their concern that I have enough to eat on my journey. Then, with more thought it all made sense.

Both Dickie and Millie still remember from years ago how it feels to be hungry.

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