Monday, November 17, 2008

Still Missing Oren Beach

Even after 18 years, I still miss Oren Beach. When I moved to Germany in the 80's, with two cats in tow and not knowing a single person, Oren was the guy who met me at the Frankfurt airport. He was tall and bushily mustached, with a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He didn't exactly fit in, at a time when Americans were encouraged to keep a low profile. I don't think he could have fit in if he wanted to.

That day, he shook my hand briskly, welcomed me to Germany, and then waited with me for the next flight to arrive from JFK--as it turned out my luggage was on that flight, not the one I came in on. Oren then drove me haphazardly around the airport, in search of my cats, who were quarantined in some obscure corner of the place.

Oren was my "sponsor," a military-designated role, although he wasn't in the military. Like me, he was a DOD civilian employee. Any newcomer, military or civilian, was assigned a sponsor to help them assimilate into the community and the country. Oren took his assignment very seriously; in essence I became part of his family. When he dropped me off at my hotel that first day, he told me when he would be by to get me the next day. That became the norm. Oren was always telling me when to be ready to go to work, camping, to wine festivals, shopping, dinner at his house.

Oren's family welcomed me into their midst without question. He and his wife, Donna, and their two children that lived in Germany with them, became my closest, best friends. I recall many meals at their table, with people of all nationalities. At that time, the military presence in Germany was 300,000 strong, with a massive civilian support infrastructure. There were many folks to meet, to break bread and drink wine with. Oren and Donna were always ready to have a party at the drop of a hat. They seemed to move at the drop of a hat, too. I would really like the house where they lived, and they would tell me that they had found a better house and were moving. It went on that way for four years.

Oren had an almost larger than life personality. He was a hard worker, ready to give his all for any task that needed doing. He believed in being part of and nurturing his community--and in this case more than one community--the military community we were a part of, and the larger German community, as well. But his roots were in the western U.S.; he and Donna were originally from Kansas and had American Indian blood in their veins. I still recall going to his house for dinner, and he would announce to me, "Kathy--we have a great movie to watch tonight--the best! John Wayne!" And that's what we would watch--always his first choice.

After four years, Oren and Donna moved back to the U.S. Oren had a new job he was excited about; they were moving to Colorado, where they hoped to own horses again. The last time that I spoke with Oren was on my wedding day. He called that morning from the U.S. to offer me his congratulations and wish me well.

Some four months later, I got a call from a friend that Oren and Donna had been killed in a car accident. I could not believe they were gone after only four years as part of my life. And even now, I still miss Oren, after these eighteen years. His presence was huge in my life. No one ever had a better sponsor.

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