Those were the best days of my life!!!!!!!!

Back in the summer of ’89!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Next destination – Indiana USA. I was going back to the summer of ’89….this was my first overseas trip ever……when I was only 22! Now, that certainly makes me feel old. As some of you may or may not know, just after I finished my university studies, I travelled to Indiana in and worked on a Lutheran (Christian) summer camp for children, where I worked as a lifeguard. It was certainly one og the best experiences of my life – I learnt a lot, shared special moments and made some friendships which still stand strong and firm today.

On that camp, I met a very special individual called Karen Johnson (then Ibholm), and she along with her entire family, became the people whom I still today call “My American Family”. Most of her family now live in Fort Wayne , Indiana, and in a manner that only Karen and her wonderful family would get away with, insisted on picking us up from Detroit. We caught a bus from Toronto to Detroit, and then drove a further 3 and a half hours back to Fort Wayne. Consider that although the bus ride to Detroit had taken under 5 hours, we arrived at 6.00am, and that Karen and Lucy (her mum) were there before 9.00am.

We had been hanging out in the arrival/ departure area of the Greyhound bus terminal when I saw Karen and her mum pull up. We had not seen each other in 14 years (as I returned to work on summer camp again in the summer of ’92), so I did the only thing that you would expect me to do……..ran out, virtually pulled Karen out of the car and hugged her. As I hugged her and cried, I felt 14 years dissolve, and what had seemed such an endlessly long time, suddenly became only yesterday. THIS is one of my greatest pleasures, watching time disapate, and then realise that true friendships withstand anything and everything. Karen’s brother would later go on to tell me that it would present a huge struggle if he were to travel like Alex and I….saying goodbye when such a close bond had been formed! I cannot possibly describe, however, how amazing these friendships are….and although I too find it hard to say goodbye, the euphoric feelings of such genuine love and friendship certainly fills the chasm in my heart, that I will not deny I sometimes feel when I say goodbye, not knowing when we will see each other again.

After introducing Alex to Lucy and Karen, we drove back to her place in Fort Wayne, where we spent a “touching” 4 days. That very day, we had lunch at Karen’s as her “family” (and, yes, we felt honoured Karen!) where all about to meet Tom, the new man in her life.

Please, allow me to introduce the family:

Karen Johnson: My amazing friend, who lives with her “babies”, Gracie and Melbourne. I am including a photo of them. (above)

Camille and Troy Bartell: Karen’s sister and husband. Camille, you have always been beautiful, both inside and out, and you have what you deserve, a spectacular husband, who made both Alex and I feel very much at home. Congratulations on your pregnancy and we will be with you in spirit. We did not get to meet Chris, Troy’s son, but we hope to do so one day. (karen

Teresa and Tom Ibholm: Karen’s brother and sister-in-law. I love your warmth and affection! You have not changed at all! You just have 4 children since the last time I saw you. Allison, Kyle, Emily and Blake, it was a pleasure to meet you all, and you are all a product of your outstanding parents.

Lucy and Roger Johnson: Lucy, you are my American “mom” and I always remember you affectionately. Roger was always so loving with me, and I was thankful to have been able to visit his grave, and say my proper farewell. As I did so, I felt his embrace, as close as when I saw him last. Thank you Roger!

Paul Johnson: Karen’s brother. We chatted over the phone, and it seemed like no time had ever passed!

Grandma Ann & Grandpa Bob: Lucy’s parents and Karen and mine’s grandparents! Grandpa Bob died 3 years ago, and I can still fondly hear his, “Hello Ombretta” in his mid-western drawl. Grandma now has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home. Karen was a little worried that she would not remember me…well, she did, and I felt such warmth and affection as we embraced. She took a real liking to Alex too! Grandma had loved having me stay over all those years back…..she made great “cookies” and neither Karen nor I are willing to confess as to how many we could down in a solitary sitting.

Our time in Indiana was mainly spent re-connecting with my family and Alex thoroughly enjoyed watching this re-connection. Needless to say, by the end of our short visit, they had all taken as much a liking to him as he had to all of them.

Along with Karen, we also had the opportunity to catch up with JD and Sue, our Camp Director and his wife when we worked at Lutherwald in 1989. I want to say to you both of you that I have never forgotten you, and that is because you were brilliant in the values and morals you helped instil in me, which I have continued to carry out throughout my life. It was my very first overseas travel experience……and I did not stop there. I have continued with passion and gusto, always trying to leave a positive impression or mark wherever I go.

And yes Tom, as you saw, it certainly was hard saying goodbye! Thanks to you, Camille and Lucy for driving us to Chicago, and for showing us that you will always go the extra mile for us. As I close my eyes Tom, I can picture your eyes and your somewhat sad smile, as you drove away saying goodbye………I have no doubt that it was indeed sad, but tell me that it was not worth it! We will meet again!


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One Life! Live It!
Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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