When I was a little girl, we lived in Paraguay for a year. My Dad’s work had taken him there, and my folks, who are delightfully adventurous, decided that their 8 year old daughter could learn more living in Paraguay for a year than sitting in her 2nd grade classroom in Topeka, KS, so they took me along. Now, given that I was a mere child, some of my recollections of that time might be a bit fuzzy, or a result of not fully understanding the adult world, or just flat out wrong and completely made up. But, here’s something I do remember with a crispness that can only indicate it’s likely false – a story I’ve played out in my mind numerous times, embellishing it with details that served my fantasy a bit better. What I remember is that as part of this exchange program, my parents were invited by the American Embassy to meet other Americans and to become a part of the community living in Asunción and that, better yet, there was a man employed by the Embassy whose sole job was to host parties and facilitate introductions – to help people acclimate and make friends. In my childhood imagination, he threw lavish parties in an exquisitely appointed home, with an unlimited budget – all very Gatsby-equse – and one fact I do know for sure is that he had a “bird boy,” or a member of his staff dedicated to caring for the exotic birds in his home. This mysterious Gatsby fellow was what the Embassy, or at least my parents, called a “cultural attaché,” and what, for many years, I’d tell people I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m sure that was not precocious in the least.
I bring all this up to tell you that our very own Frederick, MD has a cultural attaché. I’m not one to name drop, so for now we’ll just leave her as my anonymous coworker who first suggested we explore Frederick for our new home. When we first moved here, I was in near constant contact with her – begging for tips on where to get my hair done, telling her about our neighbors and adventures in living in a real house, listing every restaurant we tried – but most of all, asking if she was free to go out with us, because, as you might recall, we moved here without knowing anyone, and making friends can take some time.
At long last, she scheduled a trip to Frederick and made time go out with us. We started by showing off our newly painted home and giving her the tour, pointing out interesting features like the box spring in the dining room, and then went out to hear her friends’ band that was playing downtown. We started at a table to grab some dinner, during which friends would stop by to exchange hugs with her and introduce themselves to us. In retrospect, it might appear a bit Godfather-like, but by the end of the evening, we had an invitation to a perfect stranger’s home for a Christmas party.
The next time we hung out also began with dinner. We entered the restaurant and, not seeing our friend, mentioned her name to the maître d and were instantly escorted to our table. The evening then moved down the street to another bar where she knew of a band playing. She set us up close to the stage, next to a couple she knew and once we were safely ensconced in conversation, she made the rounds saying hello to half the patrons there and catching up. The hubs and I chatted with our new caretakers, as much as one can 5 feet away from a live band, while awkwardly trying to juggle our winter coats and drink our beers. But as always, she’d picked just the right people for us to circulate with, and by the end of the evening, phone numbers were exchanged. The first set ended, and an exhausted hubby and I mentioned we might want to head home and did she want us to walk her to her car. “No, I’ll stay here, I know plenty of people, you go on.”
It has been over a month now since we’ve seen the cultural attaché and I miss her. I miss the fame and glamour of it – the feeling of being known – of actually having people rush across Market St. for a hug and to catch up. When we were out together, her aura of coolness enveloped us and I think people looked at us differently as a result – we had to be cool if we were with the attaché. But, like anyone so good at her job, she must have known when it was time to send us out of the nest – to have the tough love required to push her little birds overboard to see if they could fly. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into her downtown sometime and can rush over to say “hi” – just a regular girl from Frederick who happens to be close with the town’s cultural attaché.