Whenever Barb Mitchell calls me at The Herald-Whig or I run into her out in the public, it's always a pleasant conversation. I always walk away feeling better than I had before the two of us had solved another of the world's major problems.
Barb, who also makes one mean apple pie, told me something the other day that was not only heartwarming but eye-opening -- in more ways than one.
A few years ago, she traveled with her sister-in-law, Marty Mitchell, to Paris. Barb has a lot of French limbs in her family tree, and for her the French language is hardly foreign. She grew up speaking French and finds it hard to believe whenever I remind her that I took four years of the language in high school and the only French I know today is that "Lady Marmalade" song originally made famous by Patti LaBelle. (Truthfully, even though I can sing the lyrics, I have no idea what they mean.)
But enough about my bilingual shortcomings. What Barb had to tell me quickly made me forget about my inabilities to be able to change tenses in French.
Barb said she and Marty were exploring parts of Paris via the city bus route. It was not any kind of professional tour, simply two friends out on their own.
At one of the stops, the bus began to pull away and an elderly French woman was trying to get on board, but the driver did not see her and began to pull away. Barb raised her voice -- presumably, in French -- so the driver would stop and allow the elderly lady to catch up with the bus and escape any sort of potential injury.
Upon entering the bus, the French woman soon knew it had been Barb who had helped her, and quickly realized she was talking to someone from the United States.
"You are American?" she said, partly in question form, partly in gratitude.
The French lady and Barb became immediate friends. The lady was anxious to tell her how much she loved Americans, and how grateful she and many others are to this day that U.S. and other Allied troops freed Paris and the rest of France from Nazi occupation near the end of World War II.
"I will never forget meeting that lady," Barb said. "What a beautiful experience."
Ironically, Barb and I had this conversation on the 70th anniversary of D-Day late last week. D-Day is still a big deal -- a very big deal -- in most of Europe. Despite what we see on the evening news a lot of nights, there's apparently still a big portion of Europe that loves and respects what the United States has done for it through the years. They know that without the assistance of the U.S. armed forces they would likely be studying from Third Reich textbooks today.
I get so tired of seeing the United States portrayed as the ugly Americans by so many countries that will gladly accept our financial aid one day and then spit in our face the next. Have I been bitter about this for a long time? You're darn right.
But after hearing the story concerning this wonderful French lady, who insists there are many, many more like her, I have had a change of heart.
I'm giving the rest of the world a second chance.