We live thousands of days in a lifetime, yet remember so few. However, I will never forget the day I met Matty.
It was a cold, cloudy, winter morning. Because I overslept, I missed the bus and had to wait for my mom to drive me. When I arrived at LaGuardia Elementary, the bell had rung and my sixth grade class had already begun.
Opening the classroom door, I saw Mrs. Gerardi at her desk with a strange girl standing near her. The girl blushed as the class snickered. I tried to slip in unnoticed, but Mrs. Gerardi called me.
“Dominick, you’re just in time to meet your new study partner, Matilda. She’s new to our school and our country. I know you’ll help her fit in.”
“Good luck understanding her,” Tony Brisco muttered. “She talks weird.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Paulie Santore, “Glad I’m not stuck with her.”
“You guys are jealous.” That was all I could come up with, not knowing why they were making fun of her.
Matilda sat next to me, smiled, and said, “G’day.”
“Told you she talks weird,” laughed Tony. “She’s from kangaroo country.”
“G’day simply means good day,” Mrs. Gerardi explained. “And Tony, it’s not kangaroo country, although Australia has kangaroos. Matilda's parents came to the U.S. as many of your parents once did. Remember, our accents are strange to her too. Accents are common in America.”
My day wasn’t any better than my morning had been.
Matilda whispered, “When can we get some tucker(1) and lemonade(2)?”
In the cafeteria line, she was excited over the rock melon(3). “Is it very dear(4)?”
I tried my best to figure out what she was saying without laughing at her, but it was hard because my friends kept making faces behind her back.
That evening, I complained to my mom about my day.
“Mom, I don’t know what to do.”
“Well Dom, maybe you should invite her to come for dinner.”
“You kidding? I don’t want to hang with her at school, let alone at home!”
“Dominick, remember I was an immigrant to this country. I know how much I wanted to fit in and have friends(5). It’s not her fault her parents left Australia and moved here. The more time you spend with her the easier it will be to understand her. Besides, she’ll sound like the rest of your friends in no time."
My mother reached for the phone. “Mrs. Gerardi must have her phone number. I’m sure her family will be happy someone’s reaching out to her."
“Mom, please don’t.”
It was too late. Mom was already writing down a phone number.
The next day, Matilda rode the bus home with me. Without my friends around to tease us, it wasn’t too bad. Until we drove her home—as she was getting out of the car, my mother volunteered me again.
“Matilda, would you like to come to church with us this Sunday? I’m sure Dominick would love to introduce you to his friends in the Youth group.”
“Is it the big church near the roundabout(6)?”
“Why yes it is. We’ll pick you up at 10:30.”
As Matilda smiled and waved, I grit my teeth. “Mom, how could you!”
“Dominick, you’ve invited your friends to Youth group before.”
“Exactly, I invited them, and they were my friends. You invited this Aussie, I didn’t, and she’s not my friend.”
Pouting, begging, even volunteering to clean my room didn’t get mom to change her mind. Matilda was going to Youth group with me, period.
That Sunday, I braced myself for the worst. To my surprise, the kids at church didn’t tease or make fun of Matilda like the kids at school did. They thought her accent was cool, liked her different words, and nicknamed her Matty.
When the band started to play for worship, I couldn’t believe Matty knew the words to the songs. Leaning over, I asked, “How do you know these songs?”
“We sing most of them back home, where they were written(7).” She grinned from ear-to-ear.
“Really? Where did you go to church?”
“Hillsong Church(8), Brian and Bobbie Houston(9) are my cousins.”
“Awesome.” It’s all I could come up with, after all, she wasn’t an ordinary Aussie, she was related to famous Aussies.
That was a long time ago.
Years later, I realized I was in love with Matty. Since we got married, I’ve had lots of g’days with my Aussie mate.
(2) Lemon soda
(5) "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 23:9 (NIV)
(6) Traffic circle
(7) Since the ‘80s, Australia’s Darlene Zschech has written many of the worship songs sung around the globe
(8) Hillsong Church, Baulkham Hills, Sydney, Australia
(9) Brian and Bobbie Houston pastor Hillsong Church, the largest church in Australia with a congregation of over 21,000
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