Our First American Friend

One day while we were planting some flowers, a friendly cat came by and started playing with us. We had never seen a cat with a collar as it was a big deal in India to tie a bell around a cat’s neck! Both of us being pet lovers, we played with this ‘stray’ cat and named him ‘Panchu’. We started noticing that everyday when we came back from school, Panchu would be sitting by our doorstep. One day it was raining, so we let Panchu in and he quickly walked near a heat vent and sat there. We offered him milk (as cats in India are known to steal milk) but he showed no interest. After an hour or so Panchu wanted to go outside so we let him out. The next time we went to the grocery store we noticed that there was an isle for pet food and we bought a can called ‘fancy feast’. Panchu came over that evening and we opened the can. He jumped from wherever he was and gobbled up the food. Slowly he became comfortable in our home and started to sit on our laps and also sleep on our couch.

It was one such evening when our doorbell rang. A friendly woman with short hair came and asked whether we had seen her cat. She said that she has seen him playing with us and sit by our door. The mystery was solved and we realized Panchu was not stray and his real name was ‘Ollie’. She introduced herself as Deb Brownson, who lived across the street. We told her how much we admired her garden as we saw her working on it for hours.

Who knew then that this day was just the beginning of a life long friendship? We asked Deb whether it was okay to feed and pet Ollie as we had become very attached to him. She said it was perfectly fine. Soon Deb stated coming over to our home with beautiful flowers from her garden and we introduced her to Indian food and culture. She met our friends and wrote down everyone’s names in her diary and practiced hard to pronounce them correctly. It did not take her long to become a part of our extended family as all of us were students at the university and hung out together. She played cricket with us, was invited to every single get together at our friends’ homes and started loving Indian food. She introduced us to garage sales and thrift stores and also a store where we could find day old bread at half the price. Our first experience of eating Vietnamese food was with her.

Deb was born in a village in Nebraska. She had moved to Lincoln (a big city compared to where she lived) for college and worked at the history museum. She was an avid reader and borrowed books from us and sat with us to hear our stories. She introduced us to Bob, her boyfriend and soon both of them became a part of our group. They started to borrow Indian outfits from us and dress up!

We moved to a different neighborhood and then to different cities but never lost touch with them. Unfortunately, Deb passed away because of breast cancer 12 years back. We are still in touch with Bob.

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