By Marjorie Stradinger
Editor’s note: The following is the third in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the Dec. 9-15, 2009, issue, and part two appeared in the Dec. 23-29, 2009, issue.
Tina Hall’s childhood in a small German town was happy and not especially eventful. At 17, her life took on some drama, challenging her to apply teaching from her parents to rise above her circumstances.
Two failed marriages and three children, and Tina Hall wasn’t looking for another husband. She continued our chat over lunch at Café Belwah in Beloit, Wis.
“Then, you met Girard. Got married?” I asked.
“For him, it was love at first sight,” she said. “For me, no! He had given me his phone number, but that ended up in the garbage. He was seven years younger. After a while, it just changed. He was persistent. The kids loved him. Thomas was 12, Sabrina 11, and Kevin 4.”
Girard was from Gary, Ind.
“But his mom lived in Alabama,” she said. “We moved there; it was a disaster, culture shock. I was in the twilight zone, couldn’t understand the accent. My husband is black. I’m coming from a country where there’s no prejudice. If he’s a nice person, he’s a nice person. Suddenly, I was being attacked. Opelika, Ala., is mostly black. I never had a problem with the black men. But the women—it was as if I had smallpox.”
“Might it have been a good idea to visit before marrying him and moving across an ocean?” I asked.
She smiled: “We didn’t plan on moving here. Things changed quickly. Desert Storm was over…and things started in Yugoslavia. He still worked for the government.”
Only Kevin moved to Alabama with them. The older two stayed in Germany to finish school and work.
“Sabrina wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “She was a good student, and got right into nursing school. Thomas got a good job doing construction.”
“Extreme to leave two children,” I said.
“My parents came to visit every year,” she said. “They loved it. But they don’t understand a word of English. They brought Thomas and Sabrina to visit.
“Girard was a truck driver,” she added. “He thought it would be cool for us to go with him. We traveled all over the U.S. for a year—home-schooled Kevin. He loved it. After a year, I was ready to get out of the truck.”
It was time to change jobs. They had choices.
“New York and New Jersey; I didn’t like those,” she said. “Third was Kansas City. I didn’t want to live in such a big city. The fourth was Janesville, Wis. I said, ‘Let’s go.’ It was so much like Germany. We lived there for 10 years, then (the marriage) went downhill. I guess it was the midlife crisis. He started with open relationships. What is up with that? I told him, ‘If you want that, you don’t need to be married.’”
Kevin graduated, worked in construction. Tina held on another few years.
“Then you divorced?” I asked.
“This year. My marriage was over four years ago,” she said.
“Are you adjusting, alone again?” I asked.
“I feel great,” she said. “I feel fantastic. Right now I’m chillin’ for a minute. My dream is opening my own restaurant. I’m waiting for the opportunity.”
“Friends?” I asked.
“I have many friends,” she said.
She’s close to a red belt in martial arts, and Tina and her roommate share a love for movies.
“She’s into love stories; I like horror,” she said.
And Tina wants to volunteer somewhere. I suggested Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Beloit.
“How do you feel, looking back?” I asked.
“I tried a lot of things,” she said. “Failed at a lot of things, but never gave up. I love life. Life is too short to be (bitter and angry).”
“Are you glad you’re here, not in Germany?” I asked.
“Yes. When I look at Germany now, it’s horrible,” she said. “The economy.”
“Worse than here?” I asked.
“Oh, my. No jobs. The American dollar is worth nothing…way too many people for the number of jobs,” she said. “If you’re lucky, you can find a part-time job. How do you live with that? You can’t afford even an apartment? Here doesn’t even compare to Germany.”
“Do you think Americans are aware of this?” I asked.
“Americans are very spoiled,” she said. “They don’t know how good they have it. When they whine about taxes, they don’t know.”
“Health care in Germany?” I asked.
“The government is cutting back, not enough people to pay in for what’s being paid out,” she said.
“That’s what’s predicted here when Baby Boomers retire,” I said.
Her dad and brother have passed away. Her mom is 83, and probably won’t travel anymore. But Tina is content.
“I am happy with what I have,” she said. “Here it is open. You have so many opportunities. More freedom.”
Her mother taught her: “When you’re knocked down, you’re in a position to pray. And then get up again. Never give up.”
“And owning your own restaurant will be your purpose?” I asked.
“Yes. And whatever comes along. I hope not a man,” she makes a face.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at stradingerm@dishmailnet.
From the Dec. 30, 2009 – Jan. 5, 2010 issue