When I opened an email with news that Marcio Melo of Brazil was returning to Ballston Spa for a mid-winter visit, memories that had been frozen in time for 40 years began to melt.
It wasn’t long before cherished images of the special bond we once shared as teens began to blend with the joyful prospect of documenting Marcio’s reunions with Ballston Spa Rotarians and some of the Rotary host families who had welcomed him into their homes four decades ago.
The last time I saw Marcio was in the summer of 1972 as I was returning home from a life-transforming year representing the Rotary Club of Ballston Spa in Denmark, where it seemed almost everyone had blonde hair and blue eyes.
Hailing from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Marcio’s tresses were not only dark, but also long and lush, framing brown eyes that mesmerized because they seemed equally playful and soulful.
But what had most impressed me about the Brazilian youth who had been welcomed into my family’s home on Church Avenue in my absence was his unbridled passion for everyone and everything he encountered in his new surroundings.
Whereas the members of my host families in Denmark had initially been reserved, Marcio immediately embraced me as his “Rotary Sister” as well as referring to my mother Audrey as “Ma” and my father Donald as “Dad.” He also found it as easy to interact with my six brothers and three sisters as he would his own siblings.
Marcio’s infectious laughter reverberated within the walls of our home where a den had been converted into his private man cave. His brand of Ping Pong Diplomacy included spirited games of table tennis after singing along to Beatles’ records while helping other Hauprich kids wash and dry enough dishes to stock an Army mess hall.
No wonder there was a bounce in my middle-aged steps as I made my way to The Back Room inside the Old Chocolate Factory on Tuesday, Feb. 5 to reunite with Marcio at a luncheon meeting of The Rotary Club of Ballston Spa.
Despite the passage of four decades, I instantly recognized Marcio by his sparkling eyes and charismatic smile. And when he introduced his 16-year-old son Gabriel, I couldn’t help but proclaim: “You look like a mirror image of your Dad at your age – except for the hairstyle!”
Marcio and I were soon reminiscing as if four decades ago had been four days ago. Shortly thereafter I watched with sisterly pride as Marcio made a brief, but poignant, presentation to the Rotarians – some of whom hadn’t yet started kindergarten when he was an exchange student in the village from the winter of 1971 to the winter of 1972.
The longtime member of the Rotary Club of Belo Horizonte-Sao Lucas, who has been nominated to serve as a future District Governor of Rotary International District 4520 (where the population is in the millions), invited the Rotary Club of Ballston Spa to become a Sister Club. Forming such a relationship would “create a channel for making good and decent friends and exchanging Rotary experiences with one another,” he said.
Marcio also thanked members of the two local families who he said had “opened their hearts and their homes to me” in a bygone era and who had “lived on in my memories and in my heart ever since.”
In addition to his time as a member of the Hauprich household, Marcio was welcomed shortly after his 16th birthday into the West High Street home of Claire Weaver and her now-late husband Howard and their three children. The bonds between Marcio and the Weavers further strengthened when their daughter Kathy resided with the Melo family during part of her 1972-1973 Rotary youth exchange experience in Brazil. Hauprich son Francis, meanwhile, resided with the Melos while teaching English as a Second Language in Brazil during his young adult years.
“Rotary helped with my cultural emancipation while my host families helped with my moral and character formation,” reflected Marcio, who will soon celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary with the mother of his four children, who range in age from 13 to 23.
Marcio also lavished praise on the Rotarians and families who had warmly embraced his daughter Natalia when she was an exchange student in the village from 2006-2007.
He also announced plans to spend as much time as possible during his February visit with members of the Hauprich and Weaver families – which he subsequently did.
As a token of his deep appreciation, Marcio – assisted by Gabriel, who plans to spend a year as an exchange student in Taiwan — presented the Rotary Club of Ballston Spa with a customized circular leather tapestry showcasing the Rotary International logo.
The international circle of friendship and goodwill it represents will surely endure for generations to come.