Kristen Meinzer, Associate Producer
Kristen Meinzer is an associate producer for The Takeaway and co-host of The Takeaway's Movie Date podcast.
Immediately after graduating from college, I packed everything I owned into a Ryder truck and drove with one of my best friends from Minnesota to New York. After finding an apartment, I took a job with a non-profit, teaching non-credit classes over the phone to homebound adults. My area of specialty was film and television studies. And over the typical four-week term, my students and I would do everything from debate the merits of Norman Lehrer to discuss who, among us, was widowed, blind, or lonely.
After my first course wrapped up in late December, a student named Anne called me at my office.
“Kristen, during our last class you said you couldn't afford to go home for Christmas,” she said. “That made me so sad. I’m a Jew. I don’t celebrate Christmas. But this is your people’s special day, and I don’t want you to celebrate it alone. Please come to my home in Brooklyn and we’ll celebrate.”
Surprised and touched, I accepted the invitation.
When I arrived at Anne’s house a few days later, I knocked hard on the door and waited patiently. I knew it would take her a while to get to me with her walker. When she arrived at the front door, she looked through the little decorative window for what seemed a little too long. I smiled as big as I could and yelled, “Anne, it’s me, Kristen!”
“Kristen Meinzer! Your film and television studies teacher!”
Anne opened the door a crack, and looked me up and down. It took her several seconds to say anything, but when she did, it was warm and welcoming.
“Kristen! You look just like I thought you would.”
Clearly, she was lying. I’d crossed over from the virtual world to the real world, but along the way, I didn’t think about what Anne was expecting.
To clarify: My first name is Scandinavian. My last name is German. My accent is thick Minnesotan. My sensibilities are Midwestern. And I am Korean. To me, all these parts of my identity are incredibly ordinary and even boring. I’m just one of thousands of Minnesota Korean adoptees. But in retrospect, I can understand why Anne seemed surprised with my appearance. It’s doubtful she met many Minnesota Korean adoptees in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
After Anne served me up some Gefilte fish and apple juice, I explained my life to her. I told her about growing up – not always happily – in a suburb of Minneapolis, with divorced white parents and a Korean sister, who is also adopted. I told her about all the Asians in Minnesota (both adopted and homemade). I shared my favorite childhood memories, many of which centered around bikes, birthday movies and Saturday morning cartoons. And I told her how much I loved my Irish grandmother, who, like me, was an orphan at one point.
When we finished eating, Anne and I looked at her photo albums. There were pictures of her with her husband on her wedding day, being carried over the threshold in her multi-tiered dress. There were pictures of her with her son, Abraham, when he was a baby. And there were pictures of her right after the Holocaust, which she survived. She told me about how happy she was when she moved to America, about the thrill of having a perfect, pink American bathroom.
“Life is funny, isn’t it?” she said. “I get sad sometimes, and lonely. But I made it all the way here and you made it all the way here and now we’re here together.”
Before I left, we exchanged Christmas presents. I gave her a large-print copy of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” And she gave me a pair of green and silver pot holders covered in illustrations of vegetables. More than ten years later, I still use those potholders.