Susan's Turkish was the bridge

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Along the western coast of Turkey, October was clear and sun-drenched, a season suspended in golden ripeness. In the browning fields the villagers were at work harvesting cotton, the women's white head scarves forming triangular patterns of light.

Susan was 10 then, and the most fluent member of the family, though we had all studied Turkish nightly for two years. We had driven south from Ankara for the last swim of the season, planning to drive all the way to Alanya, the site of pirate caves and a 13th-century Seljuk fortress.

Beyond the bulrushes bordering the road were clusters of village houses, small whitewashed cottages of sun-dried brick with red tile roofs. We stopped to read a map, and were soon greeted warmly by women wearing the traditional work costume, flowered cotton blouses, shalvar - recently haut couture in America - and, of course, head scarves.

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I have heard Americans criticize this baggy costume often, but as a gardener I can't help admiring its practicality. Four meters of fabric go into the pantaloons, making them perfectly comfortable to sit on the ground in at lunch time when the morning's work is done.

Once on a vacation trip to Iznik, near Istanbul, we passed a woman working in an olive grove. Her costume from neck to ankle was a wonderful deep raspberry color, arrestingly beautiful in the setting of gray-green leaves.

This past spring Susan and Husseyn came home, bringing with them an invitation to visit his family in Antalya. They met while they were students in Germany and married a year ago, with his parents' approval, and ours.

Susan's Turkish had been the bridge. ''She is zeki, intelligent,'' Husseyn's father said after their first visit. I agree, of course, and am happy he thinks so. Husseyn's older brother is the principal of a school, and his aunt, contrary to custom, is the mayor of her village.

''When we left,'' Susan said, ''Husseyn's sisters cried, and his father put his hands on each side of my face and kissed my cheeks. This was his way of saying he accepted me.''

They showed us pictures of Husseyn's village, a prosperous farming community where rainfall is plentiful. There before me was the Antalya I remembered - the women in their head scarves and work clothes, the wide fields, and the rolling hills in the background. There was Susan, with a scarf tied demurely over her honey-colored hair, her blue eyes laughing at the camera. She was wearing the shalver sewn especially for her by Husseyn's sister.

I looked intently at the picture of Husseyn's mother, a tall, strong woman, much like me, and with similar fair coloring, though her eyes are green. Clearly the two of us share a love of gardening, but she must also milk cows daily, a skill I never mastered.

''You must learn to milk!'' I told Susan. She giggled. ''Yes. They gave us a calf for a wedding present. It's called 'Americali,' the American.''

My imagination leaps back to Antalya. I can see my husband politely rising early to help with the milking chores, and trying to teach me to milk, as he once did on his parents' farm.

I have written to Husseyn's family, thanking them for their invitation and for the kindness and love they have shown Susan, ''one of God's strangers'' visiting a distant land.

''Inshallah you will come next summer,'' Husseyn said, smiling.

''Inshallah,'' I answered. ''God willing.''

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