Going Home to Strangers

I almost missed my connecting flight to Omaha due to a delay at the Portland airport. Quickly seating myself, I noticed a large, swarthy turbaned man searching for an empty place to sit. People near the few unoccupied seats purposely glanced away from the man's eyes.

"There's a seat here," I offered, patting the window seat next to me. His smile revealed gleaming, white teeth. I often talk to my seatmates to allay my flying fears. He told me that he came back to the United States after many years in India.

"My parents are in their eighties and not in good health. Many of my relatives live in Omaha. I probably won't recognize my nephew and nieces who are all grown up and have families of their own. After twenty-two years, it will be like going home to strangers."

"We have something in common," I said. "I am visiting my cousins in Holland, Nebraska, whom I have never met. I contacted them when I started writing books about my mother and grandmother who used to live there. They invited me to come stay with them so I could see all the places I am writing about."

When we arrived at our destination, I spotted a crowd of happy people waiting for my new friend, women in colorful saris, other turbaned men, and several beautiful children. As I paused to say goodbye to him, he made a sweeping gesture to include all the group. "My family," he said, proudly.

My relatives knew me immediately, a blond, blue-eyed Dutch woman like many of the people in their small community. 

After a week of sampling their Midwestern hospitality, I thought of the Indian man's phrase, "going home to strangers." The youngest in my family, my parents and siblings were all gone—but among these strangers I had "gone home." They reminded me so vividly of my family: the hearty fare, the simple prayer before the meal, the respectful way they treated each other and the overall welcoming attitude of the community.

I remembered the wide smile of the man surrounded by his family at the Omaha airport. I believe he had also "gone home."


Ramona Scarborough is the author of three books, has won prizes in writing contests, and has been published in national and local magazines.

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