I stared at the woman behind the check-in counter uncomprehendingly, unwilling to take in what she was telling me. I can’t fly home today? I have to stay in Boston another day? It was bad enough that I had checked out of my hotel in the morning and then hung around Boston all day, waiting to go to the airport. I want to go home! I felt helpless and disoriented, standing in the airport terminal with my suitcases in hand.
Three weeks earlier, I had maneuvered my rental car out of Boston and onto the turnpike, heading south-west towards Westport, Connecticut, the town I grew up in. Once I had passed New Haven, I started smiling as the names of different towns evoked memories. I had been back to visit my mother regularly after my emigration to The Netherlands 45 years ago. But once she left there, 10 years ago, I had only returned once, for her funeral.
I left the turnpike and drove into Westport. As I passed streets, I whispered their names, feeling the familiarity warm my body. I pulled into a parking lot. As I got out of the car, I stared at the shops across the street. I can’t believe it! Gold’s Delicatessen is still there! It’s been there for as long as I can remember! It felt reassuring that, in this world of rapid change, some things stay the same.
Another place that had remained the same, was the house I’d grown up in. It still sat back from the road among the trees, white clapboard with black shutters and a screen porch. There were cars in the driveway and people moving around the yard. I felt too shy to get out and introduce myself. Besides, it felt as though it would break the fragile spell of this visit to the past.
Three weeks in the New England of my youth passed by, joyfully and quickly. But three weeks away from home is a long time. And I was relieved when, after one day of delays, I was able to board a plane and return home.
But things are never quite as simple as they seem. Where is “home”? Back in my adopted country, I again found myself feeling displaced. It wasn’t just the jetlag. Spending time in New England made me aware of how deep my roots are there. And so I have one foot in each country.
I walked out into my garden and rested my head against the walnut tree. I told him the entire story and felt my roots extend into the ground under my feet. It’s ok to belong to two different places. Migratory birds, like White Storks, do as well. I can live with this.