March Slice of Life No. 14
From my Travel Journal
“Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.”
I stepped from the car to the curb. The air was warm, as days in late September can be. Car exhaust was heavy. People were hugging and kissing and waving and hurrying, dragging their luggage.
Kim opened the car trunk, and I lifted out my bags. Set them on the curb. We hugged and hugged again.
“Do you know when you’ll be back?”
“No, nothing definite.”
I’d just completed a week of professional development with several schools. Kim had hosted me in her home, something she does whenever I work in Murfreesboro. A few years ago, I wrote a poem — “Sittin’ on a Tennessee Porch” (here) — inspired by a leisurely morning on her back porch.
We had talked nonstop the entire drive to the Nashville airport, and we still had more to share. But time had run out. I hooked my bags together so I could drag them easily to the ticket counter and Kim drove away. I started to enter the airport, but noticed that the curbside check-in was empty. In a moment, I did what I usually don’t do: I decide to curb check.
I handed my boarding passes and ID to the skycap with the normal exchange of how-are-you-today. Bending over my bags to make sure the zippers were closed and to take off the strap that hooks the two bags together, I heard him say with the inflection of a question, “Your last name is NINE?”
Now, it is not uncommon to have people react to my last name. They try to make it two syllables. They ask its origin. They crack jokes about it. But his remark was different. There was astonishment in his statement/question.
I looked up and said, “Yes?”
With an exclamation, he lifted his name badge. Ralph Nine.
There we stood — a skycap and a passenger–two strangers but family. We swapped ancestral stories. How two brothers had sailed to the New World in 1736. How one brother had settled in Virginia (his side), and the other in Pennsylvania (my husband’s side). How my husband and I had visited the Pennsylvania homestead and found the small family burial plot in the middle of a cornfield. How he has attended the annual NINE reunions.
We exchanged email addresses and a hug. And I hurried off to find my departure gate and wonder about choices like curb-checking, about names and shared roots, about the mystery of family.
“I realized families are like pieces of art: They can be made from many materials. Sometimes they are from birth, sometimes they are melded, sometimes they are forcibly constructed, and sometimes they are merely the confluence and time and circumstance, mixing together, like eggs being scrambled in a Michigan kitchen.
But they are all real.”
— Mitch Albom, “Chika’s Story” in the Detroit Free Press
Read more about Chika by Mitch Albom to be released November 2019.