It was 1966. After a three-day train ride through the cities and countryside of America, our family arrived in Northern California. As newly arrived immigrants from Ontario, Canada, we didn’t know a soul.
Why we arrived on Thanksgiving day is a long story. My parents were smart, hardworking people, but neither of them had a formal education. They wanted their girls to get a college degree. California seemed like the land of opportunity, especially for my dad the horticulturist. The plan was to finish the school year, sell our house and come to California. The house sold, we said our goodbyes and we gave away most of our worldly possessions. Then we hit a snag. The US government delayed my father’s visa while they continued to research his background. Dad was a British immigrant first, moving from England to Canada where he met and married our mom. Long story short, we were not allowed to immigrate for another five months. We stayed in a hotel at first, then later with a relative. From there we stayed in the home of our former babysitter and finally rented rooms in the home of an abusive man. These were traumatic months for all of us. We were homeless in a way, straddling uncertainty between two countries. Dad took odd jobs while we waited and our savings kept us going during the wait.
Memories are a fascinating thing. Our brains record everything, but our hearts seem to decide what we recall. The highs and the lows often play out, with the minutiae of daily life lost to the ether. I remember the brief layover in Chicago. Mom bought us a kit of paper chains to keep our hands busy during the wait. We traveled by coach, so no berth for sleeping. We took turns draped across our mother’s lap. Three days on a train is a long journey when you’re seven.
We arrived in Loomis, California on that wet Thanksgiving day in 1966, welcomed into a stranger’s home. The man who would be my father’s co-worker invited us to dinner! Most of the details remain a blur, but I remember sitting on the floor of a small, warmly lit room watching an episode of Star Trek with a large, lumbering dog nearby.
There were many dark days ahead, but in that moment I felt safe and warm and welcomed, one immigrant family to another, in a vast, complex country called America.
The names and faces of our hosts that day are lost to history. But in my heart I’m thankful for that gracious family that opened their doors and hearts to ours.