Thanksgiving in the US occurs this coming Thursday, November 26th. It will be my first Thanksgiving with my family in our home. For my first Thanksgiving, I had a frightful experience on Friday night and goodness me, do I have something to be thankful for.
Before I relay what happened I wanted to explore the history of this holiday and why Americans hold it in such reverence. The original Thanksgiving in 1621 was a celebration of a good harvest and was held by the founders of the Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Native American tribe. It was held over three days and attended by fifty-three colonists and ninety Wampanoag. The 1621 meal consisted of turkey, swan, goose, duck and deer meat, the latter being supplied by the Wampanoag. Corn, stuffing and shellfish also accompanied the feast. Only the turkey, corn and stuffing survive to this day being set at family dinner tables throughout the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a time for family and in the essence of the celebration in 1621, it is a time be thankful of all that we have in our lives.
On Friday, November 20th I had a full schedule. I was up at the crack of dawn and out the door at 7 am for my presentation at Schimelpfenig Middle School to 7th graders (twelve and thirteen-year-olds). I was invited in by the ELS Department Head to talk to approximately 360 students across six sessions from 08:30 am to 3:30 pm. The talk was about my two books as well as tips and techniques on creative writing. The day was full on and I had a blast with inquisitive students staying behind and chatting after each session.
Having finished on the dot at 3:30 pm I said my thanks and farewell to the English teachers. The vice principal had come by and given me a pumpkin pie as a token of appreciation. I needed to get home as I had a couple of errands to run before the closure of banking hours at 5 pm.
Being a new resident in the US means I have to carry my US issued ID around for certain transactions. Alas, I don't have one and my Texas driving licence is not due to arrive for another two weeks. So since my arrival, I have had to carry my passport around pretty much all the time. Once I got home I picked up my passport and a few other pieces of paperwork and placed them in a red plastic A4-sized envelope and off I went to the bank. After the bank, I drove over to the local grocery store to do some shopping. I carried the red envelope with me as I did not want to leave it in the car. Once my shopping was done I walked out to the parking lot, placed the envelope in the trolley and put the shopping bags into the car. I subsequently got into the car and drove home looking forward to some dinner.
Once home I put the bags down in the front hallway and went and got into something casual. It then struck, "Oh! my god where is my passport?" asked myself. I frantically looked around the shopping bags and nothing, I looked in the bedroom again no joy. My wife Melissa was in the kitchen preparing the evening meal, my step-children were in their rooms and my mother-in-law was in hers. Without wanting to panic Melissa I quickly got dressed and went back out with the intention of going back to the grocery store and re-tracing my steps. I checked in the car which revealed no red envelope.
I drove in a panicked state of mind thinking what a cock-up this was on my part. My passport was essentially my proof of being a legal resident as it contained my US visa, it was my official travel document, it was my only official ID and it contained my visa for Bangladesh. I was thinking about the hassle and financial cost of getting the passport issued as well as all the visas. I thought about how complicated it would be as the nearest UK Consulate was in Houston a four-hour drive away. Plus it could be sold and someone with ill-intent could commit crimes in my name, let alone the theft of my ID.
"Aarghh! Fuck!" I cursed myself.
Friday night traffic was bad and I did my best to drive safely and get to the grocery store. I parked in the same spot and I found a trolley in the same place I had left mine. It was empty. I looked around in the poorly lit parking lot before rushing into the store and heading to the customer service desk.
"Has anyone dropped off a red envelope with some documents in it?" I blurted to the person behind the counter.
"No we haven't had anything handed in," the lady replied looking at her colleague.
"No nothing, sorry," replied here colleague impassively.
I told them that it contained a passport and a few other important documents. They shook their heads negatively and asked me to provide my contact number and they would call if the envelope materialised.
I left dejected cursing the person whoever they were for not handing in the envelope. I drove back home thinking of all the nightmare scenarios that a stolen passport could create. I decided to find the nearest police station by searching on the web and filing a lost passport report. At home I found everyone sat around the dining table eating dinner. I did not go and join them instead I logged onto my laptop in the living room and began searching. I jotted the details down of the station which was six miles away in downtown Plano and in the opposite direction to the grocery store.
My wife saw me and joked with everyone that I did not like her cooking, hence my reluctance to join them. I laughed nervously and began to get ready to go out again. Shortly afterwards everyone had finished and Melissa was on her own, I went up and told her what had happened. The blood drained from her face and eyes widened in shock, she could not find words to express what she had just heard.
"Can you come with me I need to go to the police station and report this, the sooner the better. I'm sure a report will be needed by the British Embassy to issue a new passport." I explained to her.
Melissa then came out with all the questions around why, when, where and so on. I was beyond the shock stage, I now needed to get into action and go see the police.
"Look, let's go by the store one more time before we go to the police, we may be able to find it," Melissa offered.
"I've searched honey and no one has handed anything into customer service either, so let's go downtown and report the loss," I replied slightly annoyed to go back over to the store.
"Please let's go back and have another look! Another set of eyes couldn't hurt" She asked.
I agreed and off we went explaining to my mother-in-law what was going on and that we would be back soon. On our drive to the store my phone pinged a message and I asked Melissa to read it. She whooped with joy as a message from an unknown number stated something red was found. Our joy was short-lived as the message was from my mother-in-law (who was using a different phone) telling us that she had found a red spiral notebook. We breathed out sadly and talked about the consequences of my passport not being found and all the headache that goes with it.
At the store we parked up and searched the area where I left the trolley, but to no avail. We spread out and searched a wider area of the parking lot which was fruitless. At the entrance of the store Melissa scanned the dark shadows where a maroon passport could easily be missed.
"I am going to go in and check with customer service again," I said to Melissa as I walked in through the sliding doors.
For some reason that I could not and still cannot explain, my head cocked up and towards my left. From the corner of my eye I caught something red. My heart leapt into my mouth and I rushed over to an ice cream vending machine which was just over six-feet tall. And there on top of the vending machine was my red envelope open with contents hanging out. I broke out in a cold sweat worrying that having found it the passport would be missing. I went on my tiptoes and grabbed the folder. I quickly glanced inside and the passport was there, I relaxed my body somewhat and breathed a sigh of relief. I called my wife who was walking into the store.
"Honey I've found it," I exclaimed smiling.
"Oh my god! Where did you find it?" She asked in astonishment.
I explained to Melissa where and we both checked the contents carefully and every piece of paper and document that I had in it was there, nothing was missing. We thanked our lucky stars again and again, before going over to customer services just to let them know that we had found the passport. On our way back the knot in my stomach slowly began to dissipate as we spoke in hushed tones about how lucky we were and thankful we needed to be. We talked about how my passport was the ticket to the world and how easily it had disappeared through a simple oversight. I then told Melissa what one of the English teachers told me and a group of students earlier in the day, "Mr. Alam, with all the travels you have been on, your passport is a book worthy of itself."
I thought to myself someone is definitely looking over me and this is one incident that I will forever be thankful for, and in particular, thankful to my wife for making me go back to the store. I will definitely be saying a big thanks this coming Thursday, ironically my very first Thanksgiving.