Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Home: The Land of the Familiar Stranger


Last week, my sister and I finalized the sale of the house that we grew up in. My parents bought that house before I was born. I lived there until I graduated from high school, I lived there most summers during college, and I visited and hung out there many weekends in my young adulthood. Even after my own home was established, that house was where the family always gathered to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Both my parents lived in that house until they died. I haven’t lived there full time in over 25 years, but it still felt like home, and it was a bit of a pang to hand over my keys to the stranger who would now be calling it home. It made me think a lot about my own home.

It’s never been easy for me to settle into a new home. I have to get to know new routines, new places, new neighbors, new routes. I have to get used to the layout of a new grocery store. I have to find a new hairdresser. I have to learn what days the trash and recycling are picked up. I have to figure out how to get to the nearest Walmart and Target and Kohl’s and JoAnn Fabrics and post office. I have to discover back roads to get everywhere I need to go to avoid the traffic. And I have to get to know a whole new batch of familiar strangers.

Many years ago, I read an article that talked about “familiar strangers.” What the author was referring to was people that you recognize but don’t really know. The young mom you see walking her baby in the stroller every morning as you leave for work. The guy in the green shorts who’s leaving the gym just as you get there. The teenage grocery clerk who always works register 4. The senior citizen who signs you in at the polls every election. Occasionally you might exchange a wave or even have a short conversation with a familiar stranger, but mainly they’re just people you recognize without knowing them.

Ever since reading that article, I have been aware of familiar strangers. And I have realized that familiar strangers are part of what make me feel at home. After living in my current home for over four years, I have gathered quite a list of familiar strangers:

The older gentleman who walks his golden retriever through our yard in the late afternoon.

The grocery store cashier who always offers my kids stickers.

The CVS clerk who comments on how much the kids have grown.

The Friendly’s waitresses who always bring the kids’ food right away.

The guy who collects the grocery carts from the parking lot who used to run to get my cart for me when the kids were babies.

Ed who owns the gas station.

The guy down the street who drives a shiny red pickup truck.

The woman around the corner whose cat, Fuzz, tries to let himself into our house.

The moms whose kids are in the gymnastics class right after my son’s class.

Our mailman with the gray ponytail.

The recycling truck driver who turns on the compactor right in front of our house when my son is watching.

The clerk at the seafood counter who takes a lobster out of the tank for my son to look at.

The bakery clerk who gives my kids broken cookies for free.

The security guard at the front desk at my husband’s office.

 And the list goes on and on. I don’t know any of their names (well, except Ed), but they are familiar and comforting and I would miss them if they were gone. They are part of what makes my home my home. I guess that means they’re not really strangers after all, are they?

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