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South Pacific



Published February 21, 2007 at 5:00 p.m.

"I really can't see why you're so nervous." The woman spoke from the back to the stocky man sitting beside me in the front. "You're gonna be an awesome dad."

"You think so, huh?" the big guy responded. He had deep-set black eyes and smooth bronze skin. "And what's your evidence for that?"

"Blind faith in my sister, that's all. That girl is no fool, and she never would have married one. Myself - in case you're interested - I think you're a big buffoon and will probably wreck the kid for life before he's 3." She then paused for the perfect five seconds before adding, "Seriously."

The man shifted in his seat to face me, mock anguish written across his broad face. "Do you hear that?" he pleaded his case. "Can you believe the crap I have to put up with?"

Raising her arm, the woman reached over the seat and the two of them high-fived. There was no real conflict; rather, their back-and-forth was the kind of intra-family razzing meant to convey warmth and affection.

We sped along the Northern Connector, en route to Colchester Point, the little nose-shaped peninsula jutting out into Lake Champlain. Some of the homes out that way are strictly for summering, but an increasing number of them have been winterized and are occupied year-round. The town has vastly improved the access road as well, much to the appreciation of us cabbies.

"Daniel," the woman said, "I was thinking - you know what's really cool? The baby's going to be bilingual. That's, like, such a great thing."

"Wow," I interjected, glancing over at my seatmate. "What language, if I may ask, does your wife speak?"

A laugh came from the back seat before Daniel deadpanned, "My wife speaks the English language."

"OK," I acknowledged. "I'm officially a doofus."

"No, I'm just ribbing you, man," Daniel said, chuckling. "I'm originally from Fiji, so I'll talk to the baby in Fijian."

"Holy smokes - Fiji. That's sure different. Just like Vijay Singh."

"That's right," he patiently replied, as if he didn't hear that once a week.

"Well, in my line of work I've met folks from all over the globe, but you're my first Fijian. Any others in Vermont that you know of?"

"As best I know, there are three of us. One gentleman is from Middlebury, and a Fijian woman lives up in the Northeast Kingdom. We all try to get together whenever our schedules permit."

"Have you been in the States for a while?"

"Yes, I've been living here for pretty much my whole adult life. I really love Vermont."

"Ever get back to the island?"

"Not as much as I'd like. Last time was a couple years ago when my mom died. That was an emotional visit. The ceremony was something - it's called the reguregu. You know, Fiji has done a good job keeping its culture intact. All my relatives were there, distant cousins . . . "

Daniel gazed out at the passing landscape, snow-draped and still. "It was strange - I remembered all the faces, but not the names."

I felt like I understood Daniel's feelings as he sat next to me contemplating his erstwhile homeland. If there's a single sentiment common to all immigrants, it's wistfulness - the pensive, ambivalent longing for the place and people left behind.

Like Daniel, I too have lived my entire adult life away from my birthplace, which for me is New York City. Fiji is culturally and geographically farther from Vermont than is the Big Apple, but to me the worlds of my childhood and adulthood seem a million miles apart.

Every place has its particular dance, and when its children come of age, they learn its steps subconsciously. For better or worse, the rhythm of New York City is in my bones. On my rare return visits, it all comes back to me. No local ever mistakes me for an out-of-towner. When I open my mouth to speak, no one ever follows with, "You're not from here, are ya?"

And, like Daniel, I love this state. It's changed me in myriad ways since my arrival in the late '70s. For one thing, I walk and talk more slowly. But this doesn't mean anyone is about to mistake me for a resident of North Wolcott.

The truth is, though the Green Mountains might never make it into my bones, they've already taken their place - steady as a rock - in my heart.