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Missing by a foot
Thanksgiving: my anniversary of coming to America

November 17, 2005

My name is Shahrokh Nikfar. I have a show called The Persian Hour on KYRS FM 95.3 (A community radio) in Spokane, Washington. The show is broadcasted live each Saturday from 12:00 to 1:00 PM and you can catch it on the net at I use my show to introduce the Iranian culture through music, story telling, sharing of recipes and book and movie reviews. The following is one of my stories (all true) that I will share during this Saturday's show.

This is the Fund Drive week for KYRS. It is critical to raise as much money as possible to keep the radio station going. We have some of most amazing and wonderful shows anywhere, and it keeps on getting better. Personally, I have bought two memberships as gifts this week, and I would like to encourage you to at least buy a $25 membership for yourself or someone that you want to give a gift to. Please consider listening to my show this Saturday from 12 to 1 PM on 92.3 FM or on and calling us at (509) 747-3807 with your pledges during my show.

I love this time of the year for many reasons. For one, I love the snow; it makes me wanna go outside and play. Then there is watching football on Sundays and eating fried chicken and pie with my buddies. But most of all, I love Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving to me means family and friends getting together and renewing their relationships. It means sharing, celebrating life and enjoying each other. It means eating all day and watching Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys lose another game. But it is also my anniversary of coming to America.

I came to the US on November 21st 1978 on Iran Air, flight 777, and was greeted at the airport by my sister-in-law, Barbara. She was a beautiful southern gal with a very thick Louisiana accent. Although I had studied English for years, I had no clue what she was saying to me. For all I knew, she could have been speaking Martian to me and I could not comprehend any of it.

A couple of days later, my brother told me that Barbara's grandparents who lived in a very small town in Louisiana were giving me a welcome party and that they had invited everyone in the family to come and meet me. He also stated that the party was going to be held on Thursday. The only thing that I questioned was, why Thursday, wouldn't Saturday have been better?

We drove for three hours and finally arrived in a small town where the sheriff and the barber were the same guy. It seemed like there was either a pond or some sort of a swamp every where you looked. Once we arrived at grandpa's house, I was astonished to see so many people there. There were probably about 30 people there, all-waiting to greet me! There were also several tables placed in a U-shaped design and covered with tons of food. Wow! I thought to myself, these American sure know how to welcome a guest into their country.

I was so eager to start eating but I was told that I needed to go and play football. Football? Cool! Food and games, it couldn't get any better than this, I thought to myself. But much to my surprise the ball was not round nor black and white. It had a funny shape and no good for kicking around. So once my brother explained how the American football was played, and that all I had to do was to run down the field and catch this funny looking ball with my hands, I was ready to go again. So I did as I was instructed. I ran down the field, stopped, turned around and caught the ball. Happy that I had accomplished what I was told, I yelled to my brother that I had caught the ball, but before I could finish my sentence, I was attacked by three people who knocked the wind out of me.

Once I took off my brand new shirt and pants which were all muddied, and gave them to grandma to throw in the washer, Daryl, one of my new found cousins brought me a set of overalls to wear and motioned me to follow him into the woods. Of course I didn't think anything of this as being strange or the fact that he was carrying a rifle with him.

Ten minutes or so later, we arrived at a hill site where a bunch of people were shooting their rifles at coke cans and bottles that were set on a hill for target practice. I was so excited! This was just the way I had imagined America to be like, minus the horses. Once Daryl introduced me, everyone there seemed very pleased to meet me. I guess not having any fear of these good ol boys and having a constant smile on my face made me less of a stranger to them. Or maybe it was the overalls!

Then one of them handed his 22 and asked me if I wanted to take a shot at an empty bottle sitting on the hill. I was so ecstatic and happy. As a kid growing up in Iran and watching Hollywood movies, I always knew that if I come here, I would eventually get a chance to be in a gunfight with some bad guys or at least do some sharp shooting. So, confidently I accepted the offer, took the rifle and stated that shooting at a stationary target was not challenging enough for me and I preferred it if Daryl took the bottle and tossed it in the air for me to shoot at.

Of course, not having ever touched a gun or even being close to a gun didn't seem of any importance to me. After all, I had seen over a hundred Hollywood movies, and if my heroes could easily shoot a dollar coin in mid air, then how hard could it be for me to shoot at an empty bottle in mid air.

So while everyone stopped to watch me, Daryl walked over and picked up the bottle and tossed it straight up into the air. I raised my rifle and started searching for the bottle in the blue sky for what seemed like a long time.

Once I finally saw the bottle at the end of barrel, I pulled the trigger, and wham, I connected! The bottle exploded into a thousand pieces, just a foot above Daryl's head.

All of a sudden, I saw Daryl's head being showered with hundreds of pieces of shiny glass, a vision that has been imprinted in my head in slow motion for the past 27 years. My heart stopped, as I am sure had Daryl's. Realizing my fantasy had almost turned into a nightmare, I lowered my rifle and handed it back to the guy that had given it to me. I was sure that I was going to get a beating from Daryl and at least a couple of the guys.

But then the cheering started and everyone came over to praise me. Everyone was amazed at my shooting skills. They all had assumed that I planned the whole thing as a joke on Daryl and sure enough I was asked to do it again. Honestly I was tempted but fortunately my reasoning took over and I stated that we had to get back to the party since everyone was waiting for me before they started eating. So once Daryl was able to walk again, we headed back to grandpa's house as I told him that he had nothing to worry about since I had done that trick a hundred times in the back alleys of Tehran. I just didn't mention that I used my hand as an imaginary gun.

Everyone at grandpa's house was awed to hear about my shooting skills and the joke that I played on Daryl, well, everyone except my brother who knew better. Once dinner was over, I thanked everyone for having given such a magnificent party in my honor. At first I couldn't understand why they were so puzzled about my appreciation, but then I figured that it might be that they were too modest and didn't desire or need to be thanked.

A year passed and one-day my brother came to me and said that Barbara's grandparents were giving me an anniversary party and everyone in the family was invited. For a moment, I was happy and felt honored and deserving of such a party, but then I had a moment of clarity. By this time, I had learned all about the Thanksgiving celebration, but I hadn't realized that my first party was not really a party for me, and that it was actually the Thanksgiving party. Oh well! My brother got a real good laugh out of it then! And for the 27th time, I am expecting a call from him this Thanksgiving, telling me how he played a joke on me, followed by him laughing and me pretending to have heard this story for the first time and responding with a fake laugh.

On this Thanksgiving Day, as usual, I am still thankful that I didn't blow up Daryl's head!

For letters section
To Shahrokh Nikfar

Shahrokh Nikfar


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Garden of the Brave in War
Recollections of Iran
by Terence O'Donnell

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