The Freedom to Be, to Read
I love this country. I respect the principles on which it was founded. I admire the men and women who stood and fought the good fight and braved the elements in the way that a tree on a high and windy hill must. The struggle to give life, breath and birth to the great American experiment was monumental and cost them enormously—their health, families, livelihoods and lives, not to mention their fortunes built over a lifetime. I’ve read several dozens of books about this early time in this experiment called “American Democracy,” and it amazes me that people in this modern day judge the period and the brave men and women by today’s laws and standards instead of the standards of that period in time.
There are those that would take issue with my love of the United States of America. Quite likely those people would state their opposing viewpoint loudly and long figuring I would change my opinion in the face of a lot of noise. Some might even throw in bits of fact in an attempt to lend credibility to the endless and repetitive gong they bang to silence an opinion opposite their own. Be that as it may, my belief in what this country is and what it stands for remains steadfast.
Politics aside, I am the second generation of my family to be born in the United States of America. The families of my parents left Poland and Hungary to escape Hitler, that purveyor of death and destruction. These ancestors of mine could have gone anywhere, but they didn’t. They came to the United States. They discovered that the streets were not paved with gold but with opportunity and the chance to succeed. They struggled to learn the English language and worked hard to survive what surely must have been an alien world to them. They raised a generation of “born to the soil” Americans and were proud of it. They were not Polish Americans or Hungarian Americans, just American. It wasn’t where they came from that mattered as much as where they found themselves. Being farmers in “the old country,” they believed in growing where they were planted.
My grandmothers would tell me stories of how they got their first jobs and how they lied to do it. The lies they told were about their skills with sewing machines or cash registers. Those fabrications were discovered, but the kindness of strangers helped them along, and taught them what they needed to know to survive in the strange new world in which they found themselves. They told stories of their language mishaps that caused them either grief or amusement. The tales of surviving the Great Depression were riveting and left an indelible impression. I am proud to come from such strong and resourceful people. While speaking only the language of their adopted country, they managed to build businesses, raise families, buy homes and live the American Dream. My parents and their siblings made their parents proud. They personified the old saw of “You are never given a wish without the power to make it come true; however, you may have to work for it.”
I have been most fortunate in my life to have met a great many people. Some have taught me about being the kind of person I have no wish to be and others I stand in awe of and hope to be that kind of person for their strength, their perseverance, their bravery, their purpose and their commitment to America and its principles and to themselves. Some of these people were born here and others have emigrated from far off places.
A young gentleman in one of the training classes I facilitated some months back hails from Mongolia. He said he learned English from watching television. Sometimes I flip on the TV set and watch one of the Spanish channels to see if I can learn how to speak Spanish the way so many immigrants do when they come here. There is no way; I’m hopelessly lost. I can understand only the product brand names on the commercials, although I’ve picked up a few words like the Spanish words for water and open. (Gee, that will get me far, don’t you think?) This young man, named Mike, taught himself to read English so that he could start his own business at 16 years old. His comments left me with a new appreciation of the public library system that allowed him access to all kinds of books and programs to learn how to read.
Two weeks ago, I was feeling rather grumpy and unappreciative of things in my life. Everything annoyed me, especially not being able to settle on a book to read. I have two dozen waiting to be read and I didn’t even have to leave home to find something. (Real hardship, huh?) I had Mike in one of the classes I was facilitating that week. During introductions that day, he told everyone how excited he is that his young daughter will be starting nursery school this August. He taught her how to read. He was delighted with himself and proud of his daughter’s accomplishment at age three. Mike is a naturalized citizen now and proud that his daughter was born one. Even if he is 30 years younger than I am, he inspires me.
Mike’s tale turned me right around that day. I went home and picked a book, Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, in which he tells the story of exploring Australia. I enjoyed that book, and thought about the family that came before me as well as the young people, who come to this country to live, work and raise their families amid the opportunities I have been afforded by virtue of my hard work.
My grandparents would have nodded with appreciation were they around to hear my thoughts about Mike. They would understand the pride, the accomplishment and the gift young Mike gave to his daughter in teaching her to read. They would have said that learning to read is what makes us free. (That—and hard work.)
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at