Three families, one country, countless opinions
It’s not easy being a liberal on the Fourth of July. On one hand you feel pride and gratitude to be an American.
On the other, there is – speaking only for myself – a strong sense of disapproval of the course this country has taken over the last few years.
I’d like to think I’m as patriotic as any conservative. I’d like to think patriotism is not only a lock-step support of whatever administration is the flavor of the month, but also the will to be informed and the courage to speak out.
Our nation was birthed on rebellion and made great by inclusion. Here are the family-stories of three friends whose political leanings are as varied as their backgrounds.
Elke’s grandparents, Benjamin and Rivka, came to America from Poland in 1901. They landed in Ellis Island and were processed like cattle into their New World. Both ended up in a Jewish ghetto in Boston. They met, fell in love, and married. Ben wrote his brother back in Poland saying he married an angel. He bragged of her good looks, great disposition and stew.
Two years, and two children later, Rivka died of a disease that now would be only a minor inconvenience. In keeping with an Old World tradition, her younger sister, Golda, was dispatched from the old country to take the place of her dead sister.
Rivka got all the good looks and disposition in her family. Golda was a harsh and demanding young girl, with little reason to be so. She walked off the boat, took one look at Ben and said, “You’re the old toad my sister married? To think I suffered two months on a boat for the likes of you.”
They married, had five children, and lived together for 50 years without ever really liking each other.
Their oldest boy, David, was apprenticed out to a printer in Roxbury. After working for seven years for near slave wages, he felt he knew enough to open his own business. Claire and Ben sold all they could and risked their savings to invest in their son.
Forty years later, that same business paid for all of David’s children, one being Elke, to go to college. Each generation has been afforded a better life then the one before.
My friend Steve’s grandfather, Peter, was a tailor in Italy. When he landed in America he found the country needed workers to shovel coal and not to sew clothing. He considered himself lucky to be eating and employed, so he put his dreams on hold. Six years of shoveling led to a job in a clothing shop working for a man who was unskilled and unscrupulous. Peter eventually opened his own shop. He married late and had one child before his wife died.
Peter’s child, Mark, had no skill with thread but was hard working and studious. He received a partial scholarship to Yale, working full time until he graduated. He often went without eating, but since his dad was a tailor, he dressed as well as the rich kids.
He is now a retired psychiatrist. Mark’s son, my buddy Steve, has his father’s intellect and ambition. He too, at his father’s insistence, worked his way through college, got a job for a big city newspaper, and recently won a Pulitzer. When Steve’s grandfather died, he could barely read.
Bridgett Sheely was born in an Ireland poorhouse. At the age of 11, her dead mother’s sister sold all she had of value to provide passage for Bridgett to come to America. Bridgett found factory work and married a man who mistreated her.
She gave birth to four children – three who lived – before being abandoned by her husband. The state took her children away and gave them to the parents of the man who left her.
Martha, the only girl, quit school and left home at the age of 12 to work as a maid. At the age of 17, she met truck driver named Harold and eventually married him.
They raised six children in a house with bad plumbing. Martha insisted that all her children graduate from high school and attend college. The only one that did not was Jeffrey, her youngest.
While the other children went on to work as teachers, reporters, entrepreneurs and as a U.S. State Department official, Jeffrey moved out West to pursue immediate gratification.
Eventually he found modest success and some stability. Just before cancer took Martha, she said to her youngest child. “I knew you were capable of having fun, but I wasn’t so sure you could find a wife and keep a job. I’m glad I can stop worrying.”
Martha made sure her children had advantages she did not. This great country allowed her work and sacrifice to bear fruit.
Elke, Steve and Jeffrey watched the fireworks together on Independence Day.
Because of the sacrifices of others, they were free to argue politics. Though they differed in their belief about the current President and policies, they had a common love of the country where dissent and endorsement have equal seating at the American table S
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He lives in Breckenridge.
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