Claiming an American Heritage

We were children of a self-employed businessman; if truth were told, we suffered embarrassment on occasion; we didn’t have the latest of everything, and most of our peers on the block seemed to be gaining steam with the toys and fads promoted on television. Thank God for the inexpensive popularity of pop beads, Eskimo yo-yos, and hula hoops that could be purchased around the corner at the 5 and 10 to fill after school hours in the neighborhood.

Good enough was our home credo, so we kids worked around it, especially when the Brat and I received one bike, not two, for Christmas one year.  We were supposed to share the beautiful 26 inch blue bicycle.  We accepted with gratitude what we did have, and only quietly wished for something more that would make us just as cool as the other kids, i.e. like a second one, so that one of us didn’t have to endure the added embarrassment of riding the larger size tricycle that still “fit” and, remained still, good enough in the folks eyes for us to ride.

Admonitions to listen to our elders because we could learn from them were among the basic rules of home’s enduring lessons.  These same rules extended beyond the house footprint: Don’t ever even THINK of acting up, throwing a tantrum, or misbehaving when out in public because you KNOW BETTER. The oft spoken American expression wait until we get home apparently doesn’t translate in either Pig Latin or French: we were disciplined right then and there, in front of God and everyone.  Yes, it could be extremely embarrassing.  No, I never had to be reminded twice.  Neither did Brat.

No pretense or selfishness was tolerated, much less supported.  The rules applied to us as well as everyone; in Daddy’s eyes, he and his generation had all started “in the same boat”, so the underlying message was to seize the opportunities afforded us and appreciate just how far he had come in this, the greatest country on earth!  We were Americans first. Our good fortune was two-fold:  the liberties and freedoms enjoyed within a constitutional republic, and the stability experienced in a middle-class but comfortable home.  (We little ones learned early on that neither our home nor our country was a democracy by any stretch of the imagination!)

Yes, our family profiled:  like many others in our immediate neighborhood, we definitely preferred the familiar: the law-abiding, hardworking individual who took personal responsibility for his family’s needs. The old world thought patterns of the working class had indeed crossed the ocean, burrowing into the next generations’ mindset.  Actions would always speak louder than words.

One of the greater melting pot perspectives was the acceptance of a perceived common heritage.  Being an American was one who belonged. Being an American was one who shared his good fortune with those less fortunate. Being an American was one who nurtured common ground among world peoples. Being an American was one who sought equal justice in a court system whereby one was innocent until proven guilty.

Only after we left the family home did we truly perceive the folks for how much they’d accomplished in their own right. As first generation born Americans, their immigrant parents spoke English with tell-tale accents; and, their parents had left familiar hardships for an unfamiliar future, bearing no guarantees…  My folks, too, had perceived the promise of an open playing field for a lifetime’s honest toil.

Neither social pedigree nor birth order would have any definitive roles in an open, unencumbered, free market system. And like his immigrant father before him, my father had operated a business with the help and support from immediate family as well.

That’s good enough for me. I rest my claim…