The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the tag “immigrant”

Fields of Dreams

Originally published on Mar 20, 2015

Jean-François_Millet_(II)_-_The_Gleaners_-_WGA15691

Jui

When things got too bad to tolerate, my mother took my sister and me across the border. We didn’t have papers, so the only kind of work we could get was in the fields. I was ten, old enough to get a job picking fruit alongside my family. I wasn’t sure how much better it was than where we came from, but my mother believed it was, and so I eventually believed it, too.

To me, my mother always seemed like an old woman but she was only twenty-three years older than I was. When I was fifteen, she was thirty-eight but she looked sixty. The sun had dried and darkened her skin. Her body was bent and permanently contorted in pain from hard labor and injury. Her hair had already begun to turn gray. She seemed to be biding time until it was her time to die.

When I was 17, I met a girl. She also worked the farms as we did, doing seasonal work. We fell in love and wanted to marry.   My mother discouraged it. She wanted me to make something more of myself. With the burden of a wife and then, inevitably some children, I’d be caught in the same trap she was – no hope, no options with too much responsibility for the luxury of suicide.

Maybe it was a good thing that fell in love when I was young. Another few years and I  might have also felt as my mother did — that it was a hopeless situation and it was madness to bring children into the world. But I was young enough and naïve enough and passionate enough to throw caution to the wind.

My girl was smart, and she had the idea that we should move to the city where we might find better opportunities. Even though we could not work legally, we were willing to do anything. We were grateful for the kind of jobs that so many others felt were beneath them — cleaning houses, digging ditches, working in hot kitchens, caring for elderly or sick people when their own families could not.   Together we made just enough money to rent a tiny place over someone’s garage.

Life was hard, but we were always looking for new chances and ways to move up. We went to school in the evenings and learned to read. I was never very good but at least I was no longer illiterate, and that was a great source of pride for me.

Eventually we did have children, a boy and then a girl. They were born in our new country. They could not be forced to leave. Even if we could do nothing else for them, at least we gave them this. Even my mother had to admit this was a good thing.

They went to school and it wasn’t very long before they knew more than we did.   My boy was a good man but average in every way. My daughter, however, was special. She had a way of seeing the angles that nobody else could see.   You could show her a tiny corner of a page and she’d be able to figure out what the whole book was about.  She could tell upon meeting someone for the first time whether they were the kind to be trusted or if they were only being friendly to get from you whatever they could for themselves. She was a natural at navigating the often complex legal and educational systems. Even as a teen, she knew how to talk her way into or out of anything.

She was smart, that one! She finished school at the top of her class and went on to college, where she figured out how to apply for scholarships which mostly paid for her education.

She eventually became a successful lawyer. My son did OK for himself. He had a good sales job and was able to support himself and his family. But oh, my girl! It was hard to hide my pride in her! I tried not to make my son feel less loved because he was not — I loved them both their same — but even he recognized how special she was. He knew she would always outshine him. He never minded. I never saw a hint of jealousy in him, and I loved him for not forcing me to choose.

My daughter was not only smart, she was a good girl, too. She never forgot the debt she owed both to my mother, and to us, her own parents. She took care of us as best she could, forsaking nice things she could have had for herself so we didn’t have to live in constant worry. This is a blessing at any time in life, but especially in old age.

My mother did not live to see her great-grandchildren but my wife and I were very happy, doting grandparents.

During my life, I often thought how lucky it was that I didn’t listen to my mother when she discouraged me from marrying so young. It was the right choice for me, and I never once had a single regret. When I died, I died content knowing I had added good to the world; left it better than when I came in. Because of that, I’d knew I’d earned my place in it.

 

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
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Mir

I was thirteen, and my brother sixteen, when we left our family home and set out for the New World.   It was a great adventure – both exciting and terrifying – but as long as I had my brother to care for me, I felt safe.

He and my parents had been saving money to send us both together.  The plan was, they would continue to save and my brother would find work and send money home, until eventually they would join us.

My mother had a younger cousin who had been living in New York for several years. She was, by our standards, a “real American” already,  settled with a husband, an apartment, and a job.  They had agreed to sponsor us and take us in until we could make our own way.

My brother was a big strong boy, tall for his age.  He quickly found work ferrying packages from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to the showrooms and shops.  It had been agreed by all before we left that I was to continue my education for at least two years.  My parents wanted me to also become a “real American”. They made my brother promise to keep me in school.

Our cousins were very welcoming and kind.  They gave us a corner of their small apartment.  There was just one cot, and my brother and I took turns sleeping in it while the other slept on a pile of folded blankets on the floor.  I often let him have the bed, even when it was my turn because he worked so hard during the day and was so physically exhausted.  I didn’t have the heart to make him sleep on the hard wooden floor.  It was by the grace of his hard work that I was able to remain in school. Since I didn’t have money to contribute,  I made myself as helpful as possible – cleaning,  washing, cooking some simple meals,  doing marketing and errands, mending clothing as I’d been taught by my mother.

When I was 14, and my English passable, my cousin found me a job at a small restaurant owned by her friend and her husband.  The husband cooked and the friend waited tables, but they had a young daughter who needed attention after school while they prepared for the dinner customers.

It didn’t pay much but it was the perfect situation for me.  I started in the afternoon, so I didn’t miss any classes.  I would sit with the girl while she did her schoolwork, and my own English skills improved.  Sometimes if they needed extra hands, I cleared tables or swept the floor or even chopped vegetables.  Occasionally, they’d send me out for an errand.

They were good to me and I was determined to justify their faith in me.  I worked hard and they came to rely on me more and more.  For this, they raised my pay as much as they could afford. It wasn’t much, but it enabled me to contribute a bit to the rent and to my parents’ travel fund.

I had been working there for just over a year when we received terrible news.  My father had become ill and within a very short time had passed away.   My brother and I would not, could not, let my mother remain alone in the Old World.   My brother took on extra shifts and I found additional work minding other children in the evenings.  Within the year, there was enough in the fund to bring her to us.

In the days before her expected arrival, I was so excited I could barely eat or sleep. When we met her at the boat, we all burst into tears at the sight of each other, touching each others’ faces and stroking each other’s hair, reassuring ourselves that we were all real.

We went back the apartment and my mother and her cousin caught up on the family news, remembering old times, laughing and crying.

Later, the three of us squeezed into our corner, with my brother and I insisting my mother take the cot. It was obvious we could not remain in this situation for much longer.  Fortunately, my mother was an experienced tailor and seamstress, and she was able to find work quickly.  Within a couple of months we were able to move to our own small room on Hester Street.  It was tiny, and the bathroom, down the hall, was shared by others, but to us it felt like paradise, an unimaginable luxury to be living with just our own family in our own room.

I finished school in my sixteenth year, and my mother got me a job at the factory where she worked, making ladies’ blouses.  Initially I was thrilled to have a real job; to get a regular paycheck; to be an adult among other women like myself and my mother — new immigrants, filled with hopes and dreams for a better future – but the novelty wore off quickly.

We worked long hours, six long days a week in very unpleasant conditions. The supervisors treated us more like slaves than workers. But, with the three of us bringing home a salary each week, we were able to save money.  The dream was for my mother to buy a sewing machine and have her own tailor shop so we could get out of that awful factory which seemed to suck more life out of us every day.

And then,  one Saturday afternoon,  there was chaos!  A fire!  There were so many flammable scraps and pieces around that it didn’t take long for the fire to be raging.  The doors were locked as they always were.  There was no escape.

I pressed to the window with my mother and the other women, barely able to breathe, terrified of being burned alive and equally afraid of jumping onto the unforgiving pavement below.

In the end, I jumped.  My mother stayed.  It didn’t make a difference.  We, along with dozens of our friends and coworkers, all died that day.

My brother,  alone and lonely,  soon took a wife.  They named their children after me and my mother, so our story would not be lost – a story of two women with dreams, unfulfilled.

 

______

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Home Sweet Wherever

first posted July 20, 2014

 vintage-map

Lal

I grew up in more than comfortable circumstances. Not rich, exactly, but well-to-do and influential. My father was an important government official so he held some sway in the community. People deferred to him, which was a kind of wealth. My mother had been born very rich, descendants of a royal family, although their influence had faded. In that regard, they were impoverished. My parents’ marriage was one of convenience — her wealth for his influence, and then, both together, they were back on top.

I lived in a big house with servants until I was about ten. Then came a huge shift in political power and my father lost his position. My mother’s family money and assets were seized. Overnight, we had nothing.

I knew something was wrong, of course. My parents were arguing a lot; my mother was crying all the time; my father was sullen and angry. We had to move from our large home with many rooms and fine furniture into a small house near my grandparents’ property.

The adults were always whispering amongst themselves. I could sense their fear but none of it affected me…or so I thought. I was just as happy being in the country, having my grandparents close by. Now my mother looked after me – not a nanny or a servant – and I was happy to have her attention, although she was often weepy and distracted.

After a few years, our situation became dangerous, so the family made plans to leave the country. We sold whatever was left of value – which wasn’t much anymore. In any case, not too many people were buying.

We left together, and passed through a few countries, living here and there for a few months or a year. Money was always a problem because neither my parents or grandparents had any real practical skills, and none of them spoke any other language well enough to blend in or get by.

Finally, we ended up in a place where my parents found others like themselves. In this community, well, I won’t say they flourished, exactly, but they were able to find work teaching.   They slowly, eventually, learned the language and customs of the new place, but there was always something sad and broken about them until the day they died.

I was a child, of course, so I was better able to adapt. I was quickly able to pass for a native. I grew up and forgot about our old life and made my new life in a new place.

I went to school, got married, had children who were even more “native” than I ever was.

When I was much older — my children were grown and had moved on with their own lives; my husband had been dead for several years — the regime in my country of birth fell. I felt draw to return, to reclaim my history, to see what might have been.

The city, the land of my earliest memories was gone. War and deprivation had changed not only the physical landscape but the cultural and social character as well. These were no longer “my people” but a country of strangers. It was only then that I felt that I had no place to call home, no place where I could be accepted as “one of their own.”

I had no childhood roots anywhere except everywhere, which was nowhere.

I eventually moved back to my adopted country. It was closer to home than anywhere else. It was where I went to school, fell in love, got married, raised my family…but a piece of me now felt missing, like a big jigsaw puzzle minus one critical piece. Most of me was intact. The picture was clear.   But I would never be complete, never be whole.

 

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It was with this knowledge, with this understanding and sadness in my heart, that I finally came to the end of my life.

 

—–

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Fields of Dreams

Originally published on Mar 20, 2015

Jean-François_Millet_(II)_-_The_Gleaners_-_WGA15691

I am republishing this one somewhat out of order.  I thought it was appropriate to read now,  given the recent outrageous  round-ups by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) here in the USA.   They were targeting parents when they went to pick up their children from school.  They are rounding up people in raids all over the country. We are in frightening times.   

 

Ju

When things got too bad to tolerate, my mother took my sister and me across the border. We didn’t have papers, so the only kind of work we could get was in the fields. I was ten, old enough to get a job picking fruit alongside my family. I wasn’t sure how much better it was than where we came from, but my mother believed it was, and so I eventually believed it, too.

To me, my mother always seemed like an old woman but she was only twenty-three years older than I was. When I was fifteen, she was thirty-eight but she looked sixty. The sun had dried and darkened her skin. Her body was bent and permanently contorted in pain from hard labor and injury. Her hair had already begun to turn gray. She seemed to be biding time until it was her time to die.

When I was 17, I met a girl. She also worked the farms, like we did, doing seasonal work. We fell in love and wanted to marry.   My mother discouraged it. She wanted me to make something more of myself. With the burden of a wife and then, inevitably some children, I’d be caught in the same trap she was – no hope, no options with too much responsibility for the luxury of suicide.

Maybe it was a good thing that fell in love when I was young. Another few years and I think I might have also felt as my mother did — that it was a hopeless situation and it was madness to bring children into the world. But I was young enough and naïve enough and passionate enough to throw caution to the wind.

My girl was smart, and she had the idea that we should move to the city where we might find better opportunities. Even though we could not work legally, we were willing to do anything. We were grateful for the kind of jobs that so many others felt were beneath them — cleaning houses, digging ditches, working in hot kitchens, caring for elderly or sick people when their own families could not.   Together we made just enough money to rent a tiny place over someone’s garage.

Life was hard, but we were always looking for new chances and ways to move up. We went to night school and learned to read. I was never very good but at least I was no longer illiterate, and that was a great source of pride for me.

Eventually we did have children, a boy and then a girl. They were born in our new country. They could not be forced to leave. Even if we could do nothing else for them, at least we gave them this. Even my mother had to admit this was a good thing.

They went to school and it wasn’t very long before they knew more than we did.   My boy was a good man but average in every way. My daughter, however, was special. She had a way of seeing the angles that nobody else could see.   You could show her a tiny corner of a page and she’d be able to figure out what the whole book was about.  She could tell upon meeting someone for the first time whether they were the kind to be trusted or if they were only being friendly to get from you whatever they could for themselves. She was a natural at navigating the often complex legal and educational systems. Even as a teen, she knew how to talk her way into or out of anything.

She was smart, that one! She finished school at the top of her class and went on to college, where she figured out how to apply for scholarships which mostly paid for her education.

She eventually became a successful lawyer.   My son did OK for himself. He had a good sales job and was able to support himself and his family. But oh, my girl! It was hard to hide my pride in her! I tried not to make my son feel less loved because he wasn’t, but even he recognized how special she was. He knew she would always outshine him. He never minded. Never saw a hint of jealousy in him, and I loved him for not forcing me to choose.

My daughter was not only smart; she was a good girl, too. She never forgot the debt she owed both to my mother, and to us, her own parents. She took care of us as best she could, forsaking nice things she could have had for herself so we didn’t have to live in constant worry. This is a blessing at any time in life, but especially in old age.

My mother did not live to see her great-grandchildren but my wife and I were very happy, doting grandparents.

During my life, I often thought how lucky it was that I didn’t listen to my mother when she discouraged me from marrying so young. It was the right choice for me, and I never once had a single regret. When I died, I died content knowing I had added good to the world; left it better than when I came in. Because of that, I’d knew I’d earned my place in it.

_______

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Fields of Dreams

Originally published on Mar 20, 2015

Jean-François_Millet_(II)_-_The_Gleaners_-_WGA15691

Ju

When things got too bad to tolerate, my mother took my sister and me across the border. We didn’t have papers, so the only kind of work we could get was in the fields. I was ten, old enough to get a job picking fruit alongside my family. I wasn’t sure how much better it was than where we came from, but my mother believed it was, and so I eventually believed it, too.

To me, my mother always seemed like an old woman but she was only twenty-three years older than I was. When I was fifteen, she was thirty-eight but she looked sixty. The sun had dried and darkened her skin. Her body was bent and permanently contorted in pain from hard labor and injury. Her hair had already begun to turn gray. She seemed to be biding time until it was her time to die.

When I was 17, I met a girl. She also worked the farms as we did, doing seasonal work. We fell in love and wanted to marry.   My mother discouraged it. She wanted me to make something more of myself. With the burden of a wife and then, inevitably some children, I’d be caught in the same trap she was – no hope, no options with too much responsibility for the luxury of suicide.

Maybe it was a good thing that fell in love when I was young. Another few years and I  might have also felt as my mother did — that it was a hopeless situation and it was madness to bring children into the world. But I was young enough and naïve enough and passionate enough to throw caution to the wind.

My girl was smart, and she had the idea that we should move to the city where we might find better opportunities. Even though we could not work legally, we were willing to do anything. We were grateful for the kind of jobs that so many others felt were beneath them — cleaning houses, digging ditches, working in hot kitchens, caring for elderly or sick people when their own families could not.   Together we made just enough money to rent a tiny place over someone’s garage.

Life was hard, but we were always looking for new chances and ways to move up. We went to school in the evenings and learned to read. I was never very good but at least I was no longer illiterate, and that was a great source of pride for me.

Eventually we did have children, a boy and then a girl. They were born in our new country. They could not be forced to leave. Even if we could do nothing else for them, at least we gave them this. Even my mother had to admit this was a good thing.

They went to school and it wasn’t very long before they knew more than we did.   My boy was a good man but average in every way. My daughter, however, was special. She had a way of seeing the angles that nobody else could see.   You could show her a tiny corner of a page and she’d be able to figure out what the whole book was about.  She could tell upon meeting someone for the first time whether they were the kind to be trusted or if they were only being friendly to get from you whatever they could for themselves. She was a natural at navigating the often complex legal and educational systems. Even as a teen, she knew how to talk her way into or out of anything.

She was smart, that one! She finished school at the top of her class and went on to college, where she figured out how to apply for scholarships which mostly paid for her education.

She eventually became a successful lawyer.   My son did OK for himself. He had a good sales job and was able to support himself and his family. But oh, my girl! It was hard to hide my pride in her! I tried not to make my son feel less loved because he was not — I loved them both their same — but even he recognized how special she was. He knew she would always outshine him. He never minded. I never saw a hint of jealousy in him, and I loved him for not forcing me to choose.

My daughter was not only smart; she was a good girl, too. She never forgot the debt she owed both to my mother, and to us, her own parents. She took care of us as best she could, forsaking nice things she could have had for herself so we didn’t have to live in constant worry. This is a blessing at any time in life, but especially in old age.

My mother did not live to see her great-grandchildren but my wife and I were very happy, doting grandparents.

During my life, I often thought how lucky it was that I didn’t listen to my mother when she discouraged me from marrying so young. It was the right choice for me, and I never once had a single regret. When I died, I died content knowing I had added good to the world; left it better than when I came in. Because of that, I’d knew I’d earned my place in it.

 

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

Home Sweet Wherever

first posted July 20, 2014

vintage-map

La

I grew up in more than comfortable circumstances. My family was not rich, exactly, but well-to-do and influential. My father was an important government official so he held some sway in the community. People deferred to him, which was a kind of wealth. My mother had been born very rich, descendants of a royal family, although their influence had faded. In that regard, they were impoverished. My parents’ marriage was one of convenience — her wealth for his influence, and then, both together, they were back on top.

I lived in a big house with servants until I was about ten. Then came a huge shift in political power and my father lost his position. My mother’s family money and assets were seized. Overnight, we had nothing.

I knew something was wrong, of course. My parents were arguing a lot; my mother was crying all the time; my father was sullen and angry. We had to move from our large home with many rooms and fine furniture into a small house near my grandparents’ property.

The adults were always whispering amongst themselves. I could sense their fear but none of it affected me…or so I thought. I was just as happy being in the country, having my grandparents close by. Now my mother looked after me – not a nanny or a servant – and I was happy to have her attention, although she was often weepy and distracted.

After a few years, our situation became dangerous, so the family made plans to leave the country. We sold whatever was left of value – which wasn’t much anymore. In any case, not too many people were buying.

We left together, and passed through a few countries, living here and there for a few months or a year. Money was always a problem because neither my parents or grandparents had any real practical skills, and none of them spoke any other language well enough to blend in or get by.

Finally, we ended up in a place where my parents found others like themselves. In this community, well, I won’t say they flourished, exactly, but they were able to find work teaching.   They slowly, eventually, learned the language and customs of the new place, but there was always something sad and broken about them until the day they died.

I was a child, of course, so I was better able to adapt. I was quickly able to pass for a native. I grew up and forgot about our old life and made my new life in a new place.

I went to school, got married, had children who were even more “native” than I ever was.

When I was much older — my children were grown and had moved on with their own lives; my husband had been dead for several years — the regime in my country of birth fell. I felt drawn to return, to reclaim my history, to see what might have been.

The city, the land of my earliest memories was gone. War and deprivation had changed not only the physical landscape but the cultural and social character as well. These were no longer “my people” but a country of strangers. It was only then that I felt that I had no place to call home, no place where I could be accepted as “one of their own.”

I had no childhood roots anywhere except everywhere, which was nowhere.

I eventually moved back to my adopted country. It was closer to a home than anywhere else. It was where I went to school, fell in love, got married, raised my family…but a piece of me now felt missing, like a big jigsaw puzzle minus one critical piece. Most of me was intact. The picture was clear.   But I would never be complete, never be whole.

It was with this knowledge, with this understanding and sadness in my heart, that I finally came to the end of my life.

____

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

Fields of Dreams

Jean-François_Millet_(II)_-_The_Gleaners_-_WGA15691

Ju

When things got too bad to tolerate, my mother took my sister and me across the border. We didn’t have papers, so the only kind of work we could get was in the fields. I was ten, old enough to get a job picking fruit alongside my family. I wasn’t sure how much better it was than where we came from, but my mother believed it was, and so I eventually believed it, too.

To me, my mother always seemed like an old woman but she was only twenty-three years older than I was. When I was fifteen, she was thirty-eight but she looked sixty. The sun had dried and darkened her skin. Her body was bent and permanently contorted in pain from hard labor and injury. Her hair had already begun to turn gray. She seemed to be biding time until it was her time to die.

When I was 17, I met a girl. She also worked the farms, like we did, doing seasonal work. We fell in love and wanted to marry.   My mother discouraged it. She wanted me to make something more of myself. With the burden of a wife and then, inevitably some children, I’d be caught in the same trap she was – no hope, no options with too much responsibility for the luxury of suicide.

Maybe it was a good thing that fell in love when I was young. Another few years and I think I might have also felt as my mother did — that it was a hopeless situation and it was madness to bring children into the world. But I was young enough and naïve enough and passionate enough to throw caution to the wind.

My girl was smart, and she had the idea that we should move to the city where we might find better opportunities. Even though we could not work legally, we were willing to do anything. We were grateful for the kind of jobs that so many others felt were beneath them — cleaning houses, digging ditches, working in hot kitchens, caring for elderly or sick people when their own families could not.   Together we made just enough money to rent a tiny place over someone’s garage.

Life was hard, but we were always looking for new chances and ways to move up. We went to night school and learned to read. I was never very good but at least I was no longer illiterate, and that was a great source of pride for me.

Eventually we did have children, a boy and then a girl. They were born in our new country. They could not be forced to leave. Even if we could do nothing else for them, at least we gave them this. Even my mother had to admit this was a good thing.

They went to school and it wasn’t very long before they knew more than we did.   My boy was a good man but average in every way. My daughter, however, was special. She had a way of seeing the angles that nobody else could see.   You could show her a tiny corner of a page and she’d be able to figure out what the whole book was about.  She could tell upon meeting someone for the first time whether they were the kind to be trusted or if they were only being friendly to get from you whatever they could for themselves. She was a natural at navigating the often complex legal and educational systems. Even as a teen, she knew how to talk her way into or out of anything.

She was smart, that one! She finished school at the top of her class and went on to college, where she figured out how to apply for scholarships which mostly paid for her education.

She eventually became a successful lawyer.   My son did OK for himself. He had a good sales job and was able to support himself and his family. But oh, my girl! It was hard to hide my pride in her! I tried not to make my son feel less loved because he wasn’t, but even he recognized how special she was. He knew she would always outshine him. He never minded. Never saw a hint of jealousy in him, and I loved him for not forcing me to choose.

My daughter was not only smart; she was a good girl, too. She never forgot the debt she owed both to my mother, and to us, her own parents. She took care of us as best she could, forsaking nice things she could have had for herself so we didn’t have to live in constant worry. This is a blessing at any time in life, but especially in old age.

My mother did not live to see her great-grandchildren but my wife and I were very happy, doting grandparents.

During my life, I often thought how lucky it was that I didn’t listen to my mother when she discouraged me from marrying so young. It was the right choice for me, and I never once had a single regret. When I died, I died content knowing I had added good to the world; left it better than when I came in. Because of that, I’d knew I’d earned my place in it.

Home Sweet Wherever

vintage-map

La

I grew up in more than comfortable circumstances. Not rich, exactly, but well-to-do and influential. My father was an important government official so he held some sway in the community. People deferred to him, which was a kind of wealth. My mother had been born very rich, descendents of a royal family, although their influence had faded. In that regard, they were impoverished. My parents’ marriage was one of convenience — her wealth for his influence, and then, both together, they were back on top.

I lived in a big house with servants until I was about ten. Then came a huge shift in political power and my father lost his position. My mother’s family money and assets were seized. Overnight, we had nothing.

I knew something was wrong, of course. My parents were arguing a lot; my mother was crying all the time; my father was sullen and angry. We had to move from our large home with many rooms and fine furniture into a small house near my grandparents’ property.

The adults were always whispering amongst themselves. I could sense their fear but none of it affected me…or so I thought. I was just as happy being in the country, having my grandparents close by. Now my mother looked after me – not a nanny or a servant – and I was happy to have her attention, although she was often weepy and distracted.

After a few years, our situation became dangerous, so the family made plans to leave the country. We sold whatever was left of value – which wasn’t much anymore. In any case, not too many people were buying.

We left together, and passed through a few countries, living here and there for a few months or a year. Money was always a problem because neither my parents or grandparents had any real practical skills, and none of them spoke any other language well enough to blend in or get by.

Finally, we ended up in a place where my parents found others like themselves. In this community, well, I won’t say they flourished, exactly, but they were able to find work teaching.   They slowly, eventually, learned the language and customs of the new place, but there was always something sad and broken about them until the day they died.

I was a child, of course, so I was better able to adapt. I was quickly able to pass for a native. I grew up and forgot about our old life and made my new life in a new place.

I went to school, got married, had children who were even more “native” than I ever was.

When I was much older — my children were grown and had moved on with their own lives; my husband had been dead for several years — the regime in my country of birth fell. I felt draw to return, to reclaim my history, to see what might have been.

The city, the land of my earliest memories was gone. War and deprivation had changed not only the physical landscape but the cultural and social character as well. These were no longer “my people” but a country of strangers. It was only then that I felt that I had no place to call home, no place where I could be accepted as “one of their own.”

I had no childhood roots anywhere except everywhere, which was nowhere.

I eventually moved back to my adopted country. It was closer to home than anywhere else. It was where I went to school, fell in love, got married, raised my family…but a piece of me now felt missing, like a big jigsaw puzzle minus one critical piece. Most of me was intact. The picture was clear.   But I would never be complete, never be whole.

 

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It was with this knowledge, with this understanding and sadness in my heart, that I finally came to the end of my life.

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