My mother balked at ever leaving this country, for it had taken her so much struggle to get here. She never wanted to stray far from home except to visit family - another kind of home. She was mystified when someone once suggested that she vacation in Europe. ("My dear, I vas born dere.") And she wasn't about to go back. She left the U.S.A. only once - to see Israel. And that was it.
Whenever I would whine about some trifling thing, as adolescents will, she would just look at me pityingly and murmur, Ah, Amerikainer geboren! What would anyone born in this country know about real troubles? ...
Not until she was much older, and beginning to realize that no one was going to take America away from her, did she relax... But when I was growing up, she was always looking over her shoulder, as if they'd come any day to take her back, and the dream would be over.
Paul Greenberg, Travel Notes, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, J1 (Sunday, May 25, 2008)
Two thoughts. First, the Greenbergs are from Louisiana. To be Jewish in Louisiana in the 1920s and 30s must have carried with it a certain exposure to American prejudice. Yet Mrs. Greenberg's regard for America seems to have gone hand in hand with her American experience. Possibly this was due to a larger perspective on how bad things can truly get. But from this and other anecdotes by Mr. Greenberg, there seems to be more than resignation in her esteem for the country. It is tempting to think that she drew encouragement from its principles of equality before the law, however imperfectly realized, and called that America. Her son is an indication this might be so. He grew up to fight for civil rights from editorial pages and won one of this state's few Pulitzer prizes for his efforts.
Second, Mrs. Greenberg was right to be vigilant over her "dream," as Mr. Greenberg describes it. The possibility of invasions or fleeing over borders as in Europe was always unlikely to happen here - even if it did the likely effect would be to reaffirm American patriotism, not weaken it- but the dream of the country could be lost if its citizens cease to be idealistic about it. It is necessary to believe in the principles of the nation to hold the country to their standard. It is necessary to treat liberties and civil rights as the hard won things they are, and not to take them for granted in the way those born into an inheritance often do. It's a beautiful country, made more so be the generations of people who have come here and held its promises dear and been vigilant even up to the sacrifice of life to keep it so. Happy Memorial Day.