Before today I’ve never told our kids the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims and starvation and malnutrition until the generous locals saved the settlers lives and such. I decided that might not be the best course of action and started talking to them about history before we sat down to dinner.
All of the sudden we were puzzling over why people would try to explore a land when they might literally starve to death and would never see their families again.
Uno looked worried when she asked if babies died during the settling process.
“Of course,” I told her, “some babies died, but death is a part of living and everyone who came to America took a chance and was willing to die to have a chance at a dream come true.”
We discussed The American Dream – being willing to risk the present for the hope of a future involving liberty, prosperity, and a general state of well-being.
I think she “got it,” which was pretty cool because today four generations of family shared a feast around my parent’s dinner table.
(That sounds quite romantic. And sweet. Much nicer than admitting we stuffed ourselves so full of yummy food we were immobilized for five hours!)
As I think about the first Thanksgiving, I realize the blessing of breaking bread this afternoon with The American Dream.
You see, about 50 years ago, my grandparents-in-law immigrated from Tunisia (French province) to the U.S.
- They spoke no English, only French.
- They had a preschooler in tow.
- They each carried only one suitcase per person – including one sized appropriately for a preschooler. Every belonging they had… three suitcases.
- They had three hundred dollars. No credit card, no fall back plan.
- They dared to dream.
That is the sum of their baggage. Total. They dared to try for The American Dream because they knew their alternative – a war-torn Europe or an unstable French province.
Grandpére had worked in the Tunisian mines and knew explosives so he found a job in that field. Grandméme learned how to fashion hair. They settled in Boston, a multicultural city, and started to work… hard.
They learned English from television cartoons. Within a few years Grandpére started his own demolition business, while Grandméme shared ownership of a salon with her sister. I cannot even begin to imagine the conversations around their dinner table as they considered their lives in a northeastern city, an ocean away from their heritage, facing prejudice every day.
Within one generation they became The American Dream.
It wasn’t easy, and there were certainly sacrifices along the way. But they persevered, they believed, they were plucky, and they accepted they were owed nothing except the opportunities they created for themselves via preparation and ingenuity.
They became Americans.
Today they drink French coffee and speak to one another in a combination of French and English. They have a Yorkshire terrier named Bridgette and a house in the suburbs. Every meal is finished with a bread and cheese platter and each Christmas we all enjoy a Yule log cake. They are quintessentially French in combination with being wholly American.
When I was in graduate school my teachers repeatedly told me the American Dream was dead, that it was a racist club granting entrance to only the select few with the right pedigree.
I don’t believe it, and I hope you don’t either.
There’s a reason we celebrate Thanksgiving and it involves much more than turkey, sweet potato casserole, and football.
It involves passionate dreams.
I’m thankful for the determination, the courageous attitude, that allowed my ancestors to travel an ocean and decide to make a wilderness a home.
I’m thankful for that example, because I’m still pursuing The American Dream myself.
Remember, it’s out there for each of us. Assuredly.
What does The American Dream look like for you?