July 13, 2006

AMERICA ISN'T A PLACE (via Mike Daley & Tom Morin):

Born American, but in the Wrong Place (Peter W. Schramm, April 2006, On Principle)

The war was hard on everyone and the war’s end brought little relief. When the Communists took control of the country in 1949, my parents’ little textile shop (about half the size of my living room) and everything that was in it, was taken from them. They were considered the "bourgeoisie," and therefore dangerous to this new kind of tyranny now in control. My father was later sentenced to prison for a year for "rumor mongering" (someone claimed he called a Communist a tyrant, which he did). He got out, washed windows for awhile and made illegal whiskey. He lived, and his family survived.

In that same year, 1949, my grandfather was sentenced to ten years hard labor by the Communists for having a small American flag in his possession (much like the kind we wave at July 4th celebrations or with which we decorate the graves of our fallen heroes). Dad tried then, unsuccessfully, to persuade my mother to leave. But their ties to family and friends were too strong, and she would not hear it. At my grandfather’s "trial" they asked him why he had the flag. Was he a spy? He replied that it represented freedom better than any other symbol he knew and that he had a right to have it. When my grandfather got an early release from the labor camp in 1956, he came back to us looking like a victim of the Holocaust. Still, the first thing he wanted to know was whether we still had the flag. Of course, we did not. It had long ago been confiscated. But my father did not want to break his father’s heart so he somehow managed to secure another one. We took it out of its hiding place and at that tender age I learned the very adult lesson of the complexity of telling the truth. Seeing that flag somehow erased much of the pain and torment those years of imprisonment caused my grandfather. That flag restored in him something like hope. In my father, it also stirred up righteous anger.

Now, with the revolution failing, came the final straw for my Dad. On one of his trips out to secure some bread, a hand grenade landed next to him but, miraculously, it did not go off. The spark that should have set off that grenade set off my father instead. He came home and announced to my mother that that was it. He said he was going to leave the country whether she would come or not. Mom said, "O.K., William. We will come if Peter agrees. Ask Peter."

My mother tells me, though I don’t remember saying this, that I told my father I would follow him to hell if he asked it of me. Fortunately for my eager spirit, hell was exactly what we were trying to escape and the opposite of what my father sought.

"But where are we going?" I asked.

"We are going to America," my father said.

"Why America?" I prodded.

"Because, son. We were born Americans, but in the wrong place," he replied.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 13, 2006 7:28 PM
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