This post will be a bit of a departure from those I typically write. As I have listened to the various voices concerning the issues surrounding immigration, I have begun to think of my own family, one that has been a part of the American fabric for many generations. But way back in the 1800’s, my family were immigrants, too. So, I decided to dig deep into the boxes I have that are full of pictures and memorabilia, nudging my memories, and giving me new understandings about the generations that came before me.
It is not a particularly exciting American story. It is, rather, a fairly ordinary story of people looking for a better life, a new home, a better place to settle and raise a family. So many other Americans have a very similar, pretty ordinary story. That is part of who we are as a people, a nation…that our ancestors were able to come here with little drama, but a whole lot of yearning.
“Abba, lieber Vater, Amen”…this is the very first prayer I ever learned. It is the prayer my father taught me when I was very young. His is the family about which I know the most. His ancestry was German and Prussian.
My father was born in Redbud, Illinois. He was the second child, and the oldest son of my grandparents. Theirs was a German Lutheran family, and the church was the center of their religious life, as well as their social life.
It always amazes me to hear people talk about how important it is for immigrants to learn to speak English. Well, of course it is! English is the language spoken in this county. But when western European immigrants came to this country, they more often than not, did not speak English, and they worked hard to learn English after their arrival. But they also hung on to their mother tongue, always using it in their homes, teaching it to their children, and in German Lutheran communities, they attended worship services conducted in German. My dad, who was born in America, and my grandparents, who were also born here, attended German church services in Wartburg, Illinois for many years. Until my father was nine years old, and he moved to Detroit, he attended German Lutheran school, where all the classes were in German, while the students also learned to speak a better English. I always thought it was really impressive that my dad was bilingual. I did not, however, think it cool when he and my grandparents spoke German to one another, so that my siblings and I could not understand what they were saying.
So my father teaching me a simple German prayer was not a sign that he was not a “real American”. It was his attempt to bring me into the history of the family, his way of sharing with me his heritage, his faith, and all the things he wished for me to understand as important.
When my father was nine, his father declared bankruptcy and lost his family farm. He moved to Detroit, where he worked for the Detroit utility company until his retirement. Grandpa was a teddy bear of a man, and I loved him dearly. When I spent the night with my grandparents, he would always take me to see the bride in the window of the bridal shop on Livernois Avenue…one of my most treasured memories. He also always took me for ice cream on our walks to the market, making me promise to never tell grandma. Somehow I always suspected she knew. He was also a proud and honest man. I was always proud of his German stubbornness and that German pride that made him pay back every penny he owed, though with his bankruptcy declaration he would have never been required to repay any of his debt.
Though my grandparents had five children, only two of them grew to adulthood. Both my father and my uncle served in the armed forces during World War II, my dad as a Seabee, and my uncle as an Army pilot. While flying cover for General Patton’s army in the Battle of the Bulge, my uncle was shot down over enemy territory. He was reported missing and presumed dead. I always wondered how my grandmother was able to go on, having lost three children, and then learning of the assumed loss of one of the only two children she had left. And then a miracle happened. My father, stationed in Ireland, received word that it was possible his brother had been located in a hospital in France. He was given leave to check on the truth of the report, and did indeed find his brother in a French hospital with an injury to his left arm that would leave him with a lifelong disability. I can only imagine the joy that filled my grandparents house when they received the news.
And so it goes. My father and my uncle both had families, and those families now have families. We are all-American, and we seldom think about where our roots are…across the Atlantic Ocean in a far away country most of us will never see.
I guess the whole point of this post is to remind everyone that we are all from somewhere else. We are all Americans, and our ancestral traditions, the various heritages we represent, are the things about all of us that have made this American quilt, this American experiment, this American greatness, so amazing.
Don’t worry that the immigrant does not speak English upon his arrival. He will learn the language if we help him. My dad spoke German to his dying day, and he had a good command of the English language as well…I envy that.
Don’t worry that the immigrant may need assistance upon arrival. He will “pick himself up by his bootstraps” if we give him a fair chance, if we help him. My grandfather, a second generation American lost everything, and owed a lot of money to a lot of people. He not only picked himself up, he honored every debt he ever incurred. I am so very proud of this grandfather whom I adored.
Don’t worry about the honor of your own forefathers, nor grant them special commendation, who fought the wars that have kept us safe and secure between two oceans. They did not fight those wars to save this nation only for those who were already here. America is not that nation. My father and my uncle were third generation Americans who fought to save the world from the madness of World War II. Many immigrants, here in this country now, are fighting alongside natural born citizens to protect us from the madness we have in our world today, as well as the madness that comes occasionally to the home front. Turning our backs on our new immigrants will only turn them against us, and they will choose to fight against us, instead of for us. Turning our backs on refugees who want to become immigrants, as they escape the horrors in their own homelands, will have the same effect.
Wherever you come from, wherever your neighbor comes from, wherever that young family getting off that refugee flight as a new immigrant to this nation comes form, understand we can all find a place here. We can keep America as great as it has always been…as long as we realize we are all in this together! Maybe we can make it even better, by realizing that this quilt will never, ever, be quite finished.
Grandma Minnie’s Cookies…Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
This is the original copy of the recipe as written by my Aunt Helen for my Grandma Minnie.
I first posted this recipe two years ago in one of my very first posts about growing up in Detroit. I have tweaked it a bit here, giving more complete instructions than are found on the original copy, and making it with lard rather than the drippings my grandmother often used. They are really good…they remind me of family, and they bring a smile to my face. Enjoy!
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
- 1 c sugar
- 1/2 c lard
- 1/2 c. butter
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 c. sour milk*
- 2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 c. dry rolled oats
- 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
- Cream together the sugar, lard, and butter.
- Mix in the eggs and sour milk.
- In another bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder. Add these to the creamed mixture, and mix until combined.
- Stir in the rolled oats, raisins, and chopped nuts.
- Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet, greased the first time only.
- Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes
*You can make sour milk by putting 1/2 Tbsp. of vinegar in a 1/2 c. measuring cup, then filling with milk to the top. Let sit for 5 minutes before adding to the dough.