I was raised to be a patriot, in the deepest sense of the term -- I was taught to love my country.
My father was a Russian immigrant, who came here with his parents when he was one year old. My mother, one of six children, also came from a Russian Jewish immigrant family. Both sets of grandparents held organized religion in contempt, so neither of my parents were raised in the Jewish faith. Nonetheless, they had a different kind of faith. They fervently believed that those who raised the food and tended the soil should own that soil and its harvest. They had faith in the glory of the working person. It was early in the last century, and all around them industrialism was rearing its mighty head, and factories and mills were filled with thousands of working men, women, and children. It seemed only logical that what held true for the tenders of the soil should also hold true for the workers in the factories.
They believed, then, that working people were heroes. They believed that the work done by honest labor was glorious. It was in this context that both my parents became communists in the 1930's. They truly believed that communism would help to make this country even greater.
In the 1940's my Daddy went to war. Serving on the front lines in France and Germany, as a member of the infantry, Daddy fought the hardest fight against fascism, leaving behind my mother and three little daughters. He didn't come home until I was almost four years old. Mama spent the war years helping to raise money for the war effort, and taking care of us girls as best she could.
When Daddy came home, it was to a country getting ready to launch a fierce anti-communist period which came to be known as "McCarthyism." He and Mom were about to be outsiders. I was always aware that we were of Jewish heritage, in a time of the Holocaust. I was also aware of their radicalism in a time when this wasn’t okay. As McCarthyism raised its ugly head, it would have been so easy for our parents to allow us to be afraid and ashamed. But it didn't happen that way. Not for us. My folks wouldn’t let it be that way.
Our parents taught us, every day, that the American people were good. That the American worker had built an endless array of wonders -- like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Washington Monument and the highway to our grandparents home, and on and on. They taught us that all the people of the world cared about their children and laughed and sang their own songs that were as fun for them as ours were for us. They sang us lullabies from many lands. They read us fables from all over the world. They gave us a context for hope. They knew to their toes that good would find a way.
When I was in the third grade, they took us by train to Washington, D.C.. All the way across this beautiful land, they pointed out how people lived, and what they had built. All the way they told us stories from history, including those about the slaughter of the Native Americans, right along with those about the bravery of the families who made that arduous, hopeful, trip out west. The contradictions weren't confusing -- they simply were the truth.
When we got to Washington, the cab driver insisted on driving us through a black slum neighborhood, and spouted racist untruths loudly. We were horrified. My parents made us listen. It was part of the truth of our country that racism existed, and that there were people who could look at such misery and not "get it" that it was wrong for human beings to have to live in that kind of poverty. Our parents wanted us to love our country, but they also wanted us to know what ailed it and what had to get fixed.
When we actually got in to see the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, my mother cried with joy. For sourvenirs of the trip, we reverently purchased copies of the Bill of Rights in the gift shop, printed on paper made to look like ancient parchment.
Oh yes. I love my country. I may rage at what ails it, but I celebrate what is truly great about it. I'm still a patriot in that way. Happy Fourth of July.