Sunday, May 25, 2008

In honor of both Memorial Day and in celebration of what would have been 52 years of marriage as of tomorrow, May 26th for my parents!

May my father rest in peace - I miss you so!

What it means to be American

"Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardwork-- the virtues that made America." -- Teddy Roosevelt

I could probably go on and on about what I believe the characteristics of being “an American” truly are, but Teddy summed it up pretty darn well with that quote above. So instead, I am going to share with you, simply, why I am proud to call myself American.

As most of us, I learned my values, ideals, beliefs and thoughts from those who raised me…my parents. My parents were both born and raised in the Bronx, NY…yes, I said “THE” Bronx, as anyone hailing from New York will understand. My father grew up an only child, while my mother grew up as the third child in a family of four. Both came from what some would call, “less” than middle class homes. However, both were taught the value of working hard to better one self…they were taught simply, to “dream.”

Back in the day…local and community events basically revolved around the “churches and temples” in the area. As such, my parents actually met at a Jewish temple. Mom was going to try out for the all girls community basketball team and my father, happened to be one of the assistant coaches. Both had attended the same Catholic grade school and had “known” of each other but had not ever met. Anyway, they began courting, and continued to do so for the remainder of their high school days.

Shortly after enlisting in the US Navy, pop asked Mom to marry…she did of course and their days of sharing a lifetime of dreams and goals began. They dreamt of owning their own home one day; they would be the first in both families to do so. They dreamt of having many children fill their home; they had six of us. They dreamt of one day leaving New York, traveling to the West Coast and making a new home in California; they arrived here in 1962. They dreamt of providing more opportunities for their children, they dreamt of giving their children all that they could; they did so, never complaining or whining about the many sacrifices they would have to make in the process.

The sacrifices came in many ways, but probably the biggest came from Pop’s 30 years of service in the US Navy. Pop was a veteran of both the Korean War and the Vietnam War and during the years between 1962 through 1974 Pop went on seven, seven-month cruises to the Gulf of Tonkin. Of course, that meant he had to leave Mom and us kids behind, missing out on many of the moments that most families seem to take for granted these days. Such as the birth of a child, their first steps, first day at school, first homerun, etc, etc. Mom, however, was a trooper, never complained, never worried and never fretted, all the while, explaining thoroughly where Pop was and why he was serving his country. When Pop was home though…the joy and memories my parents gave to us will never be forgotten. A few memories are listed below, but there are so many more.

  • Pop taking us to countless military air shows. I’ll never forget holding my father’s hand as he shared with us all the details of each air craft and standing in aw as we gazed up to the sky to watch the Blue Angels demonstrate the techniques and maneuvers that all Navy pilots are taught to execute
  • Shopping with Mom at the military commissaries and exchanges at 32nd Street in San Diego, feeling as if we had stepped back into another era, completely safe and secure
  • Trips to Disneyland, running out to the parking lot at lunchtime to devour the lunch that Mom had taken days to prepare for us (in hopes of saving some money in the park) only to have Pop take us back in and a few hours later splurge on whatever goodies our hearts desired. Watching Pop get emotional every time we ever rode “It’s a Small World”
  • Fourth of July – fireworks on Silver Strand in San Diego. Trying to learn to skip stones over the bay, just like my big brothers did. The scent of the hot dogs and hamburgers that Mom made at home for us…and somehow she always knew how to keep them warm until we were ready to eat, it was like “magic”
  • The excitement and drama of watching every Olympics, cheering on the American’s I’ll never forget how we all cried and cheered the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980
    Being awaken every Thanksgiving morning by Pop as he whispered gently in my ear, “come on Nanny, the parade is on”
  • Drive-in movies – huddled in the back of our station wagon together for the latest and greatest family film
  • I remember Pop’s favorite motto: “Don’t tread on me” – learning why it was and what it really meant
  • Learning that both my parents didn’t just “talk” politics around the dinner table, but actually were active, volunteering in local, state and national campaigning
  • Tying yellow ribbons around the trees in our front lawn when our military was in Harm’s way – flying our American flag everyday
  • High school football games on Friday nights, baseball games on Saturday
  • Pop’s cooking dinner on Sunday’s – his favorite roasted potatoes
  • Mom’s schlepping all over town to pick us up and drop us off, skating lessons, football and baseball practice, diving, swimming, track and tennis

I suppose I could go on and on sharing the many memories I have of growing up, but the point is to show that my parents didn’t just “preach” what it is to be an American – they lived it. They taught us to appreciate the sacrifices that were made by the brave and valiant men and women serving in our military each day, as well those in days past. To appreciate that everyone has opportunity here…it’s not just a “slogan” on a billboard. We learned that we could, through hard work; personal responsibility and dedication become anything we want, as my parents demonstrated. They gave us an example of what it means to have and achieve the American dream. They taught us that as long as we carry a dream in our heart – being an American allows us the promise and hope of fulfilling it.

Most of all, they showed us in their countless ways everyday, what it means to love the freedoms our nation affords us and it is why I am now and will always be proud to call myself American.

America, Why I Love Her - John Wayne

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