Monday, May 29, 2006

Dinner Plates from Acme

Dear Gramma,

I am in your great granddaughter's kitchen. You would like her. She has your sweetness and she goes with the flow.

I am staring at one thing trying to remember another. I have a green plate in my hand. A blazing fire is roaring in a colonial style hearth. A musket hangs on the edge of the mantle that holds several plates and pitchers. It is obviously a working kitchen like yours was with bellows to keep that fire cooking and pots and spoons. This plate was a grocery store giveaway that mom had collected and gave to my daughter who loved the picture so. The set was circa 1965 or so I guess. The rest of the set is worn but still in use, with its chips and flaws. The dessert bowl features that set of bellows and the salad plates feature a spinning wheel.

But I am trying to remember your dinnerware, also brought into the big house on 18th street, piece by piece, as a prize for loyal shopping. And you probably walked it home, in the 1950's, for Pappap never did learn to drive and neither did you. Your set was blue and white with artwork by Currier & Ives. I remember winter and a house, and a horse, and maybe a stream. And I remember chicken and potpie and rye bread. And I remember Swedish meat balls and chicken noodle soup.

As I'm remembering the sweet anise taste of your rye bread I'm wondering what you might think of the debate on immigration that is raging in Congress right now. I know that you probably wouldn't be following it too closely. You would be too busy working, with those dear rough, wrinkled, and dry-cracked fingers. But what would you think of the fears of wealthy upper class congresspeople and senators who are straining to protect their various properties, most of which they inherited from wealthy parents and grandparents.

We are all decendents of hardworking immigrants aren't we, most of whom were not terrorists? In fact immigration doesn't have anything to do with terrorism, no matter how much Congressional confusion exists on the subject. And the value of that hard work, the value of the labor is greater, I think than the capital that sits in the investment accounts of many of the second and third generation wealthy elite.

Meanwhile, looking at a hearth on a plate from a working class kitchen, I am grateful for an inheritance not of financial riches but of cultural prosperity and the affluence of fully employed days and tired muscles and energetic endeavor.

With loving memories,



cadh 8 said...

Dear Great gramma,

I never got to know you but I wish I had. Your daughter's rye bread is what inspired me to bring four loaves to our New Years celebration this year. It was your daughter and her daughter that inspired my life, and in that you have too.

Here is my question. What is the line between immigrant and native? Is it citizenship or green card, where you grew up, or simply adopted attitude. Does the proverbial "American Spirit" give you the right to be here more than a colored peice of paper. Are those who want to fight illegal immigration trying to return to the Miserable French requirements of having the right "papers". Are we depending too much on unforgiving words in black and white to determine how we treat people? Or do we throw out order and law in order to respect those who do the unwanted or the low paying jobs?

You went to Ellis Island, great-gramma. You did not have to change your name, but I have another great-gramma and grandpop that did. Is that an abuse, a wronging? Or was that just what people did, paying the price to become a part of this country?

I now have a husband much closer to the immigrant experience than I now am. He started with a green card, but is now a citizen. He went through some of the things you did, through all the legal channels, and he has a strong opinion on this issue. He definitely believes that if he can do it right, anyone can. If his family can bring great succes out of $100 and a belief in hard work, so can the families of other poor and other immigrants. He does tend to simplify, but he's been there, I haven't.
You may not have paid attention to the politics, but we all must. We are all paying, we are all at risk, but I believe that it can be sorted out. My mom is sort of a socialist now. I am not sure exactly how she feels on this. I am not totally sure how I feel. But as mom could tell you, I am a stickler for rules and regulations. Bypassing them is a problem for me. But I am also a respecter of hard work, so maybe I will support replacing some of the laziest in this country with the hardworking immigrants who want to be here. I don't know.

ANyway, I do love the plates grandma gave me, and it makes me happy that it is another way that the thread of connection can run through our family, reminding us of the past and inspiring us to the future.

Love you,

brd said...

I have a record from Ellis Island that says your Great Grandfather, Jan Joseph Ellstrom, arrived from Sweden with $11.00 in his pocket. It is amazing, isn't it. He worked hard during his life as a blacksmith in the Altoona branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

His friends called him J.J. and his wife called him Joe. I called him Pappap. Some Saturday nights we stayed with them, watching Lawrence Welk and dancing the polka.

cadh 8 said...

What a complicated and interesting debate this immigration thing is. It is like, we have seen the enemy and he is us. WHat do we do? I think this is one of the great questions of the time, but I don't know what the answer is.

Anyway, I liked writing a letter to great gramma, even having not met her. It was interesting. I like this format...