What does it mean to be an American? To me it means everything. What it means goes beyond my place of birth. For me it goes back to when millions of Irish people, Italians, and Eastern Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a better life.
My mother’s parents were refugees who came to this country from Russia. They fled religious persecution as the pogroms claimed the lives of their families. They made a good life for themselves in the safety of Coney Island, owning a dry goods store. They never talked about the old country: only about how lucky they were in America, the land of freedom.
My father’s father left his family in Romania as a young adult, because they were poor. Once in America, he pursued his dream, became a chef and made a future for himself. My father’s mom was born in Palestine. She was the oldest of ten children and was sent to America to find opportunity and a better life. She often talked of her pride in living in America and loved to sing the song, “America the Beautiful.” My grandparents felt lucky, blessed, and safe to raise their children in the freedom of this beautiful country.
My father worked in the space industry and was a pioneer in his field. His name is proudly displayed on the wall of honor at the Cradle of Aviation Museum. His experience in this field propelled us as a family toward national pride. My family began a tradition of vacationing to historic places in our country, mainly Revolutionary and Civil War sites. I can remember singing the Peter, Paul, and Mary tune, “This Land Is Your Land,” during our car rides.
As my own family grew, my son achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. At his ceremony we were joined by local officials. It gave me such a sense of pride knowing what my family had achieved in this country. It was important that my children travel throughout America as a way to experience the history of their country.
As an adult I have been drawn to the American West. I felt a sense of emotion at the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado and realized that the song, “America the Beautiful,” the song my grandma loved so much, was written there. The awe and beauty of standing in the shadow of the Grand Canyon brought me to tears. Seeing past presidents carved into Mt Rushmore was truly magical. Meeting a Navajo spiritual guide to tour Monument Valley gave me a deeper connection to this land. Then there were Bryce, Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and The Grand Tetons, just to name a few of the many amazing parks I visited, further increasing my love of America.
Luck brought my grandparents to this great land, giving my parents, myself and the future generations of my family unparalleled opportunity, and I pass down my unwavering love of America to my grandchildren.
Teri Dreyfuss-Gray joined OLLI in the spring of 2020 after retiring from 15 years in nursing home admissions. She enjoys classes on history and particularly liked Women Inventors. She enjoys meeting new people, and her passion is traveling in the United States.