The odds

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

-Thornton Wilder

First, I heard the shriek, and then I saw the woman drop to her knees in the parking lot. Worried that the stranger next to me was having a heart attack, I stopped loading my groceries into the back of my car and began to move toward her.

“Oh, Lord! My potatoes!” she yelled as she tried to close up the ripped end of a 25 pound bag of russets that had unceremoniously gone splat! behind her car. When she saw me, she sighed and said, “Wouldn’t it have been something to see an old lady chasing her potatoes all over the parking lot?” We agreed that shopping for Thanksgiving dinner isn’t for sissies. It’s a lot of work.

I had just spent the morning looking for coconuts.  Not “coconut” as in the dry, flaky, stuff that comes in a plastic bag. Nope. We’re talking brown, hairy, actual coconuts. The dear one coming from Chicago for Thanksgiving requested a pie that requires four cups of fresh coconut meat. He could not have known that finding a coconut in northern Minnesota in November is about as likely as seeing a parrot at the bird feeder or a cheetah under a deer stand. However, as luck would have it, I did bag what I can only assume are the only four coconuts in all of Itasca county. So, there you go. Anything’s possible.

Life is a numbers game. For another year, we’ve beaten the odds and are adding, rather than subtracting, family members. That is a blessing never to be taken for granted in any family. They will gather around our table. There will be pies.

One will be full of fresh coconut.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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Our stories

There is nothing like a dream to create the future.

-Victor Hugo

They came on ships, across rough seas from Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Sweden. They left cities and villages with names like Koblenz, Armdahl, and Karlanda. They would be buried in places like Mankato and St. Cloud, having spent entire lives without returning to the places where they were born.

They stood in lines at ports of entry to the United States of America. Then, with very little but what the steamer trunks from the old country held, they traveled to cities and villages with names like Alton, St. Paul, Kingston, and Max. They still prayed in Swedish, or counted in German, but they learned English. In a single generation, their native languages would not be spoken in their homes.

They worked as farmers, butchers, merchants, and housekeepers for wealthy families. They staked claims, homesteaded, and opened small businesses. They became U.S. citizens and leaders in their communities. In the years and generations to come, all of their children would attend school. Their grandchildren would graduate from high school. Their great-grandchildren would complete college degrees. Every generation would have an easier, more prosperous, life than the one that preceded it. This has always been the story of immigrant families in the U.S.

I think that we don’t tell these stories often enough. It is easy to forget that the desire to escape famine, war, religious persecution, or poverty is the warp thread that connects  blue-eyed families on ships in one century to brown-eyed families on foot in another. That the desire for a better life in a better place is what drives each immigrant.

I have been following the website of Sean T. Hawkey, a photographer who is documenting the exodus of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico on their way to the U.S. border where they will seek asylum. The images of so many tired women and children walking hundreds of miles toward hope is both compelling and heartbreaking.

For more information, please visit http://www.hawkey.co.uk.