My parents are affectionately known by me and my sister as "the birds" due to their tiny stature. Every year on Christmas eve, we all head over to their house with Junior and Mini, as well as with Mr. Mock's parents. This year the tradition continued.
With the exception of the kids, our families have had a several years-long moratorium on Christmas gifts, which is basically awesome. We never stress about gift buying and gift giving, because we mostly stick to the rule, which is no presents for adults.
Invariably, everyone sort of cheats a little, mostly the birds, because they are impossible like that. There's usually a little Christmas cash, and some household handy stuff, but still - there's an avoidance of that whole "Christmas list" thing and an avoidance of the overly commercialized part of Christmas. The focus is on the kids, which is just the way I like it.
But I have to share what the birds gave to me and my sister last night, IN ADDITION to the handy household stuff and Christmas cash, because it's basically the best present in the entire history of presents, and if they would have offered me this present OR piles and piles and piles of money, I would choose this present over and over and over and over again forever and ever more.
If you haven't read our About Us tab, then you might not know I'm a first generation American girl, the product of Polish immigrants who fled and escaped an oppressive, anti-Semitic government, risked never seeing their families again, and came to America to pursue the American dream against incredible odds.
And the birds' gift to me and my sister this Christmas? A bound, thorough, first person account of their life story, written with painstaking loving detail by my sweet birdmom. It tells the tale of her childhood growing up on a farm without electricity or plumbing. It describes my dad's escape with his mother to the Soviet Union when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Her own mother, my great-grandmother who I'm named after, stayed behind and ultimately died in in the Treblinka death camp northeast of Warsaw.
The amazing story of my parents continues and describes in great detail their loss of citizenship from their home country, their days in Italy (where I was conceived) while they belonged to no country at all, their early work in science (and my dad's serendipitous hiring by a neurobiologist who ultimately won a Nobel Peace Prize and is now a centenarian Italian senator-for-life), and their incredible journey to the US, where they settled in Ithaca, NY (my birthplace) so my dad could get his PhD at Cornell. My mom worked in the USDA Plant, Soil and Nutrition lab in which another Nobel Prize winner had determined the sequence of the first nucleic acid the year prior.
The birds' story, which I read in its entirety last night through puddles and puddles of tears (and I have a MEGA MASSIVE HEADACHE this morning as a result), includes the description of the day they became American citizens in August of 1974, when I was 5 years old. They were required to prove that they understood English by writing "I live in America" - which was hysterical given that my dad had just gotten a PhD at Cornell. They had to pass a citizenship exam, and they had to get letters of reference, one of which was from a boss my mom had in Ithaca, whose name was James Madison.
The story includes details about my parents' life together that my sister and I had never heard, and lots of stories that we remember living personally. It recounts the visits that I made to Poland with my mother when I was 6 and when I was 10, but also shares the many times that my mom's requests for a Polish visa were denied, and she spent years without ever seeing her parents or family. It tells the story of the Solidarity movement in Poland, my father's parents' involvement in it, but before its ultimate success, my mom wrote of the memories she has of visits she made to Poland in the 80's during which she personally witnessed the empty food stores, the lines for bread. To help her family when she wasn't visiting, she sent hidden $20 bills in seed packages or peanut butter jars, so that it would reach her family and not get confiscated by the authorities.
And when my mom returned to the states after each visit to Poland (and even still to this day) there is nothing like hearing the folks in customs at the airport say, "Welcome home" - she still gets choked up. Because she and my father are Americans, you see. And this is home.
There is an epilogue included in their story - specifically devoted to their reflections about America. And it's worthy of sharing part of it here, because there's no better day than Christmas to think about how lucky we all are to live in this amazing country. She wrote:
My appreciation for this country grew over the years, especially after my visits to communist Poland. Every time I went there I had the impression that I was seeing a depressing black and white movie, and as soon as I landed back in the USA, the movie was joyful and in color. Still, for quite a long time I was envious of the Western European welfare system....why could we not have it in America? I just did not understand then all the pitfalls of the welfare state.
I realized that America has a unique role in the world, defending freedom, democracy, human rights, and all the right causes around the world, and that it was an expensive endeavor, especially during the Cold War. It required a strong defense, and the people of America took the financial burden of keeping the rest of the world at peace on their own shoulders. The true riches of a country are not measured by the size of its mansions or number of cars, but by its history, its institutions, and character. When we look at those, America stands above and apart from other nations as a truly exceptional country.
It's worth fighting for, our America. It's why co-owning this site with Daisy, and being active and engaged in this way, is clearly in my blood.
Thanks for indulging my need to share the awesomeness that is the birds. I can't imagine a gift I could ever treasure more than their story. I CANNOT STOP CRYING OVER IT.
Merry Christmas, everyone!