Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)
TITLE: An American Afghan
By Anita van der Elst
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School was like play to Marie. When time permitted she acted at being a teacher with her younger sisters. Someday, she dreamed, I will teach others. Named Maria after her father Marinus, she entered the world in 1898 in Rotterdam. Her mother Lena, an ambitious woman, instilled in her a passion for learning.
Shortly after Marie’s thirteenth birthday her dream expanded beyond her expectations. Last year at age eighteen brother Gerrit had gone to America. Now he was sending for the family to join him in the land of opportunity. With great anticipation Marie crossed the ocean with her parents and five of her ten siblings. She pictured herself finishing high school as a proud American and then going on to get that coveted teaching certificate. Waiting for hours on Ellis Island, she lifted her hazel eyes to the banner of red and white stripes with its corner of starred blue. All the long miles on the train to the Pacific Northwest it was as though her dream knit itself from the skein of her new country.
But life on a dairy farm required all hands to assist and Marie’s hope for education was set aside. For extra money Marie became a mother’s helper with another farm family. Her kind employer taught her English. Marie was a quick learner. And in between laundry and canning, she delighted in teaching her charges what she’d learned in her early school years.
A week shy of her eighteenth birthday Marie’s naivety led her into marriage with a manipulative farmhand. For the next couple of decades Marie suffered much at Antone’s alcoholic abusive hands. She somehow found solace in the familiar design of her unfulfilled dream. When Antone left her for another woman Marie carried on with the upkeep of the farm acquired earlier. Her youngest child was now in high school. At last my time has come, she realized. Joyfully she unfolded the flag of her own desire and let it unfurl. Correspondence courses brought her the longed for high school education and a diploma.
At a time when it was unusual for a 50 year-old woman to begin a career, Marie left the family farm in her oldest son’s hands and became a college graduate. Marie’s eyes shone like stars as she began her first teaching job at an elementary school and led the students in pledging allegiance to the flag. Marie taught public elementary students for a number of years. Retirement came and she no longer taught in the public schools but her teaching days were not over.
A granddaughter with paraplegia was approaching school age and the child’s parents were not convinced she could handle it. Marie stepped in to prove she could by opening a private kindergarten in her home where the local school did not offer one. The child flourished in her grandma’s kindergarten and went on to a successful public education, graduating from high school and becoming gainfully employed. Marie continued offering kindergarten classes in her home for several years to a grateful community until the nearby school opened one.
She encouraged all of her grandchildren in their studies; they didn’t always appreciate it except when she offered greenbacks for A’s on report cards.
Marie smiled at her memories. She thought I’m not through teaching yet. I’m going to take that creative writing class offered at the senior activity center. I’ll write down my memories for others to learn from.
Little did Marie know how her legacy of valuing higher education in the American public school domain would pass on down through the next generations. Many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have graduated from technical schools, public colleges, universities and military institutions and now contribute to the health and welfare of the USA. One such great-granddaughter, who never met her, wraps herself in one of Marie’s knitted flower gardens, an extension of my grandmother’s knitting herself into an American afghan.
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