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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)

TITLE: An American Afghan
By Anita van der Elst


Marie tugged on the ball of yarn to create some slack. Her knitting needles resumed the cadence, her gnarled hands following a childhood rhythm. Tired eyes caressed the bright colors she’d chosen. The grandchildren tease me about the oft times clashing hues, she mused, but to me they resemble the tulip fields in Holland. They were my favorite sight on the way to school. Her mind drifted back to those long ago days.

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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Member Comments
Member Date
Marilyn Schnepp 01/15/09
A sweet story of an immigrant coming to America. Perhaps they'll have an upcoming "topic" on Holland during this particular cycle - and you can share with us that beautiful country with its tulips, windmills and wooden shoes. (*.*)! Nice job on this one!
Robyn Burke01/15/09
It takes a lot to make me tear up. the fact that your tribute to a very special lady had the power to do so speaks strongly of your magical prose and vivid details, as well as the true portrayal of one very unique grandma. thank you for writing this.
Jan Ackerson 01/15/09
Very nie tribute to your ancestor--keep this in a family album or scrapbook!
Lisa Keck01/16/09
I liked this. One little hiccup for me was when Marie was 15. You're in the past tense and I would've preferred "the year before" rather than "last year" when talking about how her older brother sent for the family.
Sharon Kane01/19/09
A lovely tribute and nicely told. Your title threw me off course as I started reading thinking the Afghan was a person, and wondered how that was possibly going to tie in with an immigrant from Holland! But the story was very touching.