Friday, July 4, 2008

4th of July Fireworks

I am on vacation with my wife's family in Ithaca, New York. The official fireworks were two nights ago--it saved the town money because the police and fire crews did not get holiday pay as they would when the fireworks are on the fourth. But up and down Lake Cayuga, as far as we can see from my sister-in-law's house on the western lake shore, there are flares and fireworks and rockets.

And there are bugs. So while the fireworks popped outside the window, I went indsdie and finished A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin. It's a memoir of a Jewish boy growing up in a New York tenement in the 1920s and walking out of his Brownsville neighborhood into the wider world of New York City--and through the library to all of the world beyond. I love New York and its bridges (Although I love Paris and its bridges more, New York a close second and I could not pick third.)

This chronicle of life and hardship in the city also reminded me of the promise of growing up in America. This poor Jewish boy became a leading literary critic in America before he was 30. His parents worked with their hands, but he was free tofind his own way. My grandparents separately escaped the pogroms of the Cossacks in the 1890s and together made a life in America. My Dad, the fourth of their six sons, only got through the eighth grade in school, but became an Army officer in World War 2 and was a warehouse foreman after the war. The other Jews who escaped Russian persecution and ran only as far as Europe were among the victims of the Holocaust 40 years later.

It should be no surprise now that people from all over the world are still trying to get to America. I will always be grateful my grandparents didn't stay in Europe and made the journey all the way here.