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I feel immensely blessed to live in this country. Almost every American has a story of how their family came to live here. I was lucky enough as a child to hear the stories firsthand from my grandparents who left Denmark and Norway after experiencing devastation in WWII. They sacrificed a lot to be here and even more to become naturalized citizens.
My grandma was both proud of her Norwegian heritage and proud to be an American. Her love of this country, and her home country, shaped a lot of my life. In her thick Norwegian accent, she used to tell me how she came here for her kids, and for me. As I raise my kids in this country, I am even more grateful for what she has given me.
Shortly before she died, my grandmother, for the first time, sat down and wrote down her memories of the war. These memories made me who I am. They made me grateful for what I have and grateful for the brave young woman who left her entire family to come to a strange country.
Here's an excerpt from her memories:
"During the War my father was taken by the Nazis to work in the mines. In the camp, he learned how to make shoes out of old tires. Thank God that he did. For the first time in a long time I had shoes to wear. I was so happy I had shoes. People used to joke, “Go home! Your mother needs your shoes” – in other words, there would only be one pair of shoes in the family. This saying was not only close to the truth – it was the truth. As a child, I saw Russian prisoners of war marched past our home barefoot in two feet of snow. I felt so bad, so sorry for them. I knew they were going to die. The shoes Papa made looked something like a cloth shoe. Inside the tire was a kind of cloth-like material. Papa sat beside the stove at night and made these shoes for us. We were so glad for these shoes."
"My oldest brother Thorleif stole seven radios one night from a German storehouse. These were radios that belonged to the local people, that the Germans had confiscated. In the middle of the night my father helped him hide the radios in my mother's kitchen cabinets. The next morning I woke up and my mother was crying because she knew it was instant death to have a radio. The Germans wouldn't ask questions – they just shot you. I saw my mother crying – I couldn't understand why she was so anxious to send me and my sister out the door to school when it was much too early in the morning. She wanted us out of the house. Later on I found out about the seven radios. My father got rid of the radios the next night by giving them to the Underground, who distributed them around the countryside to the local farmers. Mama was so relieved to have the radios gone. She would not let my father have them in the house one more night. She was deathly afraid."
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"One winter evening, my girlfriend Sonja and I had been studying. We lost track of time. It was only 6:00 in the evening but already it was very dark. I walked home and as I got close to home, a German soldier with a rifle on his shoulder grabbed me. He said something in German to me. I didn't understand what he said. He grabbed me and he tried to hold me. I screamed bloody murder. I screamed the loudest I ever could scream. My father heard me. My mother said that he was sitting by the kitchen table and when he heard me scream, he came running. The German soldier let go of me when he saw my father. He pointed his rifle at my father and cocked it. Papa yelled, “Run, run!” and tried to explain that I was just a child by calling to the soldier, “Kinder, kinder,” which in German means child. When I got to the house I couldn't breathe. My father was petrified too. My mother was the one who yelled and screamed at me. I think my father was too scared. I was never late again. I didn't want my father to die for something stupid that I had done."
"The longer the war went, the less we had to eat. The bread we ate was hard as a stone on the outside and doughy on the inside. It was made from a mixture of flour and ground birch bark."
My grandmother sacrificed more than I can even imagine. She sacrificed so her children could go to college and now a generation later she has an entire generation of grandchildren who have been able to go to college and have children of their own.
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We can let our little ones be little ones.
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How are you an American Dreamer?