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An American story on this July 4th...


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I wrote this two years ago for a blog. Thought I'd share it. I mean, you'd never guess that I like to write.

To me, America is a scene out of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind." You know the part. When Richard Dreyfuss' wife drives away and witnesses "suburbia America" at its finest. Kids playing in the streets, people washing their cars, neighbors chatting with each other. And the sunshine, America is always sunny you know!!

I became an American citizen upon my birth as did my parents. But their parents, like many, were immigrants who left their homeland for a new life. They also left for freedom from the communism that swept their country.

Many now-a-days arrive in this country on a jet liner; they arrived on an ocean liner, 3rd class. (We've all seen movie Titanic, remember how they treated the 3rd class passengers? Not a good thought.) Immigrants now stand in line at the INS; they stood in line at Ellis Island.

My grandfather Jonas on my father's side and grandmother Martha on my mother's side entered this country like thousands of others. Once they arrived at Ellis Island and went through the required procedure, they were allowed into New York.

My grandfather on my mother's side traveled alone to meet his family in Pennsylvania and was sent back to Lithuania because he had chicken pox. A few months later, 11 year old Louis, walked to Germany, boarded an ocean liner, once again alone, to return to America and was finally granted entry.

My grandmother on my father's side was told of a man, twice her age who awaited her in Pennsylvania. Though it would be her choice to marry him, her family impressed upon her that he was Lithuanian, Catholic, a good man and a hard worker.

However before she could be his wife, she had to go to America. And before she could enter this country, she had to hide in a bail of hay in a horse drawn cart as she exited Lithuania. She needed to stay in one certain spot so when the solider took a pitch fork and stabbed the hay, she wouldn't be harmed. The solider was paid a head of time, and it was 16 year old Cecilia, who would've paid the price had she not done as she was told. Alone, in the dark, she lay at the bottom of a cart and she risked her life for a better one. (You go girl! She had spunk!)

My parents who were born here, met at a Lithuanian-Catholic church function, fell in love, married and had me. They went on to raise 6 children and to see the births of 7 grandchildren.

My father and mother, while proud of their Lithuanian heritage which was very much a part of my upbringing, always taught us “kids,†that we were Americans, first.

So you see, behind every American, there's a story of why they are Americans. Mine is more than just, "I was born here." In a nut shell my "life" story could not have been possible without Grandmom Cecilia who accepted the marriage proposal of Grandpop Jonas, a man she never loved but highly respected. From what I've been told, she was incredibly proud to be his wife and the mother of his children. They built a life together and the last of their 6 kids was my Daddy.

And of course "Pop-pop Louie" and "Mom-mom Maggie" who met while singing in the church choir of, you guessed it, a Lithuanian-Catholic church and it was love at first site. A year after they married, along came Martha or "Tootsie," who is my Mom. She married “Eddie,†they had me and I was born and remain by choice, a US citizen. Whew!!

Almost 60 years before I was even a "sparkle in my Daddy’s eye," four people were leaving their familiar life to be part of a new homeland. And little did they know that one day a grandchild yet to be born was going to be an American because of them.

So may I say thank you to Jonas, Cecilia, Louis and Martha --- my grandparents. For this gal is proud to be a Yankee-Doodle-Dandy!!

Cecilia and Jonas Antanaitis

Maggie and Louie Kroklys

Tootsie and Eddie Antonitis


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Thanks for posting this, Wendy. I read it this afternoon before going to the in-laws and didn’t have time to comment. I read it to my wife, my voice cracking as I finished, and tears streamed down her face. What a great Independence Day story...and very well written, too.

We sometimes forget (or fail to appreciate) the importance of our ancestors...how their decisions and sacrifices made us the people we are today. Thanks for the reminder.

BTW...I grew up in Cecilia, Kentucky. My parents still live there and I’m less than 5 minutes away. It’s a great little community just outside of Elizabethtown. I’ll probably think of your grandmother during Cecilia Days in August...

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Wendy - thanks for sharing such a warm, enlightening and beautiful experience with the board. I only wish your Great-Grandparents could know the crazy, funny, warm, caring person you have turned out to be!!

You know it's stories like yours that make America what it is....GREAT!!

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What a powerful American Tale. My great grandfather, God rest his soul, used to tell me so many tales of "how it used to be". I loved every minute of them. One of my favorites was one he told me on my wedding day (first marriage.... long story). He told me a story of the day he and my great grandmother were to meet their families by train to be married. They decided to be "naughty" and keep on going, never getting off the train where they were supposed to and "took care" of the official business privately. I cherish all of his stories as they gave me a peek into my history, some serious and some funny, just as the story you have shared has with you. Thanks so much for sharing.

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Thanks for the comments. I too love to hear stories of my family roots as well as others.

I knew all of my grandparents except my Dad's father. He was killed in the early 40's. Train accident.

My mom's parents I knew until my late 20's and I adored them both. Pop-pop used to steal the Playboy magazines from the kids on the block, read 'em and give 'em back. My sis and I were the loves of his life.

But Grandmom Antanaitis...she was the Granny Moses of Forest City, PA. She grew poppies in the back yard and mold on bread. Fed them both to the kids. My Dad, Aunts and Uncles were always healthy and high! LOL

She helped the prostitutes in town when a Dr. refused to see them. She would go to the sick in the town when again, others were afraid to help. She wasn’t a Dr. nor had medical training. She was a midwife too.

She also joined her daughters in a sing a long when they (mostly Aunt Julie) brought home "the boys in the band." Back in the 30's "the band" consisted of no less then what---16 people? lol Now I know where my sis and my love of "band boys" started. LuvLove

Up until she died...she could find a root in the ground, dig it up, put it in vodka for a day and drink it for "medicinal" purposes. She lived until 88 years old when a fall took her life.

I hope one day my nieces and nephews appreciate where they came from as much as I do.

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I too have been so lucky to have known my grandparents (and two great grandparents). My children have known my maternal grandfather who passed away this spring, and my paternal grandmother who is still living. Grandma loves to spend time with the kids and shares a lot with them... I only hope they are old enough to remember.

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Wendy, I am just getting a chance to respond to your touching story! It's great you take so much pride in your family history an also in being a American.

That's much the same way I feel when I look at our flag.

I think most of us Americans look upon our flag with pride and as a symbol of beauty and freedom. Our history lessons taught us the significance of the red, white, and blue; and the symbolism of the stars and stripes which compromise its makeup.

When I see our flag waving freely in the breeze, I, like many of you, see a thing of beauty. But I think the true beauty of the flag goes much deeper. Down past the colors of the red, white, and blue. All of the way down to the interwoven threads. Even down to the very fibers of its construction.

I see those interwoven threads and fibers as every individual who chose to become an American and desire a better life for themselves and their families. A life with the promise of freedom. While some of us may be familiar with some of the stories of the history and embattled journeys our ancestors chose to make in order to come to this country with the hopes of becoming an American,...many of us will never know much of the sacrifices, along with mental and physical anguish so many endured in search of the promise of a better life. While some of the detailed accounts of events representing countless stories may be lost forever, I believe each and every one of the stories remain forever ingrained in every fiber and interwoven thread of what our flag stands for. And none, no matter how small, are any less vital to the importance of the final result. Each story is necessary in its own way for its completion, no matter how small or insignificant they may have appeared.

To me, those individual fibers become strengthened by each story; eventually forming the interwoven threads as each individual story is united by the outreached hands of the next person's story. Until the fabric of our flag is finally completed by the solidarity of the countless interwoven threads. The threads that ultimately form the true fabric of our lives...our freedom.

The fabric is then awash with the familiar colors and patterns of the red, white, and blue. The familiar red, white, and blue, symbolically to me, as the blood, sweat, and tears produced by every one of those stories in each one's individual search for freedom. Colors so saturated in intensity that the end result showcases a stunning and vivid array of glory..."Old Glory"...representing every American's gift of freedom.

I hope the next time you gaze upon our flag, you'll choose to look just a little deeper at our revered symbol of freedom. I know I'll never look at it quite the same again.

Thanks Wendy, for recounting some wonderful personal examples of the individuals that make up those very fibers and interwoven threads resulting in our beautiful flag!

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Wendy, I love your story about your family. It is great that you have it written down, so it can be past on to generations to come. You wrote it with your heart and that too will be felt when it is read years from now. My family has been here since the 1690's and sometimes I only have the historical facts, and not the emotional feel.I too was lucky enough to have my grandparents live long enough to see my daughter and tell her stories about their lives. Thanks for sharing with us.

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