To this day, my father has trouble eating cauliflower. Every time he tries, the conversation will turn to my grandmother – dishes she always prepared in his childhood, what she substituted when the government planted too much of the wrong thing, how the family subsisted on nothing but cauliflower for one whole season. And before long I am daydreaming of the cauliflower soup she used to make in my childhood, while the cuckoo clock in her kitchen would chime the hours, making the Hungarian flag hanging from it shake.
I always wondered what she must have thought the American dream was, standing in that tiny kitchen in Budapest, surrounded by four small children and uncertainty – deciding to flee her native country and everything she’d ever known for their sake. We make jokes while I mix paprika with cream cheese for the körözött, elbow deep in cucumber slices for the salata and szendvics, and think, “And we are the American dream?”
But the truth is, 55 years after they left their homeland, nearly all eighteen of her grandchildren have higher education. We are doctors, lawyers, Air Force pilots, Marines, burgeoning Ministers, Social Workers … We are the American dream. And while I find myself mourning the country we left behind, I am standing firmly in all the joys and opportunities this new place has afforded us. But it’s a difficult place to stand.
My father always says, “We always thought that streets in America would be paved with gold. But when we got here we realized it was our job to pave them.” I suspect that if you asked him, he would say things didn’t work out the way he thought they would, when they were children coming to this country clutching to Api’s calloused hands or Mami’s finely pressed skirt.
And if you ask me, I’d tell you that’s a pretty fine description of the American dream: You’re not exactly sure what it is; in the end, it’s never what you think it will be; and you know you want it, regardless.
My litte sister, god bless her, sent me an email this morning because she remembered this piece I had written a few years back and thought it would be appropriate for a poetry anthology her organization is putting together. The problem is, it needed to be half a page long. Which is actually a good thing, because I’d never been fully pleased with the original. So I went to work condensing it, the result of which you’ve just read.
I haven’t been published since college, save this blog, so I’m excited to get back on that horse. For the record, I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied with the revision, but what artist ever is? Its definitely better than the original, and I even had it called “riveting” today. I’ll take it. Thanks for listening.