My mom: the most patriotic person I ever knew. July 4th was her favorite holiday and she celebrated it in red-white-and-blue style. Fireworks? She was packing us into the car!

What created my mom’s love affair with America? She was born in another country.

She had to make a real effort to become an American—and she was grateful to be welcomed to our ship-shape shores after being in France during World War II. The shores there were pretty battered by the time she left. So was she.

My mom was the illegitimate result of a 1930’s fling between my Finnish grandmother and a Jewish merchant while in Paris before non-politicos like my grandmother noticed Hitler’s nefarious plans. My grandmother confessed that she had no idea that her lover was Jewish and, once she found out—probably the next morning—she refused to have anything to do with him.

She raised her half-Jewish, love-child for a while, and then packed her off to a Catholic convent where, separately and safely, they rode out World War II. Dreaming of a more comfortable life than war-torn Paris, my grandmother set her sights on New York City—a metropolis offering the classiness she craved, without the unbecoming reminders of war that marred the Parisian streets.  She found and wooed an American G.I. who was from New York State, believing her dream came true.

If she couldn't have Paris, NYC wasn't a bad Plan "B"

In hindsight, each might have wanted to speak the other’s language. The concept that “New York State” was not synonymous with “New York City” was lost to my non-English-speaking grandmother; and the unsuspecting groom had no idea that his sole magnetism was “location, location, location” since he understood neither French nor Finnish.  With faith, determination, and complete ignorance of what awaited them, my grandmother and my then 13 year-old mother moved to Sciota (sigh-O-ta), New York where trees grossly outnumbered humans, for which indoor plumbing was mere fantasy, and dirt floors were just one less thing to clean.

Not exactly New York CIty accommodations...

After the initial shock that Sciota was not another word for “city,” my grandmother embarked on a lifetime-long grudge. She was the least patriotic person I ever met, ardently hating and distrusting Americans–especially my step-grandfather, who took to whittling and drinking Topper beer for medicinal purposes.

“Bingo tonight at seven o’clock,” were the only English words my mom knew when she came to America. She enrolled in school and studied hard,  reading True Stories magazines about the lives of famous people to improve her English. When she was 21, she passed the test to become an American citizen.

The National Symphony Orchestra was playing in the background. Mom was awe-struck.

This country adopted her and never forgot it. She celebrated her rights as an American citizen every Independence Day, every voting day. On a very memorable July 4th, she visited me in Washington, D.C., where we spent a hot, sticky day with about 5 million other tourist/patriots. We left humming the Star-Spangled Banner and rubbing our eyes from the amazing fireworks–or exhaustion.

My mom is in her late 70s now. She’s not as enthusiastic or red-white-and-blue as she once was. I don’t know if she’s finally used to being an American, or if she feels like there’s less to celebrate (she’s concerned about her grandchilren’s future prospects in today’s America).

She’s still up for fireworks, though.