Immigrants

One of my great grandmother’s first cousins was a silversmith in Norway (Oslo?). He was talented. And he gave her traditional Norwegian (not plated of course) silver brooches (Solje) for her granddaughters when she visited her family in Norway one last time in the 1950’s with her husband, my great grandfather. My mother still has her brooch. It’s lovely.

But truly though, I was looking through old family photos from the early 1960’s today and I found one of my grandmother and a few of her siblings. They look so well dressed and proper and frankly as often as I have seen their photos over the years it never occurred to me how elegant they actually all were; with their perfectly tailored dresses, lovely hair, and traditional Norwegian wool sweaters standing tall with perfect posture.

…They really do remind me of the Lindens a bit, but with more reserve and less Hollywood. Newer American affluence. Less overt opulence too.

I’d share the photo but I don’t trust the internet anymore. (Sorry if you’re trustworthy.)

My Great Aunt Kathleen (not photographed) owned a dress shop though. She married into the family. And she didn’t mind a bit of opulence…

Kathy had great style. Her charming heels and chic alligator handbags were the right match for her red nails, spicy perfume and occasional red lips (when she was being particularly fashionable). She eventually worked closely (as a very well-regarded buyer) with a few exclusive dress stores and Neiman’s in the Twin Cities. She was the most glamorous one. Although, jovial, golf playing, also red lipped and cherry nails, platinum-blond Aasne was extraordinary and very beautiful in her own chic way too. She also wore a spicy perfume… It was early 20th Century Coty L’Origan, I believe.

And they were the children of immigrants.

These millionaire (already by the 1950’s/60’s when it meant something to be just a millionaire and of course continuing onwards), WWII heroes, brilliant investors (most of them), homemakers, small business owners, a farmer, an engineer and a doctor climbed into the upper-middle and upper-classes quickly by today’s standards. Through intelligence, hard work and decency. THAT is the American Dream.

And, of course, my great grandparents who became actual pioneers weren’t exactly uneducated or unaware individuals (with only their one late 1800’s/early 1900’s steamer trunk a piece) when they came from Norway…but…they really did save, work extremely hard (and wisely), stay grateful and…make a (lasting) leap.

It should still be like that. That narrative is part of the ideal that causes people to want to come to my country. And it isn’t based on fairytales. People really did improve their lot and the lot of their descendants that much. And they paid for it. Bravely and Fairly.

No, they deserved what they received. But, at the same time, they weren’t cheated. They paid and sent away for cotton dresses from J. C. Penny’s and they were sent dresses. Wearable, real cotton dresses. Sewn in the US by (likely) decently paid adult workers.

Nowadays people send away for dresses and receive…”sort of cotton” garments sewn by dying, abused children in an impoverished country.

Umm…

Read this and then be wise, kind and do your best to help in a well-thought-out, rational and altruistic way, or take comfort in knowing that if you don’t make the leap you wanted or deserved…things are just that terribly and genuinely broken: “Families Go Deep in Debt to Stay in the Middle Class”