Yogi Berra had it right. Or did he?
In 1967, I moved to Switzerland from Connecticut to bring up my young son in a safe environment, away from anti-war protests, drugs and the Woodstock generation. I was 24 and didn’t return to the States until 1989.
I could have never imagined that I would witness, up close and personally, what so many of my generation of great-grandparents, grandparents and parents witnessed and are witnessing. This is very different. I am engulfed in fear for my children and grandchildren and for this country. The America I have known for 78 years — through good and bad years, and has made me who I am — may never recover.
Some who read this might think that I am white and privileged. I resent being tagged as privileged. I’ve had opportunities that clearly many in America haven’t had. That’s a given. I am, above all, an American, born and bred in the “Land of Opportunity.” I care deeply about this country and its citizens.
There is a difference between privilege and opportunity. I will not feel guilty because I happen to be white and had wonderful parents who believed in the strength of the individual and who worked hard to give me opportunities
Those opportunities provided me with a blank road map for fulfilling my life, as did their parents and their ancestors. On my father’s side, Thomas Jones fled Oxfordshire, England, to become a fisherman in the 1620s on Nantucket.
In the mid-1700s, my many times great-grandparents, James and Mary Keith, were also the grandparents of Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall and others who built the nation.
On my mother’s side, I am the granddaughter of Swedish, early 20th century immigrants.
My grandfather arrived with $12 in his pocket and labored to build Manhattan’s Elevated Railway. My grandmother worked as a cook for a wealthy family of self-made immigrants on the Upper East Side of New York City.
One of my happiest childhood memories is of my grandmother teaching me in broken English how to bake fläta, a divine, cardamom-laced coffee bread. I have Scottish, British, Welsh, French, Swedish and Finnish blood in my veins. I feel I couldn’t be more American.
I will not apologize for not having African DNA. I am proud that my DNA is made up of opportunities and missed opportunities. I have learned life’s lessons, some hard, from both.
My British husband, who I met 50 years ago and married in Switzerland, and I used to make a lighthearted joke about me meeting one friend at a party in London. The party was given by another friend to introduce me to Richard’s university friends and former advertising colleagues, some of whom were dumbfounded how Richard could be marrying an American. One friend took a candle from an elegant wall sconce, put it under my chin to see if I was acceptable, saying “I guess you’ll do.” He was part of a British generation who still thought of Americans as “over fed, over sexed and over here.” Some of those friends are still alive and can’t believe we voted for Donald Trump.
Richard’s and my life in Switzerland and then in Belgium couldn’t have been better. We were fortunate to bring up three children in a small democracy that has worked for over seven centuries.
We also were fortunate our children were to live in a socialist country where we were able to point out to them why things they took for granted in Switzerland should not be assumed to work in socialist Belgium. Political correctness hadn’t been invented, so we were able to teach them a bit of political history that many of their peers weren’t being taught by parents.
I refuse to read the rewriting of history by ignorant, cancel culture advocates. I applaud those Americans who strove and strive now to create “a more perfect union” amid this destructive chaos.
One of my better stories describes how Richard became an American in 1999, after 10 years of residency. It begins with Richard not marrying me to get a Green Card. He was an adman, and there was no better place to be than on Madison Avenue.
He seized the opportunity when he was asked to defend the right of commercial free speech. The story ends when he corrects the sloppy spelling and grammar of the immigration test. I saw this as a metaphor for the sea-change in American history I was experiencing. America was getting sloppy and it was disturbing.
Often I found Europeans were astonished that an American could speak French fluently. I would tell them it was because I was born at the French Hospital in New York. Some people took me literally. Some thought I was joking. Some were curious if there was such a hospital. There was. It was on West 33rd Street and figured in a famous scene from “The Godfather.”
Don Vito Corleone is taken to the French Hospital after being shot in an attempted assassination. It’s a story only an American could write. I used the story to break the ice at stuffy parties or when I interviewed people as the Swiss Correspondent for The International Herald Tribune, The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, European Edition.
There is nothing remotely humorous about what I and others are experiencing now as Americans. I have never called myself a journalist, although I have written news stories. I am disgusted at what some writers, under the guise of journalists, are spewing.
I am a writer and a storyteller. This is only a small part of my story. I am writing it, not only for my generation, who might understand how deeply disturbing these past 12 months have been, but also for my children and grandchildren and other family members who might not realize how tough it is to be faced with a terrifying, maybe final chapter of not only my story but America’s.
Calla Jones Corner
The author lives in Montecito.