A few weeks ago I gave the eulogy for my friend, Dr. Peter C Merrill, and we scattered his ashes into the Atlantic Ocean. He was a Huguenot; his descendants are Buddhist. We returned his ashes to the same ocean that brought his ancestor, Susanna White Winslow to this country on the Mayflower. Dr. Merrill was an author and professor of Linguistics at Florida Atlantic University and eventually he and his wife Ausma and I became good friends. Ausma was born in Latvia; her name is an older version of my own name, Aurora, and means the dawn. I am a first generation American. My parents came to this country from Vienna, Austria and Franzfeld, a little town in what is now Serbia. I was taught German before I could walk and learned English from Captain Kangaroo and Kindergarten. It was Dr. Merrill who taught us that children before the age of 6 can assimilate as many different languages as are spoken to them. If consistently spoken, the children will not mix up the languages. So it is with being Americans. We can assimilate as many different cultures as possible and still be as American as sweet potato pie. My friend Ausma who has a strong accent was once asked by a shopkeeper, with an equally strong accent, “Are you German?” “No!” she said. “I’m an American, like you!” This story made a deep impression on her young grandson who is starting to show an interest in his grandfather’s Mayflower connection. It was the Pilgrims, after all, who celebrated their first Thanksgiving in America with the Native Americans. It was a day where thanks were given to God for a plentiful harvest. In my childhood, food was always plentiful. Perhaps this was because both my mother and her mother had been concentration camp survivors and they wanted to make sure no one would go hungry at Thanksgiving or at any other meal. My grandmother has passed but in the spirit of sharing, at our Thanksgiving table, along with members of my biological family we have adopted “orphans”, those who don’t have a family close by. Orphans now outnumber relatives at our Thanksgiving. Alongside my European-born parents and American-born cousin and his family, sit friends born in Tasmania, Egypt, and Columbia. My fiancé is from Texas. He has Native American blood in his otherwise Scotch-Irish veins. He will be sitting next to Latvian-born Ausma, who since the death of her husband will bring her son, her Thailand born daughter in law, and her American born grandson. Just a few weeks ago we scattered Dr. Merrill’s ashes into the Atlantic Ocean – the same ocean that brought the Pilgrims to our shore for their religious beliefs and who shared a special meal with the natives. I am proud to be an American and to share my table with other Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs or where they were born. This is part of what makes us Americans. This I believe.
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