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U.S. is a country of dream catchers

by CAROL SHIRK KNAPP / Contributing Writer
| July 3, 2024 1:00 AM

We were on the way home from strawberry picking at Green Bluff when the subject came up.  I asked my friends — one from Moldova and one from Ukraine — what they thought about life in the United States, both having grown up in communist societies. 

The Ukrainian recalled in her youth that they were “taken care” of. Everyone had housing. There was health coverage. There was food. But everyone who was able was also required to work. If you did not, the shaming was insurmountable.

The Moldovan's mother had free tuition for schooling. It was easy to travel and explore everywhere. There was a huge communist following among those of her generation. She was 40 at the time of the 1991 Soviet Union collapse.

Life altered dramatically after that for both my friends. The Ukrainian's parents had died. She was alone in the apartment, still a teenager. Millions of people had a small window in which to withdraw any money from the bank — lines were impossibly long. They ran out of time, and lost it. A friend was able to give her $20 and she lived on a bag of potatoes for two months.

At age 11, my Moldovan friend thought her life was ruined — all opportunity for her future gone in the chaos that followed the collapse. Now at 44, things have changed. She says, “For the past twenty years, I am living this dream in the U.S.”

One thing neither of the women liked under communism was its attempt to erase God. The Moldovan's father objected to the government's control over their lives. They were “safe” as long as there was no resistance to its authority. Her grandmother risked prosecution in sneaking to an underground church. My friend remembers her saying she had been held at gunpoint by Nazis and the only thing that saved her was an orthodox icon she held as a shield. She did not easily and entirely accept the Soviet agenda.

My friend also recounts, “My grandpa was a teacher and he could speak his mind only in the thick walls of his home. He said, 'I would rather sweep streets in a free country like America than live under Soviet propaganda.'”

Both women eventually married U.S. citizens — and escaped their countries. In one situation, her husband was 42 years older. They had an exceedingly happy two decades of marriage until he died at age 91. The other had to set aside her studies to become a doctor with the birth of her second child, and becoming a single mom. She still nurtures the flame — currently works in a hospital setting — and may yet become a physician.

“A free country like America” is not just another catch phrase. It is story after story of real people — born here, or having made their way here, or hoping to live here — who have a vision to be and become more than they can anywhere else. Our country is the greatest of dream catchers.