George and Mary Kandra, my grandparents, with their daughter, Anne, in the backyard of the their home in Taylor, Pennsylvania. Date unknown.
A long time ago you came to this country in the bottom of a boat, from a far-flung corner of Slovakia. I never knew much more than that; your home town, I think, bore the Slovak name for St. Margaret, and I wonder sometimes if you ever dreamed of going back, or felt homesick, or worried that it was all a terrible mistake. It must not have been easy.
I imagine you looked a lot like the people in this picture below: Slovak immigrants from about 1910.
You were young, teenagers, at the beginning of a young century. You settled in the hills of Pennsylvania, where you married. George worked in the coal mines, deep in the earth, and Mary raised five children, and you lived in the same weathered wooden rowhouse on an unpaved road until the day George died of a stroke in 1972. I remember your yard, fenced in with chicken wire, and your basement, with a pile of coal in the corner that you used for heating. I remember the house reeked of bad cigars and old upholstery. I remember light switches that were buttons — push one to turn on the dim bulbs, another to turn them off, and I remember how exciting it was to visit Uncle Matt and Aunt Mary in the rowhouse next door, because they had a big console color TV.
I never got to tell you this when I knew you, but I wanted to tell you now: thank you. Thank you for coming here with nothing and giving all of us who descended from you something: possibility, promise, a future, a faith.
You declared your own independence nearly a century ago, on a date that has been lost to history, but on a small island at the entrance to a vast country, where so many came to begin anew. I hope I never take that for granted.
Thank you for an immeasurable gift, one of life and liberty and, yes, the pursuit of happiness.
Happy Independence Day, Mom-mom and Pop-pop.