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The year was 1910 and she was dying. The young girl knew this truth in her cold, aching bones. So very sick, she had lived her entire life in a poor farm village on the steppe, what we call the prairie. The houses there had doors built low. You’d have to stoop over to come in, to avoid whacking your head. From time to time the Czar would send government men on horseback to tax and terrorize the villagers. Such men would ride their horses right into people’s houses, swinging their swords, destroying the homes and murdering anyone slow in getting out of the way. The unarmed farmers learned to build their homes with low doors, a tacit reminder of their subjugation. In just such a humble home, the girl waited in a haze of fever for her end.Experienced with death at a young age, she had seen eight of her siblings die. No horrible exotic disease required, just another long Russian winter, poor nutrition and a nagging, persistent sickness that stalked small Russian farm towns in the creaking cold. She wasn’t afraid to die. She’d seen it before far too frequently. She was too ill to have strong emotion about anything at all. Her parents were afraid though. They loved her so and fed her soup and kept her as warm as they could. The soup wasn’t enough – it was too simple, too bland with too many potatoes. There was not enough nutrition for her body to have the means to fight off her sickness and she grew weaker.A townsman appeared at their door. A townsman, a kindred man in poverty, knocked softly and wordlessly gave the girl’s parents an orange – an orange in Russia, in the winter! What a tremendous, almost ridiculous and magical thing! Where the neighbor got the orange, no one knew. Her parents carefully peeled the treasure and fed the girl one slice every day until the magical orange was gone. In the midst of these days of the orange slices, the young girl improved. Her parents wept with gratitude. This one would not die, not now.A revolution came and the farmers were hopeful. Anyone different must be better than the Czar. The farmer’s hopes were dashed, as hopes in Russia always seemed to be. The Bolsheviks, the Communists, were much worse than the Czar. The Czar was regarded as a captain of bandits. His bandits would rob and pillage from time to time and then leave. The Communists were self-righteous bandits who came to stay. They wanted to steal everyone’s farms, to impose socialism and collectivize the land. Stalwart farmers resisted this, and they were hanged from the lamp posts in the village square.The year was 1917 and the young girl had become a young woman of 17 years. She had heard of a land called America, and she had resolved to go there. What does it take for a slip of a girl, a child by today’s standards to leave a village that she had never left and get on a dank creaky ship to abandon her life for a place she had never seen? What courage! What hope in the heart of someone from a hopeless land! She spoke no English and rode in the bowels of the ship in steerage with no windows and no sunlight. A kindly, old Russian man asked her if she brought any money. “Yes,” she said, “in my shoe!” He admonished her that she must NEVER tell anyone about her money. She, the innocent farm girl, thanked him and hid her pitiful savings in her brassiere.The ship reached New York Harbor and from the crowded deck they cheered at the sight of the Statue of Liberty and all the strange, tall buildings. The young girl beheld a strange new land. She made her way to Chicago and to her people. Americans were nice or rude. They would make fun of her strange accent but they left her alone. In this new land she found she was allowed to dream.She taught herself English from the newspapers and nearly burst with pride when she passed the test and became an American! She married another Russian immigrant and they practiced English together. Life was very different from her small village, less personal. She’d smile and in a thick accent she’d say, “In America, you mind your own business.” She noticed that in this wonderful new land, all the homes, humble or fancy, had full height doors.The brave young girl lived to be 94. How could she have known that her resolve long ago to have a new life would include children and then grandchildren; that her gorgeous exotic granddaughters with their high eastern European cheekbones and sturdy frames would enjoy lives of comparative wonder? One grandchild lives in a colonial home in Ohio, her expansive windows filled with beautiful glittering Christmas lights. (Imagine, glass windows and electricity!) The other would wind up close to her roots on the steppe, the Colorado prairie in a happy, sturdy and well made home that she helped design. That long ago young girl’s granddaughters live a life of happiness and wonder, which she couldn’t have even imagined in 1917 in the dark, damp, filthy hold of a ship.Her dream of America continues to unfold and grow through her descendents. I had this thought as I looked out the picture window from my 70 degree living room upon the glittering, sparkling snow and blue shadows of a picture postcard Colorado winter. We all appreciate a beauty that can only be seen by those not perennially battling the seeping cold of endless winter and bitter wind. Then, I reached across the dining table to our large bowl and grabbed myself an orange to share with one of her granddaughters, my beautiful wife.– Tom

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