Some of you who read my Memories stories know that I like to dabble with several foreign languages. I do it purely for the fun of it, just like many people do with crossword puzzles or games of "solitaire". It is just a pleasant pastime, and I meet a lot of interesting people on the many new language websites.
About six months ago - at the dreaded collegiate Exams Time - a flock of young foreign students began coming to me on-line for sometimes lengthy chats, which they thought would improve their English skills.
My"minor" subject at the University of Chattanooga (long-since the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) had been Modern Languages, and I have been very happy to discover the new ways to study those languages - for FREE on the Internet. The experience was as good for me as for those students.
My favorite languages at the university were Spanish (with Miss Terrell Tatum), German (with both Dr. and Mrs. Robert Anacker), and Russian (with a professor from Collegedale whose name I now forget). Through the many years I have kept those languages alive in my head by simply reading a few lines - or a page - in each language from time to time. When my newfound friends from the Internet learn of my interests they are all anxious to help ME as well, and so we do a lot of interfacing at our PC's
Much personal information comes to me from those far off sources - from eastern Russia and China, where the time zones are a full 12 hours distant! (Think about that miracle of modern technology, folks, where you can talk with, and even clearly SEE your chat partner half a world away! I am so ancient that I am still marveling at Dick Tracy's amazing - and fictitious - wrist radio of the 1940's!) I also chat with a few people from Latin America, including Colombia and Mexico, principally, and there is ONE THREAD that runs through ALL my chats with these far-off people: they are all wanting to COME TO AMERICA!
Most are student-age people of course - and nearly all are working toward some pretty fine degrees in Engineering or Computer Science. All are very well-informed on international matters , and with their degrees they can readily find employment at home - or, they hope, in the U.S.A. There is much chatter about "green cards" and "quotas" that you and I, dear American readers, never have to worry about. And so I guess that our Pilgrim forefathers came to these shores with pretty much the same aspirations - to start anew - though their new start would primarily be religious in nature.
All of my Internet friends and acquaintances are courteous and polite, and all have strong ties to their families and friends. All those Russians (except for ONE) whom I have seen on-camera wear Western style T-shirts in their down-time at home - and all the lettering is in the Roman alphabet - like here in America, and NOT the "CCCP" shirts with the Russian alphabet from the old Soviet Union. I have often wondered what the Russian leaders think when they visit the Provinces and are met with such anti-Russian displays of dress? It is sort of like the Russian kids' way of silent protest, and such protest, although very mild, simply cannot warm the leaders' hearts too much. All the youth of Russia seem to be presently worshiping American culture, and are willing to deride their own government directly to foreigners (meaning "ME"!). They tell me over and over about the corruption in Russia - where the people in power siphon off most of the money intended for such needs as road improvement, etc. They give me the names of their towns and cities which I "visit" using Google Earth. And I find out very graphically that my friends have not lied about it: the streets ARE made out of thin layers of broken asphalt with many potholes which could get an entire city administration thrown out of office it it happened in the U.S! And the farther away from Moscow, the worse the problems become. A lot of the roads on the edges of towns are simply dirt, ending in a mass of weeds and mud. It is a wonder that the Google cameras are allowed to show some of the areas I have seen.
Latin America is not much better; I have heard direct reports from my chat-friends in Colombia and Mexico where corruption runs rampant and the "system" is almost impossible to be fixed. A student in Toluca, Mexico, not far west of Mexico City, told me how she and all her friends were afraid to be near such places as the low tropical planting in green areas of the city for fear of being attacked, and a boy of 18 or 19 - also not far from Mexico City - shared the same fear. These reports were absolutely voluntary and I in no way was "digging" for the information! It just made me sad to think how much more un-safe our own streets are in Chattanooga than when I was a young person. I sincerely hope that the downward spiral can be reversed here before it is too late. Let me emphasize that in all my on-line chats I personally never bring up Race, Religion, Politics - or Economics. When they are mentioned it is not by me!
Just in the last day (as I write this) a truly evil murderer of national notoriety has died while incarcerated. I will not glorify his memory by using his name here, but he was one of the most evil of all those criminals I have heard about in my life - yet he was adulated and had fan clubs who worshiped at his footsteps. Fellow inmates paid to get his autograph. I do not have to tell you how much I deplore all this, for it leaves a legacy that my own great-grandchildren will have to live with long past my time - and the spiral will continue downward. During the 1960s and early 1970s there was a whole string of evil people in our country who planted their evil ideas here - and with the effects we are witnessing today.
Thanksgiving, to me, though, has always played an uplifting role in American life, and it has been the inspiration for other countries to adopt similar holidays. The Pilgrim spirit is still there when we look deeply enough - even when we get our inspiration from those bright and eager young foreign students knocking so anxiously on our door. My new foreign friends underscore the fact that we are truly PRIVILEGED to live in our United States - which has been fought for by so many brave women and men. We need to re-double our effort to maintain our high standards here and never let our United States reach the bottom-most levels that are found in other parts of the world. If you do not attend a religious service on Thanksgiving Day, you might feel somewhat reconstructed or comforted by watching (in beautiful HD) the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rendition of the "Prayer of Thanksgiving" on You Tube. That song - using an old Netherlands melody - sums it all up.
If there is a message in today's writing it is that YOUR troubles are very few compared to other peoples' in the rest of the world. You were born into what other people are still struggling to get. We all should be very thankful that by the Grace of God we live in the United States of America - and in CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE, AMERICA'S BEST HOMETOWN EVER!
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Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter, sculptor and artisan as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.