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This is America!
By Honey Judith Rubin

That first year after my Mom, the 'Queen', died, Dad was often depressed. I held him closely in my heart and mind, softening his days as I could without smothering him. With my marriage crumbling and his being too unraveled to resist my insistence, he agreed to live with us. We needed each other. Most afternoons, he would leave others to run his business, come home early and spend time with my toddler son, Jeff. The two of them would explore the mysteries of nature or just talk while I prepared dinner. Flickers of joy, contentment, pain and grief flashed across Dad's face, his moods changing in sometimes-jagged flashes as some outer event triggered an inner thought. It was pure bliss to watch them take a nap together. Dad would hold Jeff on his chest, with his huge arms gently wrapped around his grandson. Jeff's body would rise and fall, echoing the rhythm of Dad's contented breathing, both of their faces touched by an ageless peace.

During that first year, I discovered that Dad often left work earlier in the day and spent a lot of time on the docks just staring, never even bringing one of his many fishing rods. I also learned that his employees and a network of hoboes and cops kept a very close eye on him. Then, months after my mom passed, one of these cops - a young guy - walked up to me to ask if I was Lou Rubin's daughter. A sick fear grabbed hold of my stomach. "Stay calm!" I told myself.

Thankfully, this cop had no bad news to tell me. He said he just felt moved to tell me a story that had happened several years before he joined the force. Perhaps I already knew this story, he said, but he wanted to tell me anyway. "I was on the sidewalk, sleeping off my latest drunk," he began, "when these huge forearms reached out and lifted me up by my shirt. A voice came booming out of this guy's mouth which held the biggest cigar I had ever seen. The fact that it was about two inches from my face didn't help any." Feeling the tension rush out of me, I began to chuckle, remembering some of my own experiences with those massive forearms, that gruff voice with which he tried to hide a tender heart, and Dad's really huge cigars! "Well, what did he say?" I asked lightly, knowing it would be a 'Lou Rubin Special.'"

"He growled, 'Whaddya doin' in the street?'" answered the cop, doing a pretty good imitation of Dad, "and I couldn't answer. I just mumbled some excuse. Then, the guy yells, 'Whaddya talkin' about, what kind of talk is that! Don't just sit there with your teeth in your mouth! You decide what happens in your life! You! Nobody else! This is America! Get up and make something of yourself!'"

Now, I was really laughing. I had started to remember my own share of exhortations, "to quit sittin' there with your teeth in your mouth," that Dad used to hurl at me. This colorful phrase was one of Dad's strongest insults, because that activity took no brains or effort at all. I had also listened to many passionate 'This is America' speeches from my first-generation American, wildly-in-love-with-America father. "That's great!" I exclaimed, turning back to the young cop, "What did you do next?"

"Me!?" he sputtered, "I followed him. What else? He had me by the shirt and was telling me how I was going to make something of myself, go to school, find a job I like, take part, be happy, have respect, have a family. I had no chance to say a word! This guy had started to map out my life and it didn't include getting drunk and sleeping in the street. We were only a few blocks from the plant, as he called it, and by the time we got to that door, I KNEW that what I had to do with my life was 'add'. And I knew I was being given a chance that meant something. He brought me to the middle of the plant and told me to walk around until I found a job I could do--'Do good,' he emphasized, 'I only hire guys who do good.' Something in his voice and something in the moment told me to grab this chance. I would 'do good' and my life would never be the same."

"As I walked around the place, I saw many things I thought I could do, and I saw guys looking at me, smiling. I didn't know it then, but they knew where 'The Boss' had found me. Oh, not the exact location, but they knew he had found me 'down' and they knew he had lifted me up. Some of those guys had begun in the same way." "I worked for 'The Boss' until I got some college under my belt. I never went back to being drunk, I've never again been in the gutter. I've got a family now; and I know what it feels like to have self-respect!"

All the while the young man talked, I listened with tears of pride in my eyes. He told me that he knew of at least twenty others like himself who were given a hand by 'The Boss.' They were in all walks of life, he said. Now the devotion of those hoboes and cops began to make perfect sense: Dad was a hero in their eyes. A one-man people-helping-people program had been going on for years.

Some time later, I asked Dad about his 'program' and how come we had never heard about it in the family. "What's to hear?" he responded gruffly, trying to cover his embarrassment. "A man needs help--another man helps him. It all works out. This is America!"

� Honey Judith Rubin
To Be A Blessing