The Time Machine
Last week, I accompanied “J” on a field trip to a library very close to NYC, as close as you can get and still be in New Jersey. Sitting at the library, I read a tiny local newspaper titled “Easy English News.”
In less than 30 minutes, I witnessed a man where English was new to him meet with a staff member who helped him fill out a form or application. I also watched a mother and two little girls use the computers; the mom speaks heavily accented English mixed with her native tongue, and the little ones speak English as “unaccented” as anybody can in “Jersey.” A man stepped in and asked the mom what time it was, and she had trouble telling him. She answered, “Almost 11 o’clock.” He wanted the specific time, and eventually, she got it out,”10:53.”
Suddenly I was transported back in time about 110 years ago. In my imagination, I could see my great-grandmother and her three young boys going to the library in a city nearby. Her English was interspersed with Neapolitan Italian, and her three young boys, one a grandfather I never met, chattered in their heavily accented new world language.
Like many families of the time, they sailed to America due to many factors, including political strife, violence, social chaos, and poverty. Many came from the rural south from regions such as Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, and the island of Sicily. Her husband (who arrived a couple of years earlier), her boys, and she came from the town of Potenza in Basilicata. They had nothing.
I can only imagine how hard that transition was in the early 20th Century, but I doubt they had the wonderful resources offered by this 21st library. As I grew up, I learned of some of the obstacles they faced, including language, culture, prejudice, economic, and religious barriers. Where did they go to learn how to use money, shop, go to school, find s job, American history, survival skills, and places to vacation? I can only imagine.
Back to the present. The little newspaper I mentioned had articles, all in easy English, about helping children stay on top of learning while school is out, life in the USA and where to buy clothes, and descriptions of Flag Day, Independence Day, and Juneteenth. There was also articles on America the Beautiful (featuring the Grand Canyon), Summer Safety, and Heroes and History (featuring a Polish immigrant family and the importance of family history).
On the last page was Word Help highlighting words used in the paper with definitions. Some words were important ones that many of us take for granted such as bargain, customer service, occupation, and graduation. Others are new words that have entered our lexicon in my lifetime such as Airbnb, eBook, jet ski, and Junteenth.
What an incredible resource!
Back to the mom and her two daughters. The older sister read to the younger sister and her mommy. Then the younger sister read. Finally, the mother read to her girls. It was so sweet to watch and striking to listen to this mom practice her English as she read to her impressively literate little girls, who helped her pronounce words every so often.
I live 50 miles from the city, and it’s like living in a different world. I was so impressed by how this little non-profit repository of books, movies, and research materials had adapted to become a community center providing resources for all people, especially those who have come to their New World. It felt safe and comfortable for this HitchHiker, an outsider to that community, yet I was as welcome as any other. I was honored to sit there to glimpse this time-traveling event.
I wonder if His church can be that for all people no matter who they are or where they come from?
Thank you for giving me the eyes to see, ears to hear, mind to imagine, and heart to appreciate this journey between past and present.
You are an excellently good God! I am your created, rescued, and inspired servant, and I praise you for your incredibly diverse world in this time and the past.
I pray in the holy name of Jesus. Amen!