I stole a library book

I stole a library book

A little over 50 years ago, a few weeks before emigrating to the United States, I unwittingly stole a book from the Southerton Primary School library in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe.)

Over dinner one night, my parents announced that we were going to America in the next few months. Having just gotten used to living in Rhodesia after moving there from my native Portugal, America was not only a shock but a disappointment to this 12-year-old.

Rhodesia was a British colony that had a ruling system similar to apartheid, which was ruthless towards native Africans. Thankfully, my parents taught me to treat everyone equally. Every day, as I walked to and from school, I saw lots of native African children of my age and younger. Although they faced many hardships, they always seemed happy, friendly, and curious. Even today, I remember how their positive attitudes left a lasting impression on me.

That sad bit aside, as a child, I was having a blast in Africa – seemingly every other tree served up delicious mangos, plenty of chameleons with which to scare the girls at school, and under every other rock was a snake trying to stay cool.

To that point, I’d heard of America but knew nothing about it. Upon seeing this book at the school library I took it home with the intent of reading and returning it. Alas, I still have this treasure today – imagine the late fees.

I arrived in the US on February 22, 1974, with my older brother and very brave parents. We landed at JFK in New York, were processed by immigration, granted our Green Cards, and took a taxi to where my dad was to begin working the following week in Mamaroneck, New York. I quickly realized that was the extent of my parents’ plan since we didn’t know anyone in the US. Luckily, other employees found us a place to stay for a couple of weeks before we could secure our apartment.

February was COLD. The first or second evening we saw snow for the first time. Other memorable firsts that week were seeing someone eat pizza on the street before knowing what it was, and color TV. The first program I ever saw in color was a Bob Dylan and Linda Ronstadt concert at an outdoor stadium somewhere warm. I’d never heard of either and remember thinking how awful a singer Bob Dylan was and if he made it big…I suppose it was my “What a country” moment.

As I reflect 50 years hence, I can’t imagine the stress and courage it took for my parents to emigrate twice with young children but I’m forever grateful they did. It was a proud day in early 1984 when all four of us became US Citizens.

As you might have guessed, I support the immigrants’ plight as the majority simply wish for a free and better life for themselves and their children. Compared to those fleeing oppressive regimes and crime my experience was relatively easy.

America has given me a great life, an awesome family of my own, good friends, a fun career, and most recently a wonderful early retirement. I’m home.

Time to re-read my most valued book.

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