Somewhere along the line, it seems, people have stopped talking about the American dream.
I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone, in person or through the media, remind folks that we live in the greatest country on earth and here in this land of profound freedom, opportunities abound. And no one, regardless of race or level of economic upbringing, is held back from grand and lofty aspirations.
Have we become oblivious to what our forefathers came here to find? Have we come to take for granted this land of milk and honey where there is no class or caste system to detain us and where higher education no longer belongs only to the privileged?
I hope not.
I still believe dramatically in this great country where a kid who is underprivileged or orphaned can climb his way to the top of industry, entertainment or politics. Or the same child can create a better existence and a solid, admirable middle-class life by becoming a mail carrier or a utility worker or a fireman. He will have a dependable paycheck, insurance and retirement.
I still sing the praises of a country where we are not destined to live solely the life into which we are born. We are restrained only by how hard we work and how long we dream.
An overnight package arrived recently and in it was an advance copy of the memoir written by our friend, actor Gavin McLeod. The next morning, I awoke in a predawn hour, arose, made a cup of coffee and settled into a comfortable chair to read the book. Gavin, you may recall, made his mark in television in two highly successful, historic shows: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where he played Murray, and “The Love Boat,” where he was the stern but gentle-hearted Captain Stubing.
To know Gavin is to love him. He bursts forth with such enthusiasm, friendliness and warmth, it is like a tidal wave of happy emotions that sweep over you whenever in his presence. He also loves the Lord with all of his heart so the unsaved should consider this fair warning: He is bound and determined everyone he meets will hear his testimony for he wants anyone within his massive reach to know the love of an almighty God.
After reading a few chapters of this engaging autobiography, “This Is Your Captain Speaking,” I put the book aside and began to think of the American dream and what it meant to the people of Gavin’s generation. They struggled through the Depression, fought a world war and came home to build industrial America. They took advantage of America’s myriad opportunities.
My own parents managed to leave the poverty of the Appalachians behind them. Mama gratefully took a job in a hosiery mill to make 10 cents an hour. It was much better than the place from where she came where refrigeration was a wooden crate plopped down in the middle of a cool creek. It kept the milk and butter from spoiling.
Gavin, the child of a poor Irish family, grew up in Pleasantville, N.Y., on what he termed as the wrong side of the railroad tracks. A drama scholarship to Ithaca College made him the first in his family to attend college. He knew no one who had ever made a living as an actor and, of course, his mother wanted him to have steady employment. As a roofer.
He followed his passion, though. Despite the hard times and often a lack of funds, he persevered. He pushed through and found tremendous success by following his heart’s desire.
The American dream. Pure and simple.
Why aren’t we doing more to extol it these days? Why aren’t we celebrating the opportunities of a country where the poor can rise mightily?
Have we forgotten how blessed we are to be Americans?
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.