Perspective: More than chance
During the European migration in the early 1900s, my father’s parents emigrated from Lithuania, and just in the nick of time before their exit would have been difficult if not impossible. They made their way to Kewanee, Illinois, where they lived a hard life on a hardscrabble farm. My father tried to teach English to his father, who rightly exclaimed, pounding his fist on the kitchen table, “It doesn’t make any sense!”
My dad was the first one in his family to finish high school—which he did with ease, having skipped two grades in elementary school (“actually, three grades, he said, “but I got sent back once because I wasn’t ready for it.”) A math whiz, my dad could multiply two three-digit numbers in his head.
My grandfather and my uncles worked in the Kewanee Boiler factory. That’s what my father planned to do after his tour of the Philippines in World War II. But his army buddy Joe Cavataio—from Rockford-- told him, “Tony, you’re too smart for that. You should go to college on the GI Bill.” And so he did, and graduated with a B.S. in Agriculture Economics from the University of Illinois where he had a part-time job in the Student Union cafeteria. He also earned money playing pool there. (Apparently he was quite the pool shark.)
What if Joe Cavataio had not said that to my dad? What would my dad’s future have held? What if my dad’s teachers had not recognized his brilliance even though the family name “was not a good name”, according to local Kewanee historians?
We all come from somewhere. Where we go may depend on chance, or on someone, somewhere, believing in what we could become.