Our future looks pretty bright

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Labor Day weekend, a year ago, my family was in Dubuque, Iowa at a wedding for the best friend of my son, Dan. My daughter, Mary had flown in from Los Angeles and it was the first time since Christmas we were all together. The world looked rosy for my six children.

Dan had just finished taking his bar exam to be a lawyer and was heading to Washington, D.C to practice law with my brother, John. Mary had moved to Los Angeles in June and was a Web site designer for a large HMO company. My daughter, Molly had just started college and Bridget was working in Mankato. I had only two children at home.

We had a beautiful weekend together and the kids and a large entourage of friends danced at the wedding and partied into the wee hours. I remember thinking it was a great time to be alive and I was happy my children’s future looked good. Jobs were plentiful, the economy was good and they all were healthy.

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Then a week later, it was as if the end of the world were here.

When I look back on Sept. 11, I see it in slow motion. I was on my way to Spring Valley to do an interview. I was listening to the radio and the news was getting worse and worse with events piling up on each other. I finally had to turn the radio off. I couldn't stand to hear what was happening. After my interview, I turned the radio on again and heard that a plane had struck the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. My son Dan was only a mile from the Pentagon. I decided that he was fine. I didn't want to have negative thoughts about him.

When I got home that evening, Dan and my brother, John had left two messages for me. I called them and they talked about the exodus of the city and they could still see the smoke of the Pentagon. I asked Dan if he was still glad to be in D.C.

"Yes," he answered, indignantly. "This is where I want to be at this time. I am safe. We'll get through this."

Now, a year later, we are getting through this, but we are wounded and bewildered. Americans are not as welcome in other parts of the world and we don't understand why. I lived in Central America in the 1970s and I remember being called an "ugly American." Americans were considered to be greedy and power hungry. I later lived in Belgium and Ireland. I found that it was better at times not to be known as an American. Again I saw that American's were considered to be greedy and power hungry.

Our cars were larger than those in Europe, we ate more meat, more sugar, watched more television and didn't walk as much as people in other countries. When I returned to live in America after being gone several years, I saw how wasteful Americans were compared to people in other countries. In America we

had hot running water when we turned the tap on. I never had a hot shower when I lived in Central America. In Ireland I had to put money in a water heater meter and the hot water would run for five minutes while I was taking a shower. I moved to another house where the hot water was heated through a peat burning stove.

Hot water is a great luxury and one that we often take for granted. In Central America and Ireland I washed my clothes by hand along with my neighbors. Because there was more manual labor involved in doing laundry, I didn't have as many clothes and like everyone else, I wore outfits at least two days in a row.

Another thing that boggled my mind when I first came back to live in the States were the larger choices of food at the grocery stores. I did notice that often the vegetables and fruit were not as fresh as the food I had bought at the corner shops in other countries.

I don't want to live with out hot running water and I love the convenience of a washing machine and drier. I hate the large grocery stores, as I always buy more than I went in for. I don't think that most Americans are greedy and power- hungry. My neighbors are conservative and thrifty and smart. Most of them are not spoiling their children, but working along side them and being supportive in school sports and outside activities. I still want the future to look good for my children, but I think it will be a struggle.

Maybe that's good. We are not raising ugly Americans.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2233 or by e-mail at newsroom@austindailyherald.com