I have been feeling grateful lately (see this recent column), especially about our hometown, Evanston, and our nation.

We moved from Skokie to our modest two-story red brick home on Lincolnwood Drive over Memorial Day weekend 1983, which means next year we will celebrate four decades here. We’re not even the oldest residents on our block: three or four other families were here when we arrived, and they’re still here.

It has been a kind of heaven. Neighbors come and go, but generally they stay. Our street is a haven for kids. Lincolnwood Elementary School is within easy walking distance, Haven Middle School isn’t much further. Every morning the girls and boys and their parents queue up in front of each other’s homes and troop off together to class.

During summer every lawn is a playground. Kids frolic in the sprinklers or kick soccer balls on the parkways or ride their bikes up and down the sidewalks. The annual block party in August (this will be our 43rd) is a riotous and wonderful affair.

We are here thanks to our grandparents, who sailed to Ellis Island a century ago. I cannot even begin to imagine their courage and fortitude. They gave up everything – their native language, their friends, their homes, most of their possessions – to undertake the arduous journey to a new life in America, all for the sake of their children and grandchildren in the conviction that we would be safer, healthier and happier here than in the Old Country.

They were right.

Sadly I never knew them, and my parents, from whom I could learn more about their emigration and life stories, are gone now too. All we have are some documents: a passport, a ship manifest, a few photos, some newspaper articles. I wear my grandfather’s wedding ring and chat with my older cousins about their memories, thankful even for those ancestral stories.

To our grandparents, America was a sea-to-shining-sea fortress of security, the shining city on a hill. What if they hadn’t come? What if we were still in Latvia or Lithuania, waiting for Putin to turn his deadly weapons on us? Or more likely, gone three-quarters of a century ago in one of the death camps.

Yes, our nation is highly disputatious and sometimes our democracy seemingly imperiled by zealots. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay to maintain our cherished way of life.

These thoughts were triggered by seeing this photo in a random email recently:

Yosemite Falls, as seen from the valley floor, descends 2,425 feet from top to bottom. (Photo from Yosemitehikes.com)

Yosemite Valley, the most beautiful 4,000 acres on the planet. We’ve been there two or three times, most recently with the family, riding horses and climbing trails and once taking dinner in the magnificent Ahwahnee lodge.

Go. And don’t neglect the beauty of the other national and state parks either, from the rocky trails and lobster-potted ocean of Maine’s Acadia to the cosmic night sky at Utah’s Arches to the spare eminence of California’s Joshua Tree. Even without a word-count limit, I couldn’t begin to enumerate all the magnificence.

This is National Park Week. Fun facts: There are 423 U.S. national parks on 52 million acres and 6,600 state parks on 14 million acres. The closest state park to Evanston is Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, less than an hour’s drive. Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, was established in 1872.

Revel in the glory and beauty of your country. There is nothing like it.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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