The Promised Land
Autobiographies are usually written by gray-haired men and women. But Mary Antin was not yet thirty when she wrote her life story. She had a tale to tell, and she told it well. She wrote: "I began life in the region of Russia known as the Pale of Settlement. Within this area the Czar commanded me to stay, with my father and mother and friends, and all people like us. We must not be found outside the Pale, because we were Jews."
Mary had a good mind and loved to read, but schools in Russia were closed to most Jews, and there were no public libraries in the Pale. In the Old World, Jewish boys who wanted to study something besides religious books had no way to do it. Mary's father had been that kind of boy: a scholar, but not of religion. Perhaps that was why he wanted to bring his family to America. Whatever the reason, he made the journey, got off the immigrant ship, and went to Boston. When his family arrived in America three years later, they had come, as Mary wrote, from the Middle Ages to the modern worldas they found with their first American meal. She recalled: "My father produced several kinds of food, ready to eat, without any cooking, from little tin cans that had printing all over them. He attempted to introduce us to a queer, slippery kind of fruit, which he called 'banana,' but had to give it up for the time being. After the meal, he had better luck with a curious piece of furniture on runners, which he called 'rocking chair.' One born and bred to the use of a rocking chair cannot imagine how ludicrous people can make themselves attempting to use it for the first time ."