When we count our blessings this holiday season let's not forget the blessings of homeownership. During the Regan presidency, Yelena Bonner, wife of Soviet physicist and peace activist, Andrei Sakharov, came to the United States in 1986 for delicate surgery and medical treatment of a heart condition. She stayed for six months before returning to the Soviet Union to rejoin her husband in exile.
Before she left, she wrote an essay about America that appeared in The Washington Post and Newsweek.
A part of the essay is excerpted here. It seems strange a Russian should write so eloquently about the American Dream, but Bonner does, because, I guess, she understands it so well.
"I WANT A HOUSE"
By Yelena Bonner
I maintain that Americans do not want war. What Americans want is a house.
No matter their place on the social ladder, they want a house of their own. They want a house and the ground it stands on, that's all.
The First Lady says that when the President retires, they will sell the house in which they lived before the Presidency. The children are grown, and the place is too big for them. So, they will buy a smaller house.
A wonderful plan! The President doesn't want war, he
wants a new house.
I also want a house, in addition to my usual wants that everyone be together and healthy, and that there be no war. A house, with enough land around it, for me to plant flowers. I don't need a lot of bedrooms, just one for us and one for Mother, a guest room, and one, more so that I'm always ready for our Grandchildren.
And, I'd like a room where I could at last spread out my books, and Andrei could make a mess.
What nonsense I'm writing! I want a house! This is me, who should be counting the days - no, counting the hours of my freedom to do what I want.
But you know, I'm 63, and I've never had a house. Not only that, �I've never had a corner �..I could call my own.
After the war we had a room in a communal apartment - there were 48 people in that
apartment and only one toilet. I think the first time I was mistress of my own place was, well, it's hard to believe; it was in Gorky, while we were in exile. I do not want that.
My Daughter has a house in Newton, Massachusetts. It makes me so happy to think that she has a house. Her family is caught up in our affairs, in our Gorky horrors and suffering. They have forgotten the
pleasure of their house. I want them to go back to caring about it - it has done so much for them.
I want a house. My dream - my own house - is unattainable for my husband and myself, as unattainable as heaven on earth. But, I want
a house. If not for me, then for my son and his family, in America.
My Son and I plan to buy one. And, I am learning many new things. The house should be near good schools. My Granddaughter is three,
and schooling is not far off in the future. It should be in the suburbs - vacations are short, and a child should not have to grow up in a polluted city. It should be close to their work - both parents have jobs and there is only one car. It should have a foundation and basement. I have never known such considerations to
exist. It should have three bedrooms so that my mother can be with them, or at least visit. And, it should have a studio. My Son, Alyosha, needs a workroom for his mathematics.
A house is a symbol of independence, both spiritual and physical. Some own a tiny house, like a toy cottage with only the soil in their flower boxes. Others have lots of bedrooms, baths, and extensive lawns. The American feeling about his house expresses the
main traits of Americans - the desire for independence and privacy.
But that attitude gives rise to a third trait; "My house is my pride and joy".
And from that comes, "My city, my state, and my country is my pride and joy. It is an attitude that is open, kind and caring, both toward the house and everything it stands for - the soil in the
flower boxes and the lovingly tended lawn, even if it's only three yards square.
And I say, this shows that Americans care about the
land in general, and about the whole world.
I want, I want, I want. More than the children, I want a house. But, it's time for me to pack my bags. The children live here, I live over there. What difference does it make if Gorbachev and Reagan
meet in June, or any other month? Americans don't want war, they want a house. I don't want a war. I WANT A HOUSE.