My immigrant father sought the (green) stamp of approval
By Ben Kamin When my father died suddenly in 1976, a young and unknown Jimmy Carter was quietly walking across the bicentennial America to the White House, the twin towers of the World Trade Center had stood for three years, and a first class postage stamp cost 13 cents. Thenext day, following my father's funeral at Cincinnati's Weil Funeral Home, an anonymouspolice officer touched my heart forever, and I remembered a postal services supervisor whohad come to our house years earlier with a gentle admonition for my immigrant dad.
I remember now, in an era of economic anxiety, fear, and not a little xenophobia: My father's spirit was buoyed by patriotic participation, ranging from baseball to voting to hisexcitement about posting a letter to a friend with a fresh new stamp. He got a littleconfused, however, late in the 1960's, when he brought home a batch of green trading stamps after a shopping spree for his favorite things--automotive parts. They were called, infact, "Green Stamps," and my immigrant dad put one of each of the four letters he wassending out that day.
Two days later, the uniformed U.S. Mail official came by with a twinkle in his eye but duty inhis demeanor. My parents were nervous at first but the postman assured them that they were not in trouble. We all sat down in the small living room as the man spoke: "Mr.Kamin, you have wonderful handwriting and I'm glad you printed your return address soclearly on these letters. But these green stamps are, well, not for postage. I know you meant well, sir. These are trading stamps that you put in books for use at a redemption center."He explained about the redemption center and then presented my red-faced father with four13-cent stamps. "Here. These are gifts from the United States Government. You are a finecitizen."
My father never looked more relieved or proud--even on the day he received his Master'sDegree in Aerospace Science from the University of Cincinnati.
He would also have been very proud if he could have seen the uniformed police officer, withthe flag embossed on his sleeve, sitting atop his motorcycle on March 3, 1976, as the hearsebearing my father's plain pine box slowly passed by the Weil exit onto Reading Road inCincinnati. I watched and wept as the officer, also in his 40s, a personal universe away fromthe short life of my troubled and departed dad, slowly raised his right hand in salute. There was no reason to do it, I thought, but for the quiet discipline of honor and respect thattranscends all traditions.Some 34 years later, we grown-up naturalized Americans, many of whom have lost theparents who got us here, protect our own children from terror and hatred, governmentalcynicism, and poor social manners that prevail in schools and stores and across the Internet.