Two weeks ago, just before I left for vacation, I received a book in the mail with the following inscription: “The author’s profits from this book will be given to the Rosenberg Fund for Children.”
The book, entitled, This American Family: Growing up as a Red Diaper Baby, is a memoir of the childhood of author Chris Christie. I read it last week, while taking a break from New England’s snow and cold in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
This work joins a growing body of memoirs written by people whose left-wing parents, mostly Communist Party Members, were attacked during the McCarthy period. They include my own book, those of children of the Hollywood Ten, Tony Kahn’s excellent audio memoir and Linn Shapiro and Judy Kaplan’s outstanding compilation, as well as several others.
This American Family stands out in several ways. First, it focuses in depth almost entirely on the author’s experiences during the years 1947 to 1954, when she was between 5 and 12 years old. Second, it is the story of an ordinary left-wing family. Christie’s parents were not famous. They didn’t face the death penalty as my parents did. They weren’t major protagonists in the events that galvanized the nation. Nevertheless, the relentless pain generated by the author’s damaged childhood radiates from the book’s pages.
The ordinariness of the story makes it particularly poignant: grandparents who lost their farm during The Depression, a father killed during World War II, and a union organizer mother who forgoes a more high-powered union job to raise a daughter as a single parent.
Chris' mother and other adults in the book are too concerned with survival to focus on their isolated child’s needs. They find poorly paying jobs only to be fired and blacklisted as they search for a safe haven from Chicago to Los Angeles to Arkansas to Milwaukee. Reading it, you know that Chris’ experiences were not unlike those of hundreds of others who suffered through this period.
I'm buoyed to know that despite these travails, the author and so many others grew up to lead productive lives with many positive experiences. And yet, I can’t help wonder about those who won’t or even can’t recount their feelings. I’m sure there also were children who were too damaged by the repression to bounce back. I fear we’ll never hear their voices.
I suppose that’s why Chris Christie decided to donate her profits to the RFC. Her childhood taught her, as mine taught me, about the vulnerability of the children of repression. We both want to make a difference in the lives of susceptible young people by providing them with resources so they can develop their talents, express their feelings and break down their isolation.
I’m so glad that today the RFC can alleviate the pain of hundreds of children, and I’m so grateful that we have a community of thousands behind us, including author Chris Christie, who enable us to do this work.
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