31 Letters Literacy Project: Day 17 – “Singing America”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m half Irish… but I intend to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the whole of me (the other half is Polish/Yugoslavian)!

Day 17 of our 31 Letters Literacy Project is all about singing who we are and where we come from.  Today’s letter topic is inspired by a poem we bumped into on Day 17 of 365 Days of Literacy for Kids… the poem I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes:

I, TOO, SING AMERICA by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.


I, Too, Sing America is a powerful poem by 20th century Black American poet Langston Hughes that lets us feel the way the voice or speaker of the poem feels about being Black in America in a time when racial discrimination was prevalent.  The poem was first published in 1925, and it reflects a time when America was divided by racial injustice.

As a third generation child of immigrants to America, I still remember the stories my own grandmother told me about growing up in Boston at the beginning of the 20th century.  Her parents were both born in Ireland and made their way to the United States for a better life and better opportunities for their children.

Do you have stories you can share with your kids or grandkids or special children in your life about life at a different time, in another era?  Begin your legacy in LETTERS… something your kids can read to their own children some day.  Share both legacy and LITERACY.  Begin today.


Here is my letter to my grandchildren today:

March 17, 2011

Dear __________________,

Hi, my little darlings!  Today, I want to tell you about my Nana.  My Nana was a very big part of my life and I still think of her every single day.

My Nana’s parents came to Boston from Ireland in the 1880’s.  They came to America for a better life for themselves and the children they hoped to be blessed with some day.  In Ireland, my ancestors were mostly farmers.

My Nana’s birth name was Mary Agnes.  She was named for the Blessed Mother and her middle name was her mother’s first name.  You might find it interesting to know that if Grandpa/Pop-up and I ever had another baby girl after Audrey and Jane, her name would have been Agnes.  I love the name because it means so much in my family tree.

My Nana was born in 1902 in Boston, Massachusetts.  She was the 4th child of her parents, but the first girl.  My Nana used to tell me how her mother told her how thrilled she was to have a girl after all those boys.  My Nana would have 3 more brothers after her before another little girl came along 10 years later!  My Nana grew up very protected by her 6 brothers and they didn’t think anyone was good enough for her!

My Nana told me that if she walked home from school with a boy, her brothers would scare that boy away.  My Nana’s brothers especially didn’t want my Nana to walk home with anyone who wasn’t Irish.  It was very different way back then.  One day, my Nana walked home from school with an Italian boy and her brothers threatened to beat him up.  Can you imagine?  My Nana thought she would never get married because of her brothers.  But a boy did come along who her brothers liked.  His name was Edward Francis and he happened to be  Irish.  My Nana fell in love with him.  He had platinum blond hair and blue eyes.  My Nana had raven black hair and blue eyes.  My Nana married Edward when she was 19 years old and he was 21.  Edward was a fireman in Boston.

(My grandfather Edward died very young of lung disease from fighting fires…)

Pretty soon after my Nana and grandfather were married, my Nana was having babies.  She had Edward Jr., Mary Rita (my Mom!), Dorothea, Robert, Jean, Joan and Ruth.  Dorothea died when she was a very small baby and my Aunt Jean died 7 years ago.  My Mom is very lucky to have her brothers Ed and Bob, and her sisters Joan and Ruth, still in her life.

I spent lots of time with my Nana while I was growing up.  She lived in a house in Boston that my Uncle Bob still lives in.  My Nana was very short, like 4′ 9″ short.  She was a bit on the heavy side, but was always trying to lose weight!  She cooked all of the time… breakfast, lunch, dinner and every big holiday meal.  She had a wicked sweet tooth and smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes.  When she was dressed up, she always wore pearls and beautiful rhinestone pins.  Otherwise, my Nana loved to be comfortable in cotton house dresses.  My Nana always wore aprons when she cooked.  Saturday nights were beans & franks night, and no-one to this day has ever made beans & franks like my Nana.  She used to make corned beef and cabbage, too.  She was this little lady who could sling a 20-pound pan of corned beef like it was a feather.  My cousin Debbie and I stayed with my Nana in Boston for weeks at a time each summer, and I got to know my Nana very, very well.  We used to sit on her screened-in porch each night and watch all the people who passed by.  My Nana was one of the funnest and funniest people I’ve ever had in my life.  She was heavenly!

My Nana all dressed up for an outing. That's me on the top right. I was 6 years old!

There are two stories about my Nana that I will never forget.  One is about my Dad and the other is about your grandfather.  My Nana used to tell me the story about my Dad all of the time.  She would laugh about how she could have been so silly…

When my Mom (Grandma Rita) was 24 years old, she wasn’t dating anyone special and all of her uncles (remember those 6 brothers of my Nana?) thought my Mom was NEVER getting married.  But one New Year’s Eve, 1950, my Mom met someone.  This man was in the Navy and was stationed in Boston.  My Mom fell in love with this man and he fell in love with her and very soon after they talking about getting married.  Problem was… he wasn’t Irish.  He was Polish/Yugoslavian.  Uh, oh.

My Nana told me that she was beside herself.  How could her oldest daughter marry someone Polish?  My Mom reminded my Nana of all the times boys had been scared away by her 6 brothers because they weren’t Irish.  My Mom reminded my Nana about the Italian boy.   But pretty soon, my Nana loved that Polish man with the long last name.  That man was my Dad!

My Nana used to smile kindly when she told me the story of my Dad… and remark how a person’s heritage has nothing to do with character or kindness or love.  She was very sorry that she had judged my Dad by his name… and she came to love him like he was her own son.

So you can only imagine how shocked and hurt I was when my loving, beautiful Nana told me that I could never marry your grandfather because he was Portuguese!  WHAT?  I had never, ever had “words” with my Nana, but I told her how unfair she was to judge the man I loved and wanted to marry… and I reminded her of her 6 brothers and the Italian boy and my own Dad.  My Nana wouldn’t budge.  She didn’t want me to marry a Portuguese man.  That was that.

I was heartbroken.  I loved my Irish Nana and I loved my Portuguese man… and they hadn’t even met…

That’s when my Mom got involved.  She drove right up to Boston to tell her mother a thing or two about life and love.  My Mom told my Nana that she was being unfair and unkind and also reminded her about the Italian boy and my Polish Dad.  My Dad had just died a few months before, and my Mom told my Nana how disappointed my Dad would be.  My Nana took this very seriously.

A few days later, my Nana met my Portuguese man.  YOUR GRANDFATHER!  Of course, it was love at first sight.  My Nana would tell me many times just how ashamed she was at her behavior, and she came to love your grandfather like he was her own grandson.

But what I know is that people from many generations ago had ideas about people who were different than they were… different foods, different celebrations, different names, different looks sometimes.  What makes people understand people is getting to know them.

Thank goodness my wonderful Nana learned this lesson in her lifetime… 3 times she learned this lesson!  And thank goodness we can all Sing America! On this St. Patrick’s Day I celebrate my Irish heritage, I celebrate my Nana and how she LISTENED to her heart, and I thank God that I live and love in a country with great freedoms.

My Nana died at the age of 82.  I miss her feisty Irish-ness every single day.  I will be thinking of my Nana today!

Love forever and ever,

Grandma Couto


MAIL TIDBIT of the DAY: One lucky stamp!







31 Letters Literacy Project: Day 17 – “Singing America” was last modified: March 18th, 2011 by Sharon Couto
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31 Letters Literacy Project: Day 17 – “Singing America” was last modified: March 18th, 2011 by Sharon Couto