In Betty Smith’s classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, she tells the story of a young girl Francie Nolan in the early 1900’s, living with her family in the tenements. There wasn’t enough food. Her father drank up his paycheck, and her school rolled in chaos and neglect.
Francie’s family owned two books: The Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Each night for years Francie’s mother read one or the other book out loud. Reading from those two books created their main form of entertainment in a bleak existence. Little by little, though, life grew better for the Nolan family because of certain strengths exercised within the family.
Strong families with strong values–even though at first glance a family may appear dysfunctional as the Nolan family–create the ballast in children’s lives, so they can move forward under their own power.
What values grew in the family in Brooklyn?
One strength in the Nolan family was a determination to make life better. When running an errand, our heroine discovers a clean and happy school, and she decides to do whatever necessary to go to school there. It involves a bit of deceit and a mile walk in, but Francie focused on improving her life.
Even though the two books the Nolans owned aren’t considered primers, Francie’s mother showed resourcefulness in helping her children become literate and love language before Francie and her brother headed off to school. Francie showed resourcefulness in her many ways of earning some extra money in the neighborhood.
Even though living in poverty, Francie appreciated reading a book on the fire escape, the breeze, the tree from the title of the book and the refreshing taste of a peppermint wafer. Being able to recognize the positives in your life creates a key for success.
A thousand years ago, a hundred years ago and today, it is in our families that we learn to take the freedoms and opportunities presented to us and make something of them.
It is in our families that we learn courage. We learn to become self-reliant and to focus on our personal potential of service to others. Self-discipline and moderation are practiced. Loyalty and dependability are fostered. Respect for our family members extends to the outside world, as well as the love we have for our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Within our homes we practice kindness and being friendly. With our mistakes and learning in this microcosm of society, we experience justice and mercy for our mistakes and trespasses against others.
It is in our families that life is lived and where habits and perspectives for a life well-lived germinate, measured in terms of hope, happiness and health.
Our families are never perfect, but families are the best way we know to develop people. Families need our support–as neighbors, as schools, as churches, as communities, as countries–to strengthen the essential work they do.
Let’s work together to make our families better. Strong families create strong people.
Isn’t that what the world needs?