Not too many years after we started living in San Francisco, perhaps twenty years ago or so, we began attending an excellent moderate-priced restaurant near us. The food was Macedonian...a combination of Turkish and other influences, without restrictions on alcohol. Everything was excellent, yet everything was affordable. It was a comfortable place to eat, and where we always took friends who were visiting.
Often was the night when we closed out the place, and the staff treated us specially, frequently "forgetting" to charge for our wine, and if we had to wait for a table, bringing us drinks to tide us over during the wait. The restaurant was a regular destination for us for at least a dozen years.
The owners were an elderly couple who did all the cooking, and the restaurant was managed by their son, who was universally beloved and whose charitable activities included funding a now well-known experimental music quartet, in part by renting out the space above the restaurant to them for their rehearsals. The son, tragically, died early but fortunately not before he'd happened to take serious time off to spend quality time with his own son.
The elderly couple eventually retired and closed the restaurant (they didn't want anyone else to manage the restaurant that contained the family name). We'd see them occasionally walking the neighborhood, arm in arm, very happy in their retirement. We were sad and bitter, though, at the loss of one of our prime eating places, but it was tempered by their own well-being.
Fast-forward a decade or so and we purchased our first non-rental location, a condo in the neighborhood. Coincidentally, the wife of the elderly couple (her husband having passed away) now lives above us, a robust 81-year-old, and we get to spend occasional time with her, during which she's told her story.
She grew up in Istanbul, Turkey in a Christian family. They were persecuted, she says, both for their religion and for their industry (when a couple of the brothers chipped in to buy a car, this made the family somehow the target for insults). "Other people wanted money but they didn't want to work," she says. "It makes no sense! Why didn't they work if they wanted money?"
Looking for freedom from persecution, they moved to the U.S. "Here we could do anything! We could start our own business. No one cared! No one got in our way..."
And so they did. They started the restaurant. She became the cook but she wasn't a professional cook, so she made do by creating the dishes she was familiar with. Delightful lamb-filled pastries and the best Moussaka I've ever encountered, plus a wonderful pastry-encased salmon, and many other dishes I can easily call to mind so many years later. Her husband specialized in the desserts, which were delights of their own.
The restaurant became very popular and they prospered, allowing them to eventually retire as mentioned.
In one dinner with her, she got very emotional about America. "I love this country," she said. "I love America. I bless it every day. It made everything possible for us."
She's confused by the religious wars. "I'm Christian, but I don't know. What is God? Why do people fight over this? It seemed like things were getting better and now there is so much fighting over religion."
She has no interest in returning to Turkey, though relatives would like her to visit. "Why go? It's a long plane ride and I'm old, and this is where I live. Turkey was bad to us. Very bad."
As a very pro-immigration person, I'm honored to live near and spend time with this person. These are the kinds of people we need in this country. These are Americans.