Monday, November 24, 2014

Let me have a word with you, Mr. Speaker


Dear John:

Permit me to interrupt your howling at President Obama for his action on immigration reform. Your darkest views on releasing millions  of illegal immigrants from the bondage of practiced anonymity have reached into my own ancestry.  And as the President reminded us, they didn't all cross borders but came by planes and ships, too.

Mine came on ships from the Mediterranean (that's the enormous freshwater sea, John, that provided some of the routes for the tidal waves of  immigrants seeking a better life on our shores - although many were deceived by the cynical transporters and debarked instead in the West Indies and South America!).

My parents were born in a relatively short span  after their parents arrived from a small town near Beirut.  To be perfectly up front about it, I was too young to learn whether they ever became American citizens, nor did I care much about it  as I grew older  and they had passed on.   In fact, I only got to know my by dear siti, my father's mother.  My paternal grandfather, Abe - surprised that he and my father had the name that Dad passed on to me? - was a burly bald man who  died when I was quite young.   He opened a small fruit market in the tiny coal-mining town of Mt. Pleasant, Pa.

Dad said he didn't know why they chose to finally settle there, and it really didn't seem important enough to the family to find out.  On my mother's side, her parents took root in Conemaugh, a gritty attachment to Johnstown (where I was born).  They died before I met them.

So that left siti, a gracious woman who never learned to read nor write English, but managed to speak enough  to get by while she read her Arabic newspapers and burned tiny pyramids of incense.  We lived a block away and on Saturday nights  I would escort   her to a nearby restaurant  for her favorite treats: a hotdog and a Coke for a quarter. She would smile with each bite and say, "Good".

I also shopped for her groceries, careful that the canned goods had pictures of peas or beans on the wrappers so she would know what the can contained.

So here's the best part of the story, John.  She  had five sons and a daughter. Dad and his brother George  opened a small garage where they sold a few cars each month but spent most of their time as grease monkeys .  Together  they built our  house 25 feet from the garage, separated only by a small side yard and a slick path where they dumped drained crankcase oil. (An outhouse across the street from our house absorbed the awful smell of the oil.)

As life  and wallets improved, the brothers became pool sharks and opened a dingy smoky pool room in a dungeon-like setting under a food market  and took on all drifters bearing  cuesticks. It was not the type of ordered existence that would impress most  of your donors, John. But it did work out  reasonably well for Dad and Uncle George.

Two other sons, one with  assistance from  Uncle Sam, went on to become quite successful surgeons. Aunt Della and Uncle Dan each ran small restaurants and did quite well. Aunt Della's husband George (there were at least six Georges in the family)  began in Altoona with a hotdog grille facing his sidewalk window where passersby  couldn't  resist stopping in for a 10-minute  lunch and maybe an hour's worth of fussing.

That was a long, long time ago, John,  and what I've told you is as best as I can remember it. Attention to the details of family history was not something any member  of this tribe cared about.

But these folks were all success stories, Mr. Speaker.  And I unapologetically remind you again that whether the grandparents became citizens, which I doubt, they produced the American dream without being familiar with that overused term.

Successful in America, John!  Wouldn't it have been a bloody injustice  if my grandparents had been deported?   So I ask:  How cold-blooded can you be in the interest of your own political schemes?

Abe Zaidan, grandson

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