by Julia Buckley
I am the namesake of my grandmother, Julia, and she would have been 110 today. In honor of her birthday and as a Valentine treat, I'd like to share one memory out of a rich tapestry of her life stories.
This particular story is one of my father's favorites. My grandmother came to this country from Hungary as a seventeen-year-old girl. She traveled by ship, alone, to join her father, who had come years earlier. She left her mother and a brother behind, and as it turned out, she never saw them again.
She met a young man who was also Hungarian. They married and divided their time between Chicago and Coloma, Michigan, where her father had a small property. She and her husband had four children, the eldest of whom died of scarlet fever. Her next-oldest son was my father.
When my father and his siblings were grown with families of their own, they tried to encourage my grandmother to go home to Hungary and see her mother. They never managed to persuade her before her mother died. But one year my parents went to Germany in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary; my mother was born in Germany, and they greatly enjoyed their visit to the land where they had met and fallen in love.
When they got home, they spoke so highly of the trip that my grandmother must have finally become convinced that she, too, should return to the land of her birth. She called my father one day and told him she needed him to take her downtown to get a passport.
"Why do you need a passport?" my father asked.
"You seestor buy me a ticket to Europe," his mother replied in her thick accent.
So my father took the day off of work and drove his mother downtown to obtain her passport.
My grandmother had always believed she was a United States citizen, because her father, Imre, was a naturalized citizen who worked on the railroad, and his friends told him that made his children citizens, as well. So for close to sixty years my grandmother had believed this.
When the clerk asked her for evidence of her citizenship, she handed him some ancient paper that had belonged to her father. He stared at it blankly. "I don't know what this is," he told her. She insisted that it was evidence of her American citizenship.
"How else could I vote all these years?" she asked.
"You've been VOTING?" asked the shocked clerk. "I'm not sure you're even a citizen. How did you get to VOTE?"
(She voted in every election, always Democratic, because that was what my grandfather's Union Steward told them to do. My grandfather belonged to the machinist's union and he, too, spent many years working on the railroad).
Now my grandmother, in her flowered dress and little white sweater, gave him her steely expression. He went into the back to consult some higher authority.
When he returned, the news was not good. "Ma'am, we can't find any evidence that you were ever made an American citizen."
My grandmother stomped her foot. She opened her purse, dug into her wallet, and pulled out her Senior Citizen card. "Look!" she yelled. "It says citizen RIGHT THERE! How come you tell me I am not a citizen?"
My grandmother got her passport. You can't argue with logic like that. :)
Happy Birthday, Grandma.