My daughter Rachel’s friend, Richard, has been part of our family for some years now, an Australian living in America for a number of years before that. On February, 11th, following completion of his naturalization requirements, including study, Richard became a “card-carrying American;” well, the official certificate. He’ll get the “card” (Social Security) later.
My son, Jeremy, daughter-in-law Rose, mother-in-law Doris and I met Rachel and Richard at the Homeland Security-Naturalization Center in Charlotte for Richard’s 9 a.m. taking of the oath. Being a Federal Building, with emptying of pockets, removal of belt and shoes required, I applied some Dr. Scholl’s powder beforehand, respecting “olfactory” hazards which come these officers’ way in the performance of their duties!
I put everything in the tray, along with my finger-puppet George Washington which Rachel had given me sometime back. I said to the officer:” George came too!” I think I saw the slightest curvature of a smile appear on his lips; but maybe not, as these men are very serious (even in the presence of finger puppets). George and I made it through okay, explaining (me, not George) to the officers that my setting off of the alarm was due to the titanium in my hip replacements.
The weather was rainy and dreary; but the “weather” inside that room of “Americans-soon-to-be” was so lit with the smiles of applicants, families, and friends, I almost expected to gaze up at the opaque ceiling and see a skylight, framing blue sky and sunshine!
Applicants were dressed “churchly” for the occasion. Some, like Richard, sported flowers (all, soon to be “wedded” to a new country). I thought of Church, although Church and state must always be kept separate, as the Founding Fathers wisely proclaimed.
There seemed to be a “churchly” regard equaling “friendship” between everyone! Although not everyone smiles in church, they were here!
The agent in charge knew the stories of hardship of some of the applicants, adding that some included dire peril! He called upon an elderly Asian man close by me, to tell some of his history. He had already become a citizen, but was supporting a family member taking the oath. He stated his name and told of fighting alongside the soldiers of the United States Army in the “Indo-China” (Vietnam) War!The two gentleman conducting the “service” reminded me of those larger congregations where there is an assistant minister. When the applicants “took the oath”and renounced previous allegiance to a foreign nation, I thought of churchly creeds. Then everyone sang a “hymn” (the one prior to the “throwing out of the baseball”), its key purposefully in everyone’s range (not just that of tenors, more “democratic”). After singing, I received some applause and compliments. I started to ask: “Is anyone here from Italy, thinking of “Vieni Sul Mar” or “O Sole Mio;” but thought better and remained silent (tenors must sometimes keep their inherent “nature” in check).
A congratulatory film from the President was played, followed by a film featuring new citizens, with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” as soundtrack (in earlier times, perhaps something by Cohan or Sousa).
Everyone recited the Pledge of Allegiance ( the same everywhere, no “congregational” worry about saying “trespassers” or “debtors,” or adding “and ever” after “forever!”).
Multiple “Congratulations!” in that room seemed as natural as breathing (well, exhaling).
I spoke it and gave Richard my palm in congratulations! Then, having “observed” the proceedings from my shirt pocket, finger-puppet George Washington gave Richard an “indexed,” congratulatory wave!
The new citizens had their pictures taken, with certificate, in front of a Statue of Liberty poster (not life-size, like those cardboard cut-outs of Presidents, or Elvis).
Instead of a citizen of Australia, Richard was now a citizen of The United States of America!
We decided to celebrate by going to Outback.
I asked Richard if this would be against his oath to renounce former allegiances, but he didn’t seem to think so.