Once they loaded the 40th Presidents casket aboard Air Force Three, I decided to go outside and relieve myself the heaviness by doing some yard work. As I pushed the lawn mower over the grass I caught myself looking skyward wondering if I could see the jet bearing the former Presidents body flying overhead.
It was a couple of seconds of profound silliness on my part as it occurred to me that I would not be able too. It would be a few of hours before it entered Nevada airspace, it would be flying much too high to distinguish it from any other aircraft and it would be flying farther south to reach its destination.
I returned my attention to the yard work at hand. Soon my mind recalled another place, another time when I was much younger.
It was the day that man first stepped on the moon. It was my ninth birthday and we celebrated it at my Grandpa’s.
I didn’t want to play with my toys or anything because I wanted to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon . With us was Grandpa’s neighbor .
He was older than Grandpa . Everyone called him Versatile Joe. His real name was Giovanni Versatalli.
He used to tell me stories about how he came from the boot of Italy. It reminded me of the nursery story of the old lady and the shoe who had all the children and didn’t know what to do, especially when he talked about being one of 11 kids.
Be came to the United States just after the First Great War. Re lost part of his left ear fighting in Germany. He did not talk much about it. He married and had five children of his own. Everyone called him Versatile Joe because they either didn’t ‘t want to take the time to learn his real name or perhaps it was the fact he was the original Mr. Fix-it.
At any rate I remembered Giovanni Versatalli shortly after looking up for Air Force 3. He and I watched the images of our astronauts as they stepped out onto the moon.
Giovanni was impressed and I was excited. Then he grabbed me by the hand and dragged me outside. He looked up at the moon intently then at me and said, “I no see dem.”
We both busted up laughing at the idea .
Skip forward nine years later . I had just signed up to join the Air Force and discovered that because I was born off base in France, I had to take a citizenship test and be sworn in as a U . S. citizen .
I protested, “My parents are citizens and I have been raised here all my life!”
But the military and the courts would hear none of it . Giovanni however, came to my rescue .
Re said, “I always wanted to take that test but nobody would go with me. We can go together.”
He was very old and terribly bent over but he still had that sparkle in his eye . I jumped at the chance .
We tested each other for weeks leading up to the date and Giovanni put me to shame. I found I actually had to stud hard to catch up to him to know the things about my country that he already knew.
When that day came Giovanni and I walked into the courthouse arm in arm and sat in the front row. There were only 7 people requiring the citizenship testing and swearing-in.
The Judge saw me and asked me to step forward.
Re asked me a couple of questions about the constitution and who the first President and the 16th Presidents were and then told me to step back . I was a bit puzzled.
Re openly challenged Giovanni to recite the Preamble to the Bill of Rights, which too everyone’ s amazement Versatile Joe did with perfection. The Judge feeling less certain, asked Giovanni to explain the three branches of government. Again Versatile Joe hit the mark.
“Last question Mr. Versatalli,” the Judge said, “Who was the first President of the United States?”
It was a soft pitch question and everyone knew it because the old man had done so admirably. He turned slightly to me and I saw that twinkle in his eyes as he winked.
He straightened up , looking at the Judge and said with a heavier than usual Italian accent, “Dassa, easy one, itsa Geoga De Wash!”
Everybody in the courtroom busted up, including the Judge.
As soon as he could gain his composure the Judge asked Giovanni to please take a seat and he continued to question the other soon-to-be-citizens. Later Giovanni explained
that it never seemed important to be a citizen until he saw me upset when I found out that I wasn’t one .
His five kids were all born in the U.S., so he never gave his citizenship much thought. But he didn’t like watching me so troubled, so he decided it was time to become an American.
It’s strange how one thought can lead into another until every one of them seem to be connected . When this happens I tend to think of it as God whispering in my ear, telling me that we are all connected , like it or not.
That is the fabric of life and God is the stitching that holds us together.