David’s grandmother was in her nineties, but was remarkably vital and lived alone near where he worked. He made it a point to have lunch with her at least twice a week, and it was now the Tuesday after the scene he made at church. Since she was a lifelong member of a different church and denomination, when she brought up the topic of immigration he knew that either someone in the family had told her…or worse, word had spread through the community. It was already embarrassing enough.
“You know, Davie, my father came to this country illegally.”
David almost choked on his fried mush. Half a glass of water and a lot of coughing later, his voice returned.
“Grams, he came over in the 1800s. There wasn’t any such things as illegal immigration back then.”
“Of course, your right,” she replied nonchalantly, “he didn’t need a passport or too many papers when he came. It would have helped if he’d had some money, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he was around twenty and both his parents had already passed, so he was an orphan. He never spoke of his siblings, so when he came, he came alone. He wanted to take a one of those ocean liners across to America – oh, this was well before the Titanic went down – so some friends at the port helped him hide inside one of the crates.”
“He was a stowaway?”
“Yes, yes,” the small white-haired lady smiled to herself, reflective for a moment, “he did a very foolish thing. He was lucky. If he had been put inside a crate that was completely enclosed by other crates, he likely would have suffocated. As it was, he waited until several hours had passed and used a crow bar he had with him to get out.”
“Didn’t someone notice?”
“No, and that’s the funniest part of the thing. Your great-grandfather was so clever. He slipped out of the crate and managed to pass himself off as a crew member for the entire voyage. It was a large crew, and nobody seemed to notice. How likely is that?”
A moment or two passed as David mulled this new information over and munched on a chicken leg.
“But Grams, that’s still not the same thing as illegal immigration. He didn’t commit any crimes to get in.”
“Didn’t he? I’d call not paying for passage the same as stealing. He thought so too, because when I was ten we started going to the Lutheran church, and Papa’s conscience got the better of him. He actually sent the price for passage with a full confession to the liner’s offices in New York!”
“Still, we’re living in different times. You remember 9/11, right?”
“I’m not senile yet, Davie.” Grandmother’s eyes darkened at any hint she was thought of as infirm.
“That’s fine, Davie. Eat your green beans.” The grandfather clock ticked away in the otherwise silent room for a minute or two, and then,
“Davie, I remember 9/11, of course. I saw those people jumping out of windows, choosing to fall to their deaths rather than be burned alive. I remember the moment the first tower fell, feeling all those deaths in my bones and dreading what I knew had to follow. I also remember that those men believed in a radical religion that filled them with hatred against our country and the entire western world. I remember how some of them even came to our country legally. I also remember World War II. I remember how the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing low so many young men in the prime of life. Some of them died slowly, entombed underwater in their sunken ships. I also remember how the German people were driven by an insane ideology to kill Jews, Christians, Jehovah’s witnesses, the mentally ill and anyone else who wasn’t like them. Now we don’t think twice about the Germans, and the Japanese are friends of our county.”
“I also remember how we treated colored people when I was a girl. I didn’t see a thing wrong with it, and folks said they had to be kept in their place so they wouldn’t take white people’s jobs. Did you know that was an argument for slavery before I was born? So, when I think about people from other countries wanting to breathe free, wanting to find better opportunities and are willing to risk everything for it, I think of my father. When I think of the terrorists and their fanatic beliefs, I remember the Germans, Italians and Japanese and know that people from the Middle East might someday be our friends too. When somebody tells me a Hispanic man might take an American man’s job, I think of Martin Luther King Jr.”
“It’s not that simple Grams….”
David had finished his plate and now was staring blankly down at its floral pattern.
“Listen to me prattle on…would you like some apple pie? I baked it just this morning.”