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The Finer Points Of Citizenship

WHENEVER affairs in these United States remind me again about how George Yenco became a citizen, I am glad, because his experience needs our thought.

George was an immigrant in the days of Kaiser Bill's turmoils, and came to our small Maine town to work in our mill by way of Ellis Island.

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Our established Yankees called him a Hungarian, but by the time I came to know George and his family, this had changed to Slovak.

I think George didn't know Annie in the old country, but this was soon taken care of by the Rev. Felicko of the time, pastor of the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Annie, too, was an immigrant.

My grandfather, longest settled of the Yankee elders, was immediately interested in this wave of Hungarians, as he found they were good farmers and knew how to ``make things grow.''

On market day, when he harnessed Ol' Fan in the buggy and went to town with his crates of eggs, he would ride about the tenement section to dally Ol' Fan so he had time to peek over the fences at the Hungarian sass. Everything was neat, trim, and handsome, and thus he came to make friends with George Yenco, who had the best garden in town.

Language bothered. George kept his background accent always and was never easy to understand. Annie did better. Both Grandfather and George remedied understanding by shouting.

Time ran along, and after both George and Annie had saved their best nest eggs, George ventured into the local bank to ask for a loan so he and Annie could buy the old Gurnsey farm on the Upland Road. My grandfather had heard it was on the market and took George over to look at it.

The Hon. Squire Coolidge, owner and manager of the bank, as well as local practicing attorney and trial justice, turned George down cold and ushered him without ceremony to the sidewalk. George then walked the several miles to tell my grandfather.

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Grandfather was by no means a minor character in our town. For one thing, he was an ample depositor in Squire Coolidge's bank. He was also an old soldier and was respected enough that he had some clout at the county seat, at the State House, and with the incumbent congressmen.

His arrival at the bank to have an unscheduled meeting with Squire Coolidge was long remembered. Holding Squire Coolidge against the wall by his necktie, Grandfather recited his unqualified approval of George Yenco so the lady tellers out front covered their ears and blushed.

When he set Squire Coolidge back on his feet, the squire gulped and said, ``Goodness gracious! Tom! Would you sign that man's note?''

My grandfather said that's just what he came to town to do. He also said, ``You skinflint! Give George 50 years, and he can buy this bank!'' So Squire Coolidge was convinced and let George have the small amount of money he needed.

Now George and Annie had three children about my age, and the Yenco family lived kitty-corner across the fields from my grandfather. As the years went along and I had our family place, every good feeling Grandfather had ripened into neighborly affection, and when George decided to become a citizen of the United States of America, he walked over with the little book the Immigration Service had given him and asked me to coach him so he'd be ready for the quiz of the presiding judge.

We'd sit on the wheelbarrow and chopping block, either at his place or at mine, and using the book as primer and catechism, I'd ask questions and he would answer. He was soon ready, and then the big day was at hand. I think one of his daughters drove him to the courthouse, but I was certainly there, and one by one the candidates for citizenship advanced to be queried by Judge Mansur, who was ``actively retired'' by then.

When George was called he stepped confidently forward, and a pleasant patriotic pride ran over me to think I was party to this important moment. George answered a couple of questions and then Judge Mansur said, ``Tell me, Mr. Yenco, what are the three branches of our government?''

A cinch! George and I had been over that up, down, and sideways, and I had told him it would surely be one of the questions.

But the dignity of the bench, the flusters that beset novices when asked to say a few words, the very importance now at hand, everything jostled poor George off the track, and speechless he was quaking in the boots Annie had so vigorously shined before he left home. George gulped, and I - everybody! - heard him say, ``The president, the vice president, and the labor unions.''

Judge Mansur looked up from the profundity of his dignity, a touch of incredulity to the fore, and leaned forward the better to savor this information. There was (or did I imagine it?) a titter from the Daughters of the American Revolution, who were there for the customary welcome ceremony for new citizens.

Judge Mansur resumed a judicial posture. Then he said, ``Mr. Yenco, you are probably correct. In any event, let me be the first to welcome you to citizenship in the United States of America. This session is adjourned.''

Then the ladies gave all the new citizens a small US flag on a stick, the newspaper took a group picture, and I think about that again every so often.

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