Wednesday, October 17, 2007
By Richard E. Noble
“So what nationality are you anyway?” I asked my locally grown little helper over at Hobo’s Ice Cream Parlor - a little business over in Carrabelle that I once owned.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean where were your grandparents born?”
“They were born in Carrabelle.”
“Well then how about your great grand parents?”
“I don’t know, Carrabelle, I guess.”
“No. What I’m trying to find out is what nationality you are. You know, like what country in Europe your ancestors came from.”
“None of my family has ever been to Europe as far as I know.”
“They had to come from someplace. Nobody in America comes from America originally. Even the Indians came from someplace else. You’re name sounds to me like it could be Irish or maybe English.”
“Listen,” the boy said getting a little annoyed. “I’m American, my mother and father are Americans, my parents and great grand parents are all American as far as I know. I don’t even know anybody who’s Irish. I wouldn’t know an “Irish” if he walked in that door right now. I don’t know where the heck you come from but we’re all Americans here and that’s it!”
I laughed, but it made me think about my old neighborhood. In that neighborhood everybody knew everybody else’s nationality. Even today when I talk to an old buddy invariably in our conversation one of us will ask; “Yeah Jack Greco, was he Italian, Syrian, Greek or what?” Here in this community a kid don’t know an Irishman from a German. Is that good or bad?
The very next day this old buck walks in the door and starts chattering away. The first thing I notice is that he has a foreign accent.
I ask him, “Where are you from?”
He says, “Carrabelle.”
Oh no not this again, I say to myself
“No, you didn’t get an accent like that from being born in Carrabelle. I know what Carrabelle sounds like and you ain’t it.”
The man laughed, “No originally I’m from Poland.”
“No kidding? I’m Polish too.”
“Well, I’ve never been to Poland but my grandmother on my mother’s side was from Poland and her husband was too.”
The man stood there staring at me for a long while. Then he smiled and said.
“Let me tell you something. I was born and raised in Poland. I lived there for forty years. Finally I was luckily enough to be allowed to come over here to this country. I know Poland and I know Polish people. You are not Polish.”
“I’m not? Well when my grandmother finds this out she is going to be very disappointed.”
“I doubt that very much,” added the old man. “If I know anything about your grandmother and I think I do, she came over here to become an American. Her children were born here and that makes them Americans. You were born here of American parents and that makes you a double American. Son, take my word on this, you are one hundred percent American. If you leave Carrabelle and travel to any country in the world as soon as you open your mouth those people will know that you are American. You have got American in your blood; it is written all over your face. It is in the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you act, the things you believe. It is your attitude, your style, your manner, your custom - it is everything about you. I know Polish and I know American, believe me you are American. You can not be anything else - even if you want to be. You are American through and through.”
After the old man left I began thinking. It was kind of peculiar. I was born and raised in this country but in all of my life living here, no one had ever before called me an American. I have been called a lot of other things but never an American - and certainly never has anyone ever said that I was a one hundred percent American. And when finally someone does call me an American it is a guy with a foreign accent from Poland.
And in addition to all that, unless I was reading this guy wrong, he thought that my being a “one hundred percent American” was a good thing and not a bad one.
I don’t know which of those two revelations is the more shocking – that I am a “one hundred percent American” or that someone in this world today thinks that being an American is actually “a good thing”.
Richard E. Noble has been an “Eastpointer” for around thirty years now. He has authored two books: “A Summer with Charlie” which is currently listed on Amazon.com and “Hobo-ing America” which should be listed on Amazon in the not too distant future. Most recently he completed his first novel “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” which will be published soon.