The judge smiled

Mike and Mary are not their names, and as this story unfolds you will see why I dissemble. They came to mind when I read that 9,700 people had joined in a naturalization ceremony at Miami. Mike's naturalization had no such monster ceremony, but it proves that size is not always vital. Mike's did not get the coverage of the Miami do. Mike and Mary came to the United States from Hungary, but after 1918 their homeland was part of Czechoslovakia and they were known as Slovaks - minority residents in a Yankee town. They had not met in the old country, but were introduced by the priest after finding jobs in the mill. They and their family have always been close to us and our family, a relationship brought about by my grandfather.

Most of the townspeople held back and weren't friendly with these immigrants, but Grandfather was a farmer and he noticed that every rented backyard held by a Slovak shortly became a bower of bounty. He accordingly paused to compliment Mike one day, not knowing one Slovak from another at the time, and Mike soon made it known among the other Slovaks that a Yankee had been kind enough to say something nice.

Perhaps in pausing to compliment, Ol' Gramp hoped to obtain a secret or two about cucumbers and tomatoes, but the lasting consequence was that Gramp had a lot of Slovak friends. And when Mike and Mary decided to marry, they pooled their savings and meant to move from the rented mill homes to a farm of their own. They asked Gramp, and he found a place that was for sale. He told them how to borrow more money on a mortgage.

Mary soon learned to speak English, and her children were bilingual. But Mike never became easy in English, and he faltered and mispronounced. The banker was the prototype of the standard skinflint who forecloses on widows and kicks orphans into the street, and he listened to Mike a brief moment and then gave him a big, fat no. Well, what would things come to if foreigners like this began to own property!

Mike wasn't the only Slovak in town to get this kind of treatment in those days, and he retired from the bank with the feeling that that's the way things are. But he did mention the refusal to Gramp a week later, and Gramp took action. He marched into the bank, backed the banker up against the wall, and poked his finger at the third button of the banker's vest to emphasize his disgust. He made himself clear.

So Mike got his loan, bought his farm, and forever declared my grandfather the finest kind. And because Gramp had cosigned for the loan, he kept interested in Mike and Mary, and always said they were wonderful people.

Mary ''took out papers'' and became a citizen while still a young woman, but Mike delayed. The children were grown and had left home when he decided the time had come and applied. Grandfather had long since left the scene, and although I lived close and was close to Mike and his family, I didn't suppose he would come to me for help. He did. He walked into our kitchen one afternoon with the little book of instructions given him by the naturalization people, and he asked me to coach him for his examination. I said it would be an honor.

It was also a chore. Mike's language deficiency was not an easy thing to handle. The tutoring took place in our kitchen, in his kitchen, along the orchard wall, in the stable, on his or my woodpile, on lawn chairs, and wherever and whenever we chanced to assemble. I drilled him on everything from George Washington's teeth to Calvin Coolidge's milk stool, and he labored manfully.

There was no question in my mind whatever about his knowledge of United States history - at least enough of it to pass the brief test to be given by the judge. My only doubt lay in Mike's ability to say what he knew in an English that the judge might understand.

So the day drew near, and Mike had Mary tie his necktie and straighten his collar before he took off for the county courthouse. Confidence personified, he entered the courtroom - and then ....

Well, Mike was fazed by the judicial atmosphere and the dignity of His Honor in his robe. When his name was called he stepped forward. The judge said he would ask a few questions, and he asked the first one. ''What are the three constitutional divisions of the government of the United States?''

Mike faltered, gulped, and said, ''President, vice-president, and labor unions.'' The judge smiled, administered the oath, and said, ''Next!''

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