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Living Below Your Means
He Loves This Country

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By spl241
March 3, 2003

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(Inspired by all the recent "Pledge posts")

This man is 67, a retired teacher/counselor, and one of the most fervent patriots I've ever met. He wasn't born here. You'll have to read to the end to be told his origin. Meanwhile...

...he came to this country as a young man. He washed dishes, did a lot of odd jobs, got married, and put himself through college. He joined the faculty of the junior high where I began teaching and soon became a popular colleague. He was a member of the Thursday night floating poker game and was the life of the party.

He and I used to supervise basketball games. When the national anthem or the pledge to the flag preceded the games, he would intently scan the students. If he saw someone sitting (or talking loudly), he would calmly go to that student and say, "Why you not standing? or "Why you not join singing?" Occasionally, he'd get a retort. Even when he did, he maintained his composure. Once, I heard him say to a leering 8th grader: "I know how lucky you are. You come where I come from, you understand this type thing." *Maurice* had a strong accent and often left out prepositions, adjectives, and helping verbs; nevertheless, he communicated quite well.

He missed two things above all: his family and his native foods. He tried to get back to his country twice when he heard his father was dying slowly. He didn't take his American wife with him or his two sons, knowing there was risk. Both times, he practically depleted his savings to make the trips. Both times, he was denied entrance: improper papers, surly border guards, changing government regulations, etc. Once, he was even detained for several days.

About the foods he missed: although frugal, sometimes the urge to splurge got the best of him. He'd drive 50 miles to a specialty food supplier, and buy some of the herbs, sauces, and other things he had left behind years ago. At one of the poker games, he brought out some of his home-canned items. Once, I tried pickled lamb wrapped in a grape leaf. The hairs on my nostrils were curling before I even took a bite: hottest damned thing I ever ate. Maurice laughed at us native-born "Wusses" and downed bite after bite. "See? Not hot. Not hot at all!"

I see him around town quite a bit. He's usually in the midst of some volunteer work of some kind: delivering meals for shut-ins, Habitat for Humanity, and the hospital. He stopped at the store twice last summer, and I asked him how retirement was treating him. "I do all right. I used to living tight all my life. Like I say many time, just being here make me rich." The second time he stopped, he came back, holding his cone in one hand and our store's small flag that we fly in the other. There had been a storm the night before, and it had some tears in it from being blown. "You need a new flag, spl. See?" I brought it in and, frankly, forgot about it.

A couple of days later, he was ordering at the window again. "I drive by and see no flag. Here." He had brought me a new, larger flag with a thicker mounting stick and hardware. "You have tools? I do it for you. No, no. No money, and no free shake. I finish shake and then put it up. You forget, spl: I retire, I have time. Now be quiet."

Maurice was born in Baghdad, Iraq. He still speaks fluent Arabic. His family moved from there to Iran, where they lived for many years. He left Iran, the country that held 52 American hostages for over 400 days during the Carter administration, before the shah began his indiscriminate killing. Once he left, he never saw his parents or his two siblings again.

Whether this nation is "one nation under God" or whether it isn't probably doesn't concern him. Somehow, I think I understand that.


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