The town of my birth, Lawrence, Massachusetts does not look the way it did 100 years ago. Large brick textile factories that once dotted the Merrimack River now sit mostly empty and decaying with the lucky ones being converted into low cost housing. This once proud bustling mill town was once made up of numerous neighborhoods of immigrant families. Italians, Polish, Irish, and German immigrants who worked in the mills and tended to live sequestered in the their own neighborhoods. Fierce rivalries would sometimes occur between the children and adults of bordering neighborhoods.
My grandfather Anthony with his older brothers Vincent and Giuseppe “Joe” and younger brothers Arturo, Guido, and Horace found themselves the recipients of a frequent bully from a non-Italian neighborhood. It didn’t matter how much they tried to avoid the “large boy” (as my grandfather called him), he seemed to find them every day to hurt and harass them. After many episodes with nary a letup in these tense meetings, it was decided among the boys that the next time the bully was alone, they would fight back. My grandfather gave the instructions that each would work together as a team. Guido and Horace would go for the legs and knock him down, my grandfather and Vincent would get his arms while Arturo “Arthur” and Joe would do what they had always wanted to do; clean his clock.
Walking home from school one day towards their neighborhood, the inevitable occurred, the bully came like Goliath to taunt and hit them. Unlike the past when each would run and yell in differing directions, the signal was given. As the two younger brothers went behind the bully, each grabbed a leg and held on. It was then that my grandfather and Arthur pushed him backwards and the whole lot of them fell in a flailing heap. With arms and legs pinned down, the once mighty warrior got a dose of his own medicine. He was pummeled from all directions. Punched, kicked, and sat upon, the boys worked in tandem to inflict a lesson that would not be soon forgotten. As the boys tired, Goliath finally scrambled free. As he staggered away, Joe jumped up and kicked him in the seat of the pants for good measure. He ran off bloodied, bruised, and humbled, never to wage war on the Lumenello brothers again.
As I reflect on what’s been happening on the world stage lately, I equate the bully in my story as those countries who want to inflict hurt on us, and the immigrant boys are America. In the past, it used to be when speaking of my country, one had better think twice before they dared bully America around. Yet in the past few weeks, our country’s soul seems bruised and battered. We’ve negotiated with terrorists, we’ve opened talks with our enemy Iran to help us fight the “surprise” insurgency in Iraq, our unchecked borders are being overrun by illegal immigrant children, and if that isn’t enough, everyone of us is learning that our own government is spying on us multiple ways.
In the classic movie, Sound of Music, Captain Von Trapp with children in tow, sings before his countrymen for the last time before he is forced to join the German Navy to fight in World War II. The song he chooses is one Austrians know all too well, Edelweiss. With great emotion and holding back tears he sings of a mountain flower. It reminded everyone present of a kinder gentler time, an Austria that once was, that would never be the same again. The words of the song ended with, “Bless my Homeland Forever.”
This week as I heard my country’s national anthem sung at a ballgame, I was filled with emotion. I never thought in my lifetime when I sang about my own country, I too would experience my own Edelweiss moment.