My father became a naturalized citizen on February 8, 1939. The next day, he married my mother. Papa was not a tall man; most Southern Italians lack the height of Northern Italians, but on Election Day, Papa stood as tall as the Statue of Liberty. As a U.S. citizen, he cherished the privilege of casting his vote. Having come of age in Mussolini’s Italy, voting in national or even local elections was not an option.
Until Papa’s death in 2006, he never missed voting for the candidate of his choice on the first Tuesday in November, and neither did my mother. Nor did they never miss voting in local and state elections. For Papa knew full well what it meant to live under a dictatorship, where the common people have no say in the politics of their country or even of their community. He never understood “the-a lazy-a bums who no-a vote”. It was our right under the U.S. Constitution; it was good citizenship to vote; it was an honor is how Papa saw it. Having served in the Italian army from ages eighteen to twenty, and then serving from 1942 to 1945 in the U.S. Army, he had no use for anyone who shirked their military duty.
In failing health by the National Elections of 2004, I asked Papa if he wanted to vote. “You-a better-a believe it, Honey,” was his enthusiastic response. At age ninety-five, and moving slowly, I managed to help him get to vote early because I surmised it would be less hectic at the county building on a weekday morning. “I-a wanna vote,” he announced to the sheriff at the door and to the woman who handed him a voting ballot. “I-a did it-a, Honey,” he told me. As diminished as Papa was physically, he was as strong in spirit and resolve as ever. It was the last vote he would ever cast, for he died in April 2006, a month shy of his ninety-sixth birthday.
A true patriot throughout his life, he cried over the “Star-Spangled Banner” and when he and Mama went to Washington, D.C. Touring the White House, the Capitol Building, seeing the Lincoln Memorial, and viewing the original Declaration of Independence at the Smithsonian also made him weep for all our country had made possible for him. Papa served on the Alcoholic Beverage Board for Indiana, was on the Board of Directors at a local bank for years, was an active member of The Exchange Club, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and a loyal volunteer at St. Monica Catholic Church as an usher and a volunteer for the St. Vincent DePaul Society.
As a master shoemaker, a trade he learned at the age of ten when his formal education stopped, he offered his shoe expertise for gratis for The Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. The then-Governor of Indiana recognized Papa’s tireless efforts when he declared Papa a Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest award.
I was always proud of my father’s patriotism and I want him to still know that I too have voted in every election ever since I was eighteen years old. His voice rings in my ears on this November 6, 2012 Election Day too: “God-a Bless America!”
Ciao for now.