Friday, October 4, 2013

* A 1970 Immigration Story

The Man Upstairs

A friend of mine ten years younger than I am, a prominent educator, told me this story today about his mother who died when he was nineteen.  

She had raised him as an only child by herself without another breadwinner in the picture.

When he was 17, they lived in the second story of a three family house.  One day a Portuguese family with six children moved in upstairs, and two days later my 17-year-old friend  heard loud crying at midnight. 

He went upstairs to inquire and discovered the children alone: The father worked at night.  He had just called to tell them their mother who had been hospitalized, had died.  My friend didn’t know what to do, being just a kid himself, and went downstairs and rustled up some food to give the children.

Fast forward two weeks. My friend comes home from a day at school and says “Hi Mom.”

His mother says, "I want to talk with you dear" and they sit at the kitchen table. “I’m going to marry Joe, the man upstairs."

Only two weeks?

They had been getting to know each other over those two weeks while the kids were at school, since Joe worked the night shift.  Joe couldn’t speak a word of English, although his kids were picking it up.

Lilly couldn’t speak a word of Portuguese.

Suddenly there are nine people in a five room apartment.

Together Joe  and his new wife  save enough money to buy a small house after a year.

All this time Joe has only learned one English sentence of four words.

They would sit at the kitchen table across from each other holding both hands looking into each other’s eyes and he would say, 
“I love you, Lilly.” And she would say, “I love you, Joe.”  

That was it.  

And it was enough.

Fast forward two years.  My friend is 19 nearly 20  and home from college. His mother who has a weight problem, is in intensive care with heart trouble, and dies at age 52.

Suddenly my nineteen year old friend is alone in the world.

The man his mother married (the man upstairs) still only knows one English sentence, a sentence which both wounds and soothes his grateful heart.

My friend's mother had no money or possessions to leave her son.

But she left him an indelible legacy: a heart so large that it had naturalized seven American citizens with the single stroke of a justice of the peace’s pen and a tremendously brave leap of faith.

This story is about the selflessness of love, a love that has no "language requirement".

Even though I only met you today four decades after your death, I too love you, Lilly.

And so does your son, now the father of seven children himself

---------- the last named, Lilly.

Paul D. Keane

M.A., M.Div., M.Ed.

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