When Eleanora Leszczuk was sixteen, Nazi troops rolled through her small village in Poland. They took her and one of her two sisters and put them on separate trains to Germany. She never saw that sister or anyone else in her family again.
Eleanora survived the war as a prisoner, working on a forced labor farm. It was there she met Tony, who would become her husband, and there that she gave birth to her only child, Stan. After the war, Eleanora, Tony and their son spent five years in various refugee camps in Europe before securing a sponsor who could bring them to America. They settled in Detroit, found work, enrolled their son in the local parish school, and started building a new life. Stan grew up, became a US citizen, was commissioned as an officer in the US Air Force, and got married. (And I received the great gift of having Eleanora as a mother-in-law.)
At the time of the tragedy of 9/11, Eleanora was living near us in Ohio. Tony had passed away a few years before. In the patriotic fervor that followed 9/11, I happened to ask Eleanora why she'd never become a US citizen. She told me she had wanted to, back when Stan did - when he turned 21 - but it was not possible for Tony (who had no formal education) and she didn't want to disrespect him by doing what he could not. I asked her, "What about now? Would you still like to?" She answered, "I'm too old. They wouldn't want me now."
Of course, this wasn't true. I downloaded the requirements for citizenship, including the test materials, and offered them to her. She spent months learning facts most of those of us who were born here don't know. We helped her submit the formal request in the spring and, on August 8, 2003, her 77th birthday, 52 years after she came to this country, Eleanora took and passed her examination for citizenship. Now all that was left was the official 'swearing in' ceremony.
In a fitting tribute to the enduring strength of our nation, the ceremony was scheduled for the afternoon of September 11, 2003. It was a large group, all eager to become part of this great country. Eleanora was supported by Stan and I, her two grandsons and their wives, and her three great-grandchildren. There were lots of speeches and the oath was administered and we all sang God Bless America. And Eleanora Leszczuk became a brand new US citizen.
It's a better memory for 9/11, don't you think?
(I'll bring the groaners back on Wednesday. Just don't seem to fit today.)