Monday, February 15, 2010
It is 1917. You are a 22-year-old man named Dhimitri Kuçi. You were born in Vlonë, Albania, on February 15, 1895. When you were twelve you were sent to Italy to attend school. Now you are on your way to America to try to find your older brother. Someone took this photograph and put it on your passport.
Although you search, you will not be able to find your brother. Eventually you will settle down in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Seven years from now you will become a naturalized citizen of the United States and your name will change. Two years later, when you are 31 years old, a friend who runs a butcher shop will persuade you to return to Albania to marry his 19-year-old niece, Ksanthipi Rista, and bring her to the United States. Her widowed grandmother will come along on your honeymoon.
When you are 36, Ksanthipi will bear a son, who will be named after her uncle. When you are 40, she will also give you a daughter, whose godmother decides should have the same name as the wife of the President of the United States.
During the Great Depression, you will move your family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To support them, you will make and sell snow cones from a pushcart. During World War II, Ksanthipi will also become a naturalized citizen of the United States and her name will also change. You both will work in a defense plant for a while until you decide to open a restaurant outside a Marine base in Philadelphia. After the war ends you will move your family to North Carolina. Your son will graduate from college there and marry a North Carolina girl. Your daughter will graduate from nursing school.
When you are 66 years old, you and Ksanthipi will move to Orlando, Florida. Your daughter will marry a Texas fellow who joined the Air Force and was sent to McCoy Air Force Base. He will take your daughter to exotic places like Bellevue, Nebraska, and Poughkeepsie, New York, and Boca Raton, Florida, and Marietta, Georgia.
You will tend to the citrus trees in your backyard and every day you will walk around the block with Ksanthipi. Eventually your children will give you five grandchildren.
You will live to be 88, a ripe old age, and when you die you will be buried in what was once an orange grove. Three years later Ksanthipi will join you there. Eventually there will be six great-grandchildren.
But today you know nothing of this. It is 1917 and you are 22 years old and you are on your way to America.
Today -- the real today -- is the 115th anniversary of the day you were born.
Happy birthday, Pop!