By Jack Engelhard
As everyone around here knows, at four year intervals we all have to get our driver’s license renewed, pretty much from scratch. For us, the time was up this month, and we waited until pretty much the last day to show up at the DMV to get this done. Not so fast. What happened was near terrifying.
The old driver’s license is not enough to prove that you are you. No, you must bring your birth certificate, marriage license and, in my case, citizenship papers.
Now, my wife is always totally careful with such papers but, after she opened the box that contains all that, everything was there, yes, everything, except our birth certificates, our marriage license, and truly, the most important paper that I own, that document that proves that I am a citizen of the United States, which I secured in Cincinnati when I was 21.
Gone! All that – gone! I’m already back on the boat to France! As for our marriage license, well, we’ll get married again.
Until then, we will not tell our kids that they are suddenly illegitimate.
Birth Certificates? That cannot be renewed. “I know,” said Leslie, “that I put everything in this briefcase.”
I knew that, too. But where? Leslie never misplaces a coupon from Rite Aid, so surely not this!
Panic set in, though Leslie was a trifle more together than I was. I was finished, an immigrant all over again. No papers! Throughout all these years as I traveled the world, even those years in Greenwich Village when no one knew where anything was, with all the packing and unpacking, I somehow managed save my birth certificate from Toulouse, France, and that citizenship document.
I remembered how precious it was, that day when I was sworn in as an official American – this, after surviving Hitler. What a day that was in Cincinnati. There was one glitch, for which I will never forgive Michael Aaronson. We were required to bring along a witness to testify as to our good conduct. So before I raised my arm for the oath, the officer asked Mike if he thought I’d make a good citizen.
Mike? Mike paused, as if he wasn’t sure. I could have knocked him out right there – and later, of course, outside, he said that he’d been joking. Very funny.
Leslie says, “I’m going to start searching all over again.”
I lit up my pipe, as if that was going to solve everything.
“Here it is” she yells. “It’s all here!”
Whew. We were born after all, and married!
In the morning we drive over to the DMV and yet, from that trauma, I was placed back to those days when we were all truly immigrants – my father, my mother, my sister, and me — and it was all about PAPERS. Fresh from the Holocaust, onto the Serpa Pinto, the famous “Ship of Refugees,” we had to show our papers. Could we get into the United States? No. Canada? Okay. Then, finally, the Unites States, first temporarily, then permanently.
My parents schlepped me along from one embassy to another – and it was always tense. If your papers are NOT IN ORDER, you can get shipped back.
During the escape from France, with Nazi stormtroopers at every corner, it was always about Papieren – Papers. The wrong papers, and it’s Auschwitz.
That’s the mood I was in when we stepped into the DMV. I was a kid all over again, a refugee. I saw the clerks as determining my fate, not to drive again, but to live again.
Well, it was all done in about half an hour. For me, it was welcome back to the United States. Then they took my picture, and let’s not even talk about that!
Novelist Jack Engelhard, author of “The Bathsheba Deadline” and “Indecent Proposal,” can be reached at his website www.jackengelhard.com.