“On the boats and on the planes…”
Buried deep down in my DNA chain,
is a tiny island,
in the Mediterranean Sea.
Buried deep down in my DNA chain,
is a big island,
in the Atlantic.
Buried deep down in my DNA chain,
is a country that sits,
near the top of the planet.
I am, like millions of other folks in this country,
I was born and raised on this soil, American soil, I am of its dirt, but only because of the grace of my Grandparents.
From Sicily, they came.
From Ireland, they came.
From Canada, they came
From England, they came.
And as my Grandfather used to tell me when I was a punk kid and didn’t care much about it, “Donnie, we came here for you.”
One of the biggest regrets I have in life is I never said Thank You for what they did for me.
My Grandfather, Clay, 30 years in the steel plant, built cities with the molten steel that he poured into the molds that became beams.
My Grandfather, Sylvester, opened a furniture store on the West Side of Buffalo, the Italian section of town, and when new families came to America and needed furniture but didn’t have the money to pay for it…furniture would still show up at their house. One time, and I know this for a fact, he sold a complete bedroom set, for a bushel of apples.
I learned of America NOT by sitting through history lessons in school, but through the laps I sat on at home.
My fierce love of this country comes not from the political gibberish bombarding us, my love of this country comes from the folks who loved me and who gave up EVERYTHING they had,
to be here.
And if possible,
they loved being here,
more than I do.
I grew up in the land of haves; they grew up in the land of wants. And that’s a huge difference.
“Donnie, you don’t see many people, you know, how you say, run from America, in my country, in my country, we run.”
I tell you all of this because at registration for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open, of all places, I run smack dab into my heritage of comin’ to America.
Flashbacks over fried catfish.
“db, I am Jean-Christophe David and I am here from France.”
“No, I come to teach, I am a school teacher, I come here to teach, but I also come here to fish. I love Bass fishing.”
And then Jean-Christophe smiles and through his smile, with his head tilted some, he tells me, “I here in America 15 days and I buy a Bass boat, a Nitro.”
“…they're coming to America…”
“I came here last July.”
If you come to America, come here in July, because July is when America came to America.
“I’m from a small island in France…”
“Excuse me…an island in France…”
“Yes, in Northwest France in the Atlantic, it’s called Île de Groix. It’snot very big, only about 5 miles long, 2 miles side to side. All my family, we from there.”
Yeah, I’ll save you the time, I Googled it. He’s not fooling; France does have an island. Looked like a nice place from the photos I saw on Google.
“I’m a school teacher. I taught 3rdgrade in Paris at the Jules Valles School (yeah, I looked up that one, too).
Not one moment that I talked to Jean-Christophe did he ever stop smiling.
“I come here to teach in an Immersion Project at a school in Lake Charles.”
I have no idea what he is talking about and before I can ask he says, “In the school here, there are five classes of 3rdgraders; one of those groups I get to teach. I teach them Math, Science, and Social Studies but I teach it to them completely in French. All of the classes I teach to the children are in French, and they all speak French in class.”
You go, Louisiana, very cool.
“It’s an effort to maintain the French heritage of Louisiana.”
“…got a dream they've come to share…”
“It has always been my dream to be here in America, db, and now, now I’m here.”
“You having fun.”
“Fun, I love it. I’m a huge bass fisherman; I dream of one day doing it like the Elites but I’m here. I have fished all over Europe, France, Spain, Italy, but America… America is the bass fishing capital of the world.”
“How has America been treating you.”
“Going well… the 3rdgraders, they are so smart and so sweet, and the people, the people they are so kind, nice, they help you whenever you need it. America, it’s different from where I come from – not better, not worse – just different. The food is nice…but Paris…Paris…you know…”
Jean-Christophe told me he bought his first bass boat 15 days after stepping on our soil, but that he wants to save to try to buy a bigger Nitro boat.
I’m physically sitting at a round banquet table inside the Bossier City Civic Center but as Jean-Christophe talks, I’m back as a child sitting on my grandparents bed listening to them tell stories,
of coming to America.
Jean-Christophe is telling me the same things about America as did Gram and Gramps.
They told me of coming to America and working hard.
They told me of coming to America and saving.
They told me of their dreams.
Jean-Christophe, as my grandparents told me of America (pretty much what you told me), I would sit and look at the only two framed photos they had on their bedroom wall.
One was always changed, always had a shiny new frame, and that was because it was always of the Pope of the day; when the Pope changed, the frame changed.
One though, one frame never changed. It was old; the glass was getting a bit opaque, and I’m sure the wall behind it was faded.
That frame housed a cheap print, one bent from handling, creases still showing, one corner gone.
It was a cheap tourist souvenir,
of the Statue Of Liberty.
Jean-Christophe, I wish you,
good luck in the tournament,
much success in your teaching career here,
and that your dream of being a professional bass angler comes true,
but above all, from deep within my DNA,
I wish you,
I wish you all of what America offers. She will bite you some, but she will nourish you as well.
She will teach you, and she will learn from you.
She will protect you, and ask for your protection.
And I know that one day, if you stay, somewhere in your house will be a faded frame holding a wrinkled print,
and you will tell your children of the Statute of Liberty,
and you will tell them, how it was a gift to America from your country, France,
and how that when you came here to America,
gave you a gift back.
“…they're coming to America.”
PS: To Sylvester & Annabell, to Clay & Tess, if you are out there somewhere still watching over me, I never said this to you but please know Thank You, and that whenever I say my “‘Tis of Thee,” it is because of you.
Update: Day 3, 18:20 hours
Jean-Christophe David finished the tournament in 4th place today, 1 pound behind the leader, 6 ounces out of 2nd place.
"db, I should have done better. I’m a little frustrated but I learned a lot. I didn’t miss a fish all tournament; every bite I had I put in the boat.”
Then, as I was walking away, this was the last thing Jean-Christophe said to me, “It took me 6 years to get here to America, to fish these tournaments, but you know what, everything is possible if you believe in yourself, db, all things really are possible.”
And as he turned to go back to behind the stage, this was the last thing I said to Jean-Christophe, “I know. Welcome to America.”