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Younger Child

Biologically speaking, I came late to the party. When I was born, my mother was 41, my dad was 42 and my brother was already ten. This built-in generation gap probably defined me every bit as much as my distinctly peculiar blood mix.

My mother, Catherine, was born in Scotland. My father, Angelo, was a first-generation Italian-American. I seem to be divided right down the middle. My Scottish side is practical, analytical, even a bit frugal. My Italian side is loud, outgoing, ready to laugh (and be laughed at).

As in immigrant, my mother lived in constant fear of deportation. You could miss up to four questions on the citizenship test, and Mom missed five. The question she flunked on was: “What is the Constitution of the United States?” The answer she gave was: “A boat.” Which wasn’t entirely wrong. The USS Constitution was docked in Boston. But the judge instantly denied her citizenship.

My father stormed up to the judge. “What the hell is this? Let me see the test! She’s not wrong—the Constitution is a boat!”

The judge rolled his eyes and said, “No, the Constitution is the basic governing—”

“It’s also a boat in Boston! The Constitution! Same thing! Come on!”

The judge finally couldn’t take any more. He said, “Fine. She’s a citizen. Now get out of here!”

So my father said to my mom, “you passed!”

“No, I didn’t pass,” she whimpered. “They’re going to come after me!” From then on, any time my mother was even in the proximity of a policeman, she quaked with fear. When I took her to Scotland in 1983, she asked me, “Will I be able to get back in?”

“Ma! Don’t worry! That was 50 years ago! They don’t know that you said a boat!” It never ended.

“A Houseful of Love and Laughter”, from Leading with my Chin, by Jay Leno, (NY, Harpercollins Publ., Inc., 1996), quoted in Reader’s Digest, pp. 13-14.

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