A man without a country

A man without a country

By Mike Leifheit, Columnist

On a Saturday night I am talking on the phone to my manager, Susie, at my restaurant in Rockton. “Guess who just walked through the front door?” she says. I know without her saying.

“Let me talk to her,” I say. “What’s up?” I ask, “Did you come to see me?”

“No,” she says, “I thought you wouldn’t be here, and it would be OK.”

“I still think about you 10 or 15 times a day. It’s not OK,” I say.

“All right,” she says, and then I talk to Susie and tell her that I want the old girlfriend to leave.

In the meantime, I have gotten more comfortable with the situation. Someone, a salesperson who calls on me, has suggested that we go on a vacation together in Ireland. We are both Irish. We have a discussion on the phone. We talk about how she has recently fired her boyfriend, and my girlfriend has recently fired me. She has seen a fabulous deal on the Internet. Seven days in Ireland for an unbelievable price. “I have relatives in Ireland,” I say.

“So do I,” she says.

“I can’t go,” I say. “I have no one to do the daily settlements for me and no one to go to the market. I have been trying to hire someone, but it hasn’t happened yet, and I just can’t go.” I let it go, a thing that cannot happen.

I am sitting at the Water Street Cafe talking to Frank Turbyville about the missed opportunity. He says, “You ought to go; if you don’t want to go, I’d like to go.” I realize my own stupidity. I need to get away. I check with Susie. She says she is willing to do the daily settlements for me. I trust her. I talk to Tricia Davey. She went to the market for me years ago. She says she is willing to help. I call my friend on a Friday night and tell her that I have talked to them and that I can get away. She says, “You have really been working on this; call me on Monday.” I am excited at the prospect of going to Ireland. My friend calls and leaves me a long, involved message about the costs. In a phone message, I tell her it sounds OK and that I will just give her a credit card and trust her to book our trip.

Monday comes, and I decide that if I am serious about this, I have to have a passport. I know it may be a problem because I have no papers to prove my citizenship. You can’t get an American passport without a green card or proof of citizenship. I spend the morning looking through old papers from my mother’s house. I am trying to find my birth certificate, and, if I am lucky, an old passport that was for both my mother and me when we went to Ireland about 45 years ago.

Digging through my mother’s papers is amazing. I find a passport for her from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which states that she is a citizen of Great Britain. As far as I know, that is a total falsehood. My mother was Irish born, and to the best of my knowledge, she never changed her citizenship until she naturalized in the U.S.A. I find two copies of my mother’s birth certificate, but none for myself. This complicates things because I was born in Exeter, Devonshire (in Great Britain) and not in Ireland. It will be difficult to get a copy of my birth certificate.

About this time, my friend (who has asked me to go) calls. I tell her about the pending difficulty of obtaining a passport and the morning’s endeavors. “At least you will have a lot to write about,” she says, and I am totally won over by this person. “You know me pretty well,” I say. I tell her I am going to try to get a passport anyhow, and that I may be able to get an Irish passport at the Irish Consulate in Chicago, if I can’t get a passport as an American citizen.

I call the post office and ask what documents I need to get an American passport. A birth certificate is necessary, or proof of citizenship, neither of which I possess. I resort to calling the Irish Consulate. There I find it easier. Since I have my mother’s birth certificate, I can swear to the fact that I am her son, and receive an Irish passport. I am getting really excited. But then the Irish woman on the other end of the line warns me, “Don’t leave the United States without your papers; they might not let you back in (especially since 9/11). It is a federal crime to leave the United States without an American passport.” (I have a frightening vision of my self in handcuffs at O’Hare).

I call my friend and leave a message. “I am a total failure. I cannot get a passport. I can’t go to Ireland with you.” I am a man without a country.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life.” These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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