In 1976, when she was 15, Teresa loved two things: her boyfriend, Javier, and English. So, her father, being fairly well-heeled and very smart, arranged for her to go from Venezuela to Cincinnati for the summer, where his pal from Venezuela, Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Dave Conception, watched over her.
She loved everything about English and Cincinnati. But, like all teenagers, she had to go home for school.
Years later, in 1982, she came back to the US, this time to Camden, Arkansas with her first husband (“who will be not be mentioned again, por favor!”) She loved Camden, too (if that sounds strange, remember – Arkansas, not New Jersey).
As you might imagine from the “por favor!”, the marriage broke up, so she returned to Venezuela. (I might add, this was before Venezuela became the mess it is today. In fact, it was pretty nice).
She studied management and wished she was in the US. That’s when her Javier, now in the US, found her and ”a beautiful love story began”. She returned, this time to Birmingham, Alabama and married him.
(What is the Supreme Law of the land?)
Also in the 70’s, a young Cristof, of flowing dark hair and earnest eyes, was working his way through architecture school in Pati, Italy, as a dishwasher, when he decided architecture was boring. What was fascinating was cooking.
“My father loved cooking,” he says. “He made sweet and sour rabbit. Amazing!”
So he left school and went to Milan to train as a cook. That started a trek that took him to Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, Paris, and England, among other places and, eventually, Fort Myers, Florida, where he started the McGregor Cafe and hired Teresa in 1998.
(The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.)
He cooked many meals for many people, including the world famous French chef, Alain Ducasse who praised his cooking. “The best compliment I’ve ever gotten”.
He cooked for the Princess of Jordan, the Sultan of Oman, Pavarotti (“what a nice man!”), and, at the McGregor Cafe, Jimmy Carter, “so real, not a phony.”)
(Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?)
Restaurant work is very demanding. Successful restaurants – those that fill the seats all year – require 12-14 hour days of hard work and happy faces. By 2008, he was “how you say…burned out?” At age 40 and successful, he sold the Cafe and retired.
(When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?)
But restaurant work can also really get into your blood. Less than a year later, stone bored, he drove by an old Florida house just up the road from the Cafe, bought it, and started “Cristof’s on McGregor”.
He hired Teresa to manage the place so he could concentrate on his second love, cooking. (His first love is named Rachel, with whom he has “exactly the same age difference as my father had with my mother!”).
(When was the Constitution written?)
Cristof says he will never retire. Teresa doesn’t look like she will either. “I wanted to work with him. He’s like a brother to me.”
(Why do some states have more Representatives than other states?)
Was it hard to attain citizenship?
“No”, says Teresa, with a slight accent. “I learned everything about my new country. I loved it. I am thankful every day.”
“No”, says Cristof. Shades of Italy linger in his voice, even at 60. “You have to show respect for laws, the country… and president.” He pauses. “When in Rome…”, he smiles without finishing the sentence.
Then, to me, “you know what salt does to food?” (Uh…) ”Makes it sweat – like you and I do… releases the juices.” And off to the kitchen he loves.
Why do I write about these two people? Because, like you and me, they work hard, pay their taxes, raise healthy, contributing families, and are living the American Dream. Cristof and Teresa have done very well, just as many natural born Americans have.
But they had to learn a language and culture you and I were born into.
(If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?)
And they had to pass The US Citizenship Naturalization Test, a test you and I never took or even saw. Some of the questions they answered correctly are sprinkled throughout this story.
I’m sure you, like me, got every one of them right. Right?