My Polish Grandmother ~

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At age 18, my grandmother left her family, her friends and her country to come to America. Land of the free and home of the brave. She left the family farm in northern Poland, in a region that depending on the time in history was ruled by the Polish or the Russians, to find opportunity. To build a new life. To be free. It was 1908 and she left her home town in Poland and boarded a train to travel across Germany where she would then board a ship with so many others looking for the same freedom. Ultimately, she reached the shores of America and I can only imagine both her excitement and fear when she first saw Ellis Island in the distance as the ship sailed closer.

These photos were taken by me in the early 1980’s, when Ray and I visited NYC for a weekend while still living in the Boston area. At that time Ellis Island was closed to processing immigrants and in a terrible state of disrepair. However, the Park Dept. did offer boat trips from Battery Park to visit the structure. I feel so fortunate to have visited when I did. It was closed a few years later and a major restoration took place turning it into a museum, but I got to see it before the restoration when it still had the “feel” of so many….those tired, poor, struggling people yearning to breathe free.

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The Door of Tears ~ Those who didn’t pass the physicals/questions were turned back and left through these doors

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I still remember the excitement I felt to retrace a small part of the journey that my grandmother took 74 years earlier. As the boat drew closer and I saw Ellis Island, this beacon of hope to so many, I felt a lump in my throat. Because once again I recalled the story of my grandmother when she left Poland. I had grown up hearing this story and even as a young child, it broke my heart. As an adult, and in light of the events of this past weekend, my heart breaks all over again.

My grandmother’s older brother had left Poland a couple of years before. He had been sponsored by a Polish attorney, now living in Salem, Massachusetts. The brother rented a room in the attorney’s home, found a job and then sponsored his sister, Julia, to come. As much as she also wanted this opportunity, she was reluctant to leave her parents and younger siblings. But her mother kept encouraging her. She actually showed a lack of emotion about her daughter immigrating to a new country. She never cried. Ever. She only supported her daughter with the hope for a better life. The morning of departure arrived and Julia’s parents and siblings stood on the train platform saying their goodbyes. Julia boarded the train, found a window seat and saw her parents still on the platform waving their farewells of encouragement. The train began to move with Julia still looking back out the window. And for some reason, the train stopped momentarily. And in that moment Julia saw and felt the absolute devastation her mother was experiencing. Sobbing, she had collapsed onto the platform, screaming and crying. Julia’s father was attempting to console her. And that, that emotional scene, was to be the last time Julia ever saw her mother again. And that scene has been burned into my mind all of my life. And quite possibly, formed the compassion and empathy I have always felt for immigrants and refugees….people only wanting what I was so fortunate to be born to. My grandmother also settled in Salem, married a few years later, had five sons and one daughter, six grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren. She was a devout Catholic and attended daily mass at the Polish church in Salem, led a good and productive life and lived to be age 95. And despite exchanging letters, over many years, through two world wars, she never saw her parents or younger siblings again. So being an immigrant does have a price to pay. Yet, I would bet that every single one would still prefer the choice they made.

Of course we want our country to be safe! That goes without saying. However, keeping it safe cannot be accomplished in the ill-equipped way that it was last Friday. Creating chaos at airports around the world. Detaining people who had been properly vetted and held green cards. People who risked THEIR lives helping our military. And it certainly cannot be accomplished by putting our military in terrible danger. Or by inflicting more risk to this country based on the possibly unconstitutional and inexperienced manner in which this was carried out in the blink of an eye.

See you here next time……..

15 thoughts on “My Polish Grandmother ~

  1. thank you for being strong enough to voice these words. thank you for bringing these issues to us. I have read all of your books and was saddened to learn there will be no more. however I look forward to these blogs and will keep you in my prayers. hello to Toulouse.

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  2. Your Grandmother was so brave to do what she did!!! My Grandmother came to America through Canada from Ireland. She did not have to go through what your poor Grandmother had to do!! I can’t imagine never seeing my Parents or siblings ever again. She was so lucky to have a brother here in Salem.

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    • She was brave but there’s so many stories like hers and there still are. She worked in the Pequot Mills on Congress St. in Salem when she first arrived till she married and her brother worked at the leather shop in Peabody. All that most immigrants want is a chance for a decent and safe life.

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  3. The thing that amazes me about the new rule is that we are ALL immigrants and that’s the basis of our entire country! Just because your family has been here for a few generations does NOT make you better than those who are trying to come here now. The administration continues to pander to the ignorance of too many of our citizens. The rule doesn’t make me feel at all safer and I agree with the senators who said it could easily be used as a recruiting tool by those who really are our enemies.

    My grandfather was born in Pennsylvania on his family’s journey from their old home in Germany to their new home in Milwaukee and my partner’s father came over as a teenager from Greece for a new life in America. Only my father’s family has been in America since the 1700s but they were still, at one time, immigrants to this land.

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  4. My maternal grandfather immigrated from Alsace Lorraine in the early 1900’s, being French he and his siblings did not want to pledge allegiance to Germany. My husband is 2nd generation born here from Italian immigrants. Unless you are Native American, you are a descendant of immigrants somewhere down the line.

    There are no words to express my horror at the latest Trump debacle last Friday. This man has no empathy, intelligence or common decency. I am appalled that in 2017 we are saddled with a backwards GOP congress and a dangerously insane president. I am embarrassed that our country, which has been a melting pot for hundreds and hundreds of years is acting in fear instead of in the faith the haters proclaim to have.

    This is not the America I learned of in school, or that I have lived in all my life. This is not who the majority of us are, yet we are forced to watch the USA become a laughing stock and an embarrassment due to the ridiculously unintelligent fear monger if of the current White House occupant and his cronyism and total lack of understanding of his position. The GOP and their base believed him to be malleable and have discovered he is downright wicked, uncaring and, according to him unstoppable.

    I pray every night that when I wake up it will all be a bad dream. Unfortunately, every morning I am aware of Joe much worse it is getting.

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    • Thank you so much for your intelligent input. Almost over night, I also no longer recognize the America we’ve always had! It’s sad, scary and depressing. However, we MUST keep resisting! Join Indivisible, ACLU, the Democratic Club, etc. Call your senators and reps. Sign petitions. All of it will help! Progress turns very slowly…..but this is a marathon, not a sprint! In the meantime………I, too, wake every single morning hoping it was all a bad dream!

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  5. That was such a beautiful but sad story Terri. We always think of the person coming to this country and what they had to go through, leaving their home and family behind. I think this is the first time that I felt so sad for the ones being left behind. As a mother and now grandmother, I don’t know if I could be that strong and loving to send my child off and no pretty much that I would never see them again…the image in your story here will stay with me for a very long time…thanks so much for sharing…and yes, we are so fortunate to have been born here…

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    • Yes, and that’s why my heart breaks for the immigrants today! Nobody wants to separate from family. But sometimes it must be done for a better life. And like my grandmother, that’s all the immigrants today also want.

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  6. Forgot to tell you that your photo’s are wonderful. Like you, Jim and I visited before it was done over also and then again when it was the museum…we couldn’t find any records of his family coming in from Ireland so perhaps it was one of those name changes that happened…although when we went to Ireland and looked there were many Crotty’s spelled just the way we spell it here…so who knows..

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