I’ve been neglecting this blog too long lately… mostly working on initiating my Facebook art page and creating several new 4th of July Americana drawings to show there.
This one is inspired by my Grandma’s stories of her first days here in America, back in 1910… when she was only 10 herself!…And I thought I’d share a bit of those with you today! 🙂
I’ve titled this portrait of a young girl at a train station back then, “At Home in Our New Land” — if you do not have access to Facebook, I hope you’ll go to my art blog here at this link – Fourth of July Americana – to see the many new pieces I’ve just added there and been sharing on Facebook! Many of my others have color added, but thought this one should be just classic black and white … 🙂
When I was five, Grandma taught me that a person just five years older than I was could be awe-fully brave. Fantastically brave, to my way of thinking. Well, at least fifty something years ago when she had been a ten-year old girl in both the turn of the last century and newly arrived to a long dreamed-for land. Maybe children back then were a whole lot braver than I could ever imagine being.
“’Who will we send to go find your sister in this vast place?’ my Mama asked,“ Grandma would tell me, settling into her story mode. “When none of my brothers spoke up, I said — I will go!”
Grandma’s sister had been sent away to the land of the free to start a new life as a mail order bride. This part of the story always swept sadness, like a coverlet, tossed over me. For a young girl of about 17 to sail off alone to another part of the world, never knowing if she would see her family again — and to a stranger! What did she feel about it? Had she wanted to go?
“Rose had little choice,” Grandma sighed, “because Papa felt she would be safer in the new land. We had letters, but the address was vague… and now that we were finally here too, I couldn’t wait to find her either. “
“You went ALL BY YOURSELF, Grandma?” I squeaked, even though I already knew this incredible part of the story. That Grandma’s Mama and her Papa actually sent her alone on a train in a land she didn’t even know yet! I could barely comprehend that kind of independence thrust on her at such a tender age. I was only ever allowed to play within the radius of my own house. But then my own mom had amazed me with tales of being able to walk and play all around town with a girlfriend when she was quite small, something she would never permit of me. Maybe over the years, freedom for what kids could do by themselves just kept changing in that way…?
I had never met Grandma’s older brothers – they had either scattered far across the country or passed away by the time I was born. But I wanted to stomp my small feet at them. How could they even think of not volunteering – at the very least, to accompany Grandma on this adventure to find Rose! Had they been lazy? Scared? Good for nothings?
“Yes, it was my very own adventure!” Grandma smiled. “A mystery I would solve on my own! So Mama took me to the station and I traveled on the train by myself to the last area we had heard from in Rose’s letters.”
I looked into Grandma’s shining eyes full of story and memory. “But – you didn’t speak English very well, yet, right Grandma?”
“That’s right,” she nodded. “So, I had to use all my wit to communicate with others who might be able to direct me. To look for and find and decipher all the clues. I showed them letters with the name of Rose’s husband’s farm printed on it. Pointed to myself and out to the land beside the train. Mama had tucked a few sandwiches in a basket for me, but I shared them with some passengers on the train… a mother and toddler who were looking up at me with huge eyes. We could not really talk, but in a way we did, with hand gestures and smiles.“
“And it took you three hours to get to the town where Rose might be,” I anticipated her tale.
“Mm… yes. When I got to the station, I sat for a bit to collect myself. No one would be meeting me, of course. So, I had to think. Then I began showing Rose’s letter around. It was a long, tiring day, trudging from spot to spot along muddy, unpaved roads, trying not to be discouraged by people who just stared at me dumbly, or worse…seemed to laugh mockingly at me…until finally I found some people from our old country who could understand me. “
“And some nice men showed you the way to Rose’s husband’s farm!” I said, triumphantly!
“Yes…,” she answered, patting my knee. At this point, I often wondered at a tinge of sadness in her voice. I sensed there were parts to the story she was carefully leaving out. “Then, finally, I knocked on her door! When I saw her, we simply fell into each other’s arms!”
I tried to picture Rose, but I couldn’t fully see her face. For poor Rose was terribly ill when Grandma found her… tuberculosis and terrible exhaustion from being tremendously overworked in her weakened condition. Having often spent 20-hour days trudging in the path of the farm horses, working the land till she dropped, she had died at only 24. Grandma then began raising Rose’s two small boys when she herself was just a little girl!
“That was just the beginning of my story here in America…” Grandma would say. “And I have many more stories to tell you another day… for someday, I think, you may write them down…”
I already knew a bit about some of them. Like the time a horse and wagon had run away with Rose’s little sons and Grandma singlehandedly raced on foot after them, throwing herself onto the seat somehow as the wagon careened this way and that —
I snuggled against her then, wanting to say something that would be like a gift. “You were so brave, Grandma!” I simply said.
Much more so, then I really understood then…
“Be strong and courageous,
for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them,
and I will be with you.”
© Pam Depoyan
Who were the unsung “heroes” in your family? I’d love to hear a bit of their stories in my comments if you’d like to share! 🙂
“At Home in Our New Land,” available in my Fourth of July Americana at pamdepoyanblog.wordpress.com.
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