Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I fully intended to blog about writing today. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been plotting book #3 in the Button Box mystery series, and I had a lot to say about how different the plotting process is from the actual writing of a book, and how I wish I could put the Muse on permanent retainer.

But something happened yesterday that (to me at least) is so amazing, I knew I had to put talk of plotting aside.

Yesterday, I visited my Uncle Ted.

My father came from a large family (14!) and Uncle Ted is the brother born two years after my dad. He never married, he lives alone, and recently, he had surgery. We’ve been visiting every few days, taking easy-to-reheat meals and checking in on him. The good news . . . at 88, Uncle Ted is vital and energetic. He feels well and is recovering quickly.

When we stopped in yesterday, I brought more than just meatloaf, I also took the notebook where I keep notes about family history (I could go on and on, and promise I won’t; I’ll just tell you that I’ve been doing genealogy for about a year now and it’s fascinating). Uncle Ted lived with my grandmother and grandfather, I figured if anyone knew things about the family, he would.

Let me back up here and say that all four of my grandparents came to this country from Poland near the turn of the 20th century. This, of course, makes researching the families something of a challenge. It also means when my grandparents were alive, they weren’t very forthcoming about their pasts. For one thing, there was a language barrier. For another, they were here in the US now, and they put their pasts behind them. They were Americans, and proud of it.

Once I pulled out the forms I use to fill out names and dates and such, Uncle Ted went and got his own scrapbook of family history. He gave me photos of long-dead relatives to scan, and even the fancy certificates my father’s parents were presented when they became citizens.

Then he pulled out a small, battered book.

It’s maybe three inches by four, with the kind of plain cardboardy cover you see on cheap old books in antique shops. It’s got maybe 20 thin pages in it and call me imaginative (OK, yes, I admit it!) but as soon as he pulled it out, I knew it was something important.

It is. The passport my grandfather used to come to this country in 1913.
In Polish, grandfather is dziadzia (pronounced jaja, hard j) and my dziadzia was a man of few words. His passport is written in Russian Cyrillic letters and I can only hope that someday, I will find someone who can translate it for me. Even without being able to read it, though, I know so much.

Dziadzia came to this country through Ellis Island, a 26-year-old man who’d never attended school and who left his wife and young children behind to follow him later. He came on a ship called Roon and traveled in steerage.

And the whole time, this little passport was with him.

I am truly in awe of the millions of people who had that kind of courage. Do we have a national holiday to celebrate our immigrant ancestors? We should. They were amazing people, and they continue to inspire.


Sharon said...

what a wonderful story:)

Angie Fox said...

Oh that is really neat. And it's so true - I can't imagine what they must have gone through. Great story.

Casey said...

I had planned to scan the passport last night, and couldn't bring myself to do it. Just holding it brings waves of emotion crashing over me. Brave people. Every single one of them.