Monday, January 28, 2013

Ryner's Immigrant Story Excerpt Part 2


Chapter 28
New York and on to Grand Rapids
Once recovered from our seasickness, we all returned to the wonderful job of enjoying the journey.  Incredibly, the SS United States had suffered only minor damage during the storm, a testament to its sheer size and strength.   The storm set back the ship's schedule a bit, but in what seemed like no time at all, we spotted the coast of the United States.  Like flowers sprouting in spring, the city of New York slowly grew up from the flat horizon.  As the city came into frame before our very eyes, we were awed by how huge and prosperous it looked with its great skyscrapers.  Our hearts began to beat faster as we slowly entered New York Harbor.  We passed by famous Ellis Island, following the same journey that thousands before had taken.  In operation since 1892, Ellis Island had welcomed millions of immigrants like us to the United States.  A few decades before our arrival, immigration services and intake had moved from the island to a commercial pier in New York Harbor where we were headed. 
The great ship pulled into the dock and was tied down.  It took an hour or two to clear customs and collect our luggage. With some time to spare before our train left the city, our family of seven newcomers took the chance to shake off our sea legs and walk the bustling streets of New York.  The city seemed so jaw-droppingly massive, and the busyness made our heads spin, but did not quell our absolute elation at being in this new place, this new country that would be our home. Huge buildings that actually seemed to be scraping the sky surrounded us, and throngs of human beings walked briskly between office buildings, while yellow taxicabs buzzed up and down the streets.  We were fascinated by the myriad of clothing styles and cultures we saw. Even though we were dressed in unmistakably poor, European attire, nobody seemed to notice.  We quickly realized that we were in the beating heart of a totally international city.
After a warm meal and an ice cream cone, we headed to Grand Central Station where we would board our train to Detroit, then on to Grand Rapids.  Our ride to Michigan was a thrill.  The country we steamed through looked beautiful to us, and everything seemed so big!  We also couldn't help but notice how nice the buildings and streets looked.  We were so accustomed to the ravages of war damage written on every building face and street corner, that America seemed utterly pristine.  Before we knew it, the train had covered the eight hundred miles from New York and was slowly easing into the Grand Rapids train depot.  Our hearts began to beat faster as we pondered the incredible changes that we were about to experience.  A new country, a new language, new friends, and relatives that none of us, except Mother, had ever met in person.  We all scrambled off the train and Mother spotted Uncle Joe standing there to greet us with Aunt Marie, Aunt Marie's sister Katherine and her husband Ted.  Our welcome committee also included Ted's son Ted, Jr., a budding young photographer who snapped pictures as we greeted everyone.  We exchanged handshakes, hugs, tears and laughter, amazed and relieved to be at our final destination after weeks, some would say, years on this journey westward.  I will never forget that illumined, historical journey of ours:  out of the arms of Germany into the arms of loving relatives a continent away in the United States of America!
Chapter 29

A New World

After the excitement of meeting everybody, Uncle Joe led us to the front of the station and started loading our family's belongings into his and Uncle Ted's car.  We were astounded not only by the large size of the cars, but that both our uncles seemed to own cars of their own. I had only been in a car three times before, but this was by far the most luxurious.  In just a few minutes we arrived at Uncle Joe's house, where again Uncle Ted's son was taking pictures of us, this time with a movie camera. We relished this celebrity moment on the porch at Uncle Joe's. 

Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie's house was huge and beautiful. Its roughly 2500 square feet were average for the area, but equated to a mansion by our standards. Nestled on a quiet, tree-lined street, the home had a living room, a dining room, a sitting room, 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, a sun porch, a tile bathroom with tub, and a basement.  We were amazed as we toured each room, hardly believing there could be so much space in a single home.

That evening Aunt Marie prepared a scrumptious meal for all of us, etched in my memory as one of the biggest and best meals I have ever eaten.  We talked and laughed, fighting fatigue to absorb every moment of that first night in our new homeland. When bedtime came, we nestled into their large, comfortable beds.  Despite the seeming luxury, sleep did not come quickly that first night, for we were just too excited by all the newness (and probably a little jet-lagged)! 

The following day, a newspaper reporter from the Grand Rapids Press came to the house to talk to the immigrant family of seven that had just arrived in town.  He talked to all of us while Uncle Joe interpreted, then he took a picture of our family.  The next day a long article appeared in the Grand Rapids Press profiling our family and our long journey from Germany to Michigan.     

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo to Ryner and Katie! This account made the whole experience come alive for me once again! Thank you for sharing your (our) memories in such a vivid way. This 65 year old was a 5 year old peanut at the time, but the memories just came flooding back! --Henry