Since the September 11,
2001 abomination, I have reflected on my American life.
On December 27, 1949, I arrived at the seaport in New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of four. The United Nations organization provided the trip across the Atlantic from Bremen Hafen, Germany on the USS Stergis. The ship continued on to South America for the remaining onboard-displaced immigrants. I barely remember the trip except for a few mental snap shots. Accompanied by both my parents and my nine-year old sister, we were all placed on a train having Milledgeville, Georgia as our final destination. How different the trip ended from what was expected!
I was told we traveled light in those early days carrying only the clothes on our backs. Train fare and $20 per person were loaned to us by the Catholic Welfare Services. The money and the cost of the train fare were both repaid back over a two-year time frame. We finally arrived at the train station in Macon, Georgia. That was as far as the train went. Thirty more miles to go to reach Milledgeville. We were to be met by our "sponsors" that had agreed to watch over us as we began a new life in Milledgeville. In return, we were obligated to work their farm for one year. We stayed three for good measure. I can only imagine the initial feelings of apprehension my parents had because they were not farmers. We became Georgia farmers that day.
However, no sponsors were at the station to meet us because of a mix-up in the scheduling. Now what to do? No one can imagine the fear and anger swelling in my parents' hearts. Unable to speak or read English and not knowing what to do, my parents followed their instincts and stayed put. But where were we to sleep that first night? We escaped a homeless war torn Europe only to be homeless once again in a foreign country! "Dear God and the Mother of Jesus, please help us," must have been repeated many times in their minds.
A plan was hatched. That first night my father and I slept in the "Men's" room, and my mother and my sister slept in the "Ladies" room of the station. Only the grace from God kept us from being arrested under a loitering charge. If my father had been arrested, my mom would have been abandoned. Likewise, if she had been arrested, my father would have been abandoned.
Life in the New World began, in the dead of winter, in an old wooden house on the Ralph Simmerson farm, Stembridge Road seven miles south of Milledgeville. School began at Union Point for my sister. At home, a small wood burning stove and a fireplace were our only heat sources. I still remember water being heated on the stove for my daily bath taken in a small round galvanized metal tub. Also, I remember my mother hand scrubbing dirty clothes in the same tub. Running water available? You bet, as long as you were running while carrying the bucket. Was an outdoor privy available? You bet, only the best.
As were all farmhouses of that period, this house was elevated two feet off the ground to provide a cooling airflow during the stifling summer. However, during the cold winter, the same air space provided even more cooling to the house. The inch wide cracks in the wooden floor allowed one to see what was beneath the house. A dog, given to us for protection, slept beneath the house. A neighbor using a tractor brought a tree log to our yard as the wood fuel source. Given an ax, my father began to provide for his family.
My mom, sister, and brother still live in Georgia, but dad passed away a few years ago. His family surrounded him at his deathbed. Did he die knowing that he took care of his family? You bet. All his children received formal education beyond high school, all his children produced numerous grandchildren, and all his children have remained married to their original spouses. Did his family regret the new life in America? No way! Even a street in Milledgeville has been named after my dad.
Life in America and Central Georgia is a unique blessing from God, and we proudly fly the US flag every day, both indoors and outdoors. Also, beyond empty flag waving, my brother and I both voluntarily served in the US military, the Marines and Navy, respectfully.
Eileen Babb McAdams copyright 2005