She had to go a long way to be with the one she loved.
|Winner Second Place in
featured in "Romance/Love Newsletter (April 15, 2015)"
The Long and Winding Road
Schwenningen am Neckar, Deutschland, 1923
A small tremor of fear shot through Else. Her father just discovered she was meeting Alfred and she was in a world of trouble. Her parents thought she was at her gymnastics class right now, but instead she was walking in der Schwarzwald with Alfred. 1 Of all the bad luck, as they strolled hand in hand around a bend in the forest path, they ran into her father. When he saw them together, he made it clear he was not pleased to see Else with a young man from the "wrong kind of family".
Back home in her bedroom, Else sat on the edge of her bed and sighed. She was 18 and in love and she knew she had a long, rough road ahead of her. She grew up in a Catholic household and Alfred's family was Lutheran. This was an insurmountable issue. She knew that her family would not accept Alfred any more than his family would accept her. There was no way they could get married here in Germany.
The young couple did not have much money. They both worked in factories that made watches and clocks. Any money Else made her father took to help support the family. Now that her father was aware that she was seeing Alfred, he would make sure she did not have any money for herself. Germany was in a depression stemming from WWI reparations and so their financial status would not be improving any time soon.
Her gymnastics class had seemed like the perfect cover for secret meetings with Alfred. They had so much to discuss about their plans. If they were going to have a future together, they would have to leave their hometown and the country of their birth. They would need to go where the language and the customs were completely foreign and start a new life there together. America was their only option. There they could start fresh and overcome obstacles like religious upbringing and family disapproval. They could marry!
Else flopped back on her bed, hugging a pillow to her. She tried her best to remember everything Alfred had told her before they had run into her father in the forest. They both had jobs now, but because the state of the German economy that could change at any time. The only way they could afford to emigrate to America would be for Alfred to go first.
He would be way over there, in America, for months and months without her. She would still be here, in Germany, for months and months without him.
Before she could give into despair, she considered the other news he had given her. Alfred’s Uncle Jakob was already in America and had agreed to be his sponsor. This was such good news. He would need to go to Chicago since that was where Jakob was living. Chicago was as good a place as any in that huge, strange land, Else supposed. Jakob would help Alfred find a job and a place to live. Both of them had been working in factories since leaving school after eighth grade. Alfred was an honest and hard working young man and America was the Land of Opportunity. He knew how to save money and he would send for her as soon as he could.
Before she knew it, it was early spring and time for Alfred to leave. He boarded the ship Reliance in Hamburg, Germany and sailed to America. 2 It was exciting, scary and sad, all rolled into one big event. How long would it be before she would see him again?
Now she just had to wait. Work at the factory filled her days. As part of her punishment for skipping her gymnastics class, her father forced her to drop the class. It would be nice to have the class to keep her busy, but Else decided it did not matter. What she needed was to hear from Alfred. So, she waited.
A letter finally arrived from America. Alfred was there! He arrived at Ellis Island on April 27, 1923.3 Else gasped when she read about the ordeal he had to go through after immigration officials allowed the passengers to leave the ship. There were thousands of other people there from all over Europe. They were inspected for health problems, including having a horrible eye exam. The doctors used a hook to flip the upper eyelids up to check for disease. Then the officials questioned them in great detail about why they were in America, what sort of work they could do, if they could read and write, and how much money they brought with them. 4 The American authorities admitted only healthy people who could support themselves. Else felt a thrill of nerves in her stomach. Alfred had made it through the process. Would she?
Else set sail on the ship Hanover from the port town of Bremen, Germany. She met a young German man on the ship who fell in love with her. Hans was a straightforward young man who proposed marriage to her before the end of the voyage. Else reminded him that her Alfred was waiting for her to arrive in America, and she was already promised to him. She had not made it to America yet, and she was already breaking hearts.
The Hanover arrived at Ellis Island on August 16, 1923 and Alfred was there to meet her as promised. She did indeed make it through the immigrant processing. She made it to America! They traveled to Chicago by train to start their new lives. Alfred already worked with a start-up manufacturing company that made hacksaws. Else found a position as a live-in maid for a Jewish family. The lady she worked for convinced Else that her name was too German and that she should change it to Elsie.
Elsie was her new American name. She would have no way of knowing how much her daughter and granddaughter later wish she had kept her beautiful German name.
Else on board the ship Hanover with a group of her fellow immigrants. She is in the front row on the left, seated and holding a guitar. The guitar is a mystery lost in the passage of time. No one in our family was aware she could play the guitar, but it certainly looks like she knows what she is doing with this one.
Alfred and Elsie were married on July 19, 1924, less than a year after she had arrived in America. They had four children. On March 26, 1931, Alfred became a citizen of the United States of America. Elsie waited, but the world was changing. Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The United States had not entered World War Two yet, but considering the political climate at the time, being a German citizen living in the United States was not wise. Elsie finally went through the naturalization process as well. She became an American citizen January 16,1941.5
Alfred's and Elsie's Naturalization Paperwork from 1931 and 1941, respectively
Else (Elsie) and Alfred early in their marriage. I think we can see where I get my dark hair and my goofy sense of humor.
This is the true story of my grandparents immigrating to the United States in the early 20th century.
The Long And Winding Road
Lyrics and music by Paul McCartney and John Lennon
The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door
The wild and windy night that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day
Why leave me standing here, let me know the way
Many times I've been alone and many times I've cried
Anyway you'll never know the many ways I've tried
And still they lead me back to the long and winding road
You left me standing here a long, long time ago
Don't leave me waiting here, lead me to you door
But still they lead me back to the long and winding road
You left me standing here a long, long time ago
Don't keep me waiting here (Don't keep me wait), lead me to you door
word count 1285 not including song lyrics