Given the opportunity for a better life, he took it. The year was 1909, perhaps he was scared or excited, when he boarded the USS Amerika and headed from Hamburg to New York. It was early spring when he arrived, April 1st to be exact, rather fitting as he looked forward to his new life in this new land.
As the ship reached the shore and he went through immigration, he soon learned he wouldn’t get to stay. With all the opportunities right here at his fingertips, with “The Dream” of a lifetime in front of him, he would hear the heart breaking news that he would have to return.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my Great-Grandfather, I never heard him speak of it. Mostly because by the time I knew him, he was very old and had reverted to speaking his native language for the most part. What I know are stories that have been told by his daughter (my grandmother) and his granddaughter (my mother) and passed down to me as his experience of coming to America. And while I’ve actually heard this story from numerous family members, it would have been wonderful to ask him the questions I have as an adult and learn some of the more intrinsic feelings of his experience.
What I do know is that he made it to America, then he learned he had to go back. It so happens that he didn’t come here with proper documentation. Going back would mean that he would have to serve at least one year in the Hungarian Army before he could return again. I think this might have been something he wasn’t looking forward to or maybe trying to avoid altogether. The fact is he had to go back and he did go back. He had to do his duty to his mother country and if he was lucky—he’d have another opportunity to get his affairs in order and come back legally. So he did the right thing—and sailed back across the Atlantic.
I do not know many details of his service to the Hungarian Army, other than I was told he served his one year and got out. Then he went to work, saving so he could return to America. This time, he would make sure he had the right documentation so he could stay. It was a little less than three years until he could make that second voyage. Maybe the time back home seemed like an eternity to him…but he never lost site of the dream to return to America. He returned on 28 February 1912, via USS Amerika, once again arriving in New York, only this time he was able to stay.
The story from there is that he settled in Connecticut. He met my Great-Grandmother and they married. Soon after, they moved to the Detroit area and had a family, living in several homes, before eventually buying a farm. He never thought of going back, not even to visit. His one sister made it to Connecticut and another sister settled in Ontario, Canada, not far from where he lived in Detroit. He became an American citizen in April of 1925 and lived out the rest of his days in Michigan, where he eventually passed away in 1986 at the age of 99.
When I think of my Great-Grandfather’s story, I think of how he never lost sight of his dream to come to the land of opportunity. I think of how close he came to attaining it the first time, only to have to go back, serve his country and then make his way back to America legally. I think of how when faced with adversity, he still found a way to propel his dream into reality.
In comparison, when I think of my own life and the opportunities I’ve had, I don’t think I’ve ever faced anything so monumental—nor have I desired something with that great of passion to make it happen. Sure, I’ve owned my own business and I’ve been successful in smaller ways. I have a wonderful life with my husband, children, friends, and family and I do chase some of my smaller dreams. Yet, I’ve never desired to really change my life on such a grand scale and take all the risks involved, as my Great-Grandfather did. I have to admire those who are willing to do it, because I believe it takes a lot of courage and the desire to make the dream a reality and see it to fruition.
What opportunities have you taken? Where have they gotten you?
Ever lose out on a great opportunity?
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