A Grandfather’s Legacy
The father scooped his newborn into his arms, stepping out on the balcony to survey the distant horizon. “Look as far as the eye can see, son. Whatever you want in life is yours to have. Seek your dreams with all your might.”
My dad was that infant. He recalled the view later in his childhood. To the east were fishing boats on the Adriatic Sea. To the west, mountains and a green valley surrounded his boyhood home in the quiet village.
When my father was very young, a job shortage arose, causing Grandpop to leave his homeland to find work. Like others, he hoped for a better life in America. Though illiterate, my grandfather was hard-working. He found employment at a stone quarry near Philadelphia. Years passed with my father remembering nothing of family life in Italy with his dad. One day, he realized changes were in the wind when my grandmother began selling their belongings. They were moving to America!
Nana, Dad, and his older brother left home to meet the ship which would reunite the family in a new world. While their mother cried tears the boys didn’t understand, they bid good-by to Italy and began the voyage. For two weeks, the huge ocean spread before them. At last, the Statue of Liberty came into view. My father was too small to comprehend this welcoming symbol, but did remember the day of arrival to Ellis Island.
Third class passengers endured the scrutiny of many officials during the entry process which required them to pass both legal and medical inspections. Feeling like tiny soldiers in an army of ants, the trio marched up and down the endless lines. Approval being granted, the family boarded a train to Philadelphia to rejoin my grandfather. The date was September 4, 1920; my father’s eighth birthday...
The bus pulled up to the curb at Battery Park. Alighting, I hurried to catch the ferry to Liberty Island. Riding across New York Harbor, I felt a sense of nervous anticipation. Gazing at the Manhattan skyline, the hole was obvious and surreal. I reflected on how much events and time have changed our land with life’s hardships vastly different a century ago. As the ferry docked, my thoughts returned to the reason for my trip. I was going to Ellis Island.
Since my mother and I had my father’s name engraved on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, I had wanted to see the inscription. Arriving, I quickly headed to panel 348. Heart pounding, I scanned the long lists of strangers’ names. Moments later, I saw it… the name of the man who meant the world to me. Reaching, I touched the letters, tracing them with my finger. My heart filled with pride and nostalgia; my eyes with tears of joy and sadness.
I’m unsure how long I remained by the wall. Entering the museum, I spent hours touring the great rooms, appreciating the artifacts and history. I loved the photographs of people from all corners of the world. Each face told a story. Gratefully reliving my family’s experience, I imagined hearing the voices of different languages coming together like an orchestra tuning for a concert. Instead of woodwinds, strings, and brass, the instruments were hope, determination, and courage, ready to be played on a different stage in America.
Traveling home later, I thought about my father’s life. He was a businessman and inventor. He liked to sing and act. As a servant, he volunteered in his church and community. An elected official, he spent eight years in his state’s legislature as a representative. A loving family man, his proudest moment would have been to know his great-grandson bears his name.
I remembered the one who started it all…my grandfather. A hundred years ago, he made a decision, seeking a better life for his family. That choice became his legacy to generations of children he would never know. Love and respect welled in my heart for this man I never met. With enlightened regard for the profound responsibility parents have to guide their children, I bowed my head and thanked God.
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