A great spray of salt water, flung from the prow of the ocean steamer, hit Amanda full in the face, making her eyes sting and her mouth sputter as she tried in vain to catch the book that had slipped from her grasp. She was leaning overboard--too far perhaps--but anxiety over the loss of her mother’s prayer book made her throw caution to the winds as she struggled to regain her fallen treasure.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing” growled the stern voice of the captain as he hurried towards her. A moment later she was jerked backwards by strong hands and he dumped her without ceremony onto the rough boards of the ship’s deck.
“I-I lose someting,” said Amanda, searching her brain for the right English words to explain to the captain the rationale for her behavior.
“Well, it’s gone now,” the captain said firmly. “And if you wish to remain on deck, keep away from the prow of the ship. It’s dangerous. You can grasp the rail further down as the others are doing.”
“I am sorry,” said Amanda in Swedish, getting to her feet and staggering a bit as she struggled to brush sea water from the folds of her heavy gray dress. How filthy I am, she thought with shame, remembering the long journey in the steerage quarters of the ship. There was never a chance to change her clothing. Those who bought passage on the steamers were treated like animals, each family occupying a small stall spread with pallets of straw. Scant provision was made for washing up and the stench of unwashed bodies was almost unbearable to Amanda who was a fastidious person. She was grateful for opportunities to go on deck and breathe the fresh salt air of the sea.
How often had she lain awake on her pallet at night and dreamed of her home back in Torsas, Sweden. She missed the farm and her family the way she had missed her betrothed, Adolph Wallin, when he left for America the previous year. He’d enthused about the opportunities to better himself in this raw new world.
Her heart ached for Adolph now. She wished that he could be there, waiting for her on Ellis Island, when the steamer completed its long sea journey. But, no! Adolph could not leave his mining job in Michigan to welcome his sweetheart. So she must travel the train alone. How will I buy the ticket when my English is so poor? she worried now.
“Amanda, my dear,” came the calm, sweet voice of her new friend Ida as she turned from the ship’s rails to welcome the younger woman. “We’ll be docking soon. See that form in the distance. It must be the Statue of Liberty we’ve heard so much about.”
A thrill of anticipation ran through Amanda now when she realized she’d be leaving the hated ship at last. She breathed a silent prayer of thanksgiving. With blue eyes sparkling, she turned to Ida and said, “You and Eric have been so kind to me. I don’t know how I would have borne the journey without you. Now we must part. How I wish we were traveling together.” Impulsively, she flung her arms around her friend. They hugged and tears of sorrow began to slide down the cheeks of both.
Pulling herself away, Ida said, “We won’t part yet. Eric and I will help you buy your train ticket after we dock. You know my English is better than yours. And here’s something else I want you to have.” She thrust a small English dictionary at Amanda who received it in surprise.
“Oh, I can’t take this.”
“Yes, you can. Eric will buy me another. But look. There it is! I didn’t know it was so huge.” As they gazed with awe at the approaching lady, torch held high, someone aboard ship began to play a tune. The stirring sounds of “The Star Spangled Banner” rang through the crowd and those who knew the words began to sing.
Amanda’s heart swelled and Ida breathed in English, “What a great God we have! What a great land is America to welcome the poor and the hungry from so many far away lands.” And the tears began to fall once again, but this time the faces were wreathed in smiles. The crowd began to cheer!
Note: Amanda Wallin came to America in 1891 and lived to be over 100.
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