Thursday, July 3, 2008

Two American Ladies-A Story

I was fourteen when I boarded the old Navy ship, The General M. B. Stewart, in the port of Bremen, Germany. I was with my grandparents, who raised me, and hundreds of other people, many of them Hungarians like us,who were fortunate enough to have been accepted to immigrate to America.World War II had torn apart our lives and displaced us, making us refugees.

Though our arms ached from all the required shots, our hopes and dreams soared as we began our journey to America. Our prayers had been answered. Once aboard ship, women and children were ushered to one huge area below deck, men and older boys to another. Then we were all assigned sleeping quarters. I got the upper bunk, Grandma the lower. Grandpa, of course, went with the men. After settling in with our meager belongings, Grandma and I joined Grandpa up on deck.

As the ship pulled out to sea, the people on shore waved and shouted"Auf Wiedersehn" (until we meet again), and many had tears in their eyes, for we knew we would never see our homeland again. I remember studying my grandparents’ faces; their teary eyes revealed the bittersweet feeling I shared. But we were on our way to America, the land of golden opportunities. We had heard so much about America from friends who had gone before us. And two years before our departure, I started studying English in the refugee camp school, but my command of it was still poor.

Our Atlantic crossing took ten days, most in raging, stormy seas. My grandmother was seasick much of that time, but I thrived and soon made some new friends. A young America named Dave, who worked in the enormous galley, brought me my first Coke, a new taste delight. Then he asked me where I was going in America.

"I go to India," I had told Dave, shyly. He smiled at me and said, "That’s probably Indiana. Not India. In-di-an-a," he emphasized the last part, adding, "You will like America."

"In America, everything will be okey-dokey," I giggled, using the new phrase I had picked up from Dave.

Most of the kids on the ship whiled away the hours playing games and watching Roy Rogers movies in the huge recreation room. There was also plenty of excitement. One day while a friend and I were sharing an easy chair, an enormous wave hit the ship, throwing the chair across the room, sending us and everyone else in its path scrambling for safety. In the enormous mess hall, where we had our meals, we often had to hold on to our trays with one hand as we ate, to keep them from sliding off the table. Topside, we’d often watch dolphins at play in the water, bobbing up and down in the great waves. Sometimes, we even saw other ships passing, like the luxury liner The Queen Elizabeth, heading towards Europe with its American passengers! When we chugged past the White Cliffs of Dover, we sang "There’ll Be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover." Someone in the recreation room had taught us that song.

Then, one morning before dawn, my grandmother awakened me. "Hurry, getup, sweetheart. The lights of New York are visible in the distance!" she told me excitedly. I jumped down from my bunk and quickly dressed, and then we headed out to the deck, where hundreds of people had already gathered.Grandfather was there, waiting for us. I remember gazing sleepily into the black distance, becoming slowly entranced by the trillions of lights out there on the dark horizon. It looked like a fairyland. It was my first look at America! Then, as dawn broke, someone in the crowd shouted, "There she is! There she is! The famous Statue of Liberty!"

Mesmerized, I gazed upon the vision of that grand lady with the torch rising magnificently out of the sea. From my vantage point on the ship, she seemed to hold her torch higher and higher on the New York skyline. I was overcome with emotion and could almost hear Lady Liberty saying the words I had learned in English class at the refugee camp school: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." And it seemed like she was speaking directly to me. That vision is indelibly etched in my memory.

Later, as we pulled into the harbor, the "Star Spangled Banner" played over the loudspeakers, and we learned that it was the national anthem of our new country. Once again, tears filled our eyes, and many others aboard. We had arrived in America! After several hours of being processed, my grandparents and I were finally released to our sponsor, Mr. Levin, and his wife. We traveled with them by train to our new destination, Indiana.

During the long train ride, I answered Mrs. Levin’s questions in my broken English, painfully aware of my shabby condition. But I thought she was the most beautiful, kindest lady I had ever met. After helping us get settled into a small house they had ready for us, Mrs. Levin came by with some news for me.

"You’ll be going to school soon, so tomorrow you and I are going shopping," she announced with a bright smile. ‘And how old did you say you are?"

"I’m almost fifteen," I replied shyly.

"Well, I was thinking that a young lady of almost fifteen might like to get rid of her little-girl braids, so we’ll visit a beauty shop, too." Her smile was so kind and bright that I had the urge to hug her.

"Oh, thank you," I said. "I would like that very much."

So the following day was a day of transformation for me. I got a stylish new haircut and stylish American clothes and shoes. Then Mrs. Levin took me to see a movie, where I got another boost to my adolescent self-confidence when a couple of teen aged boys "made goo-goo eyes" at me in the lobby. That’s what Mrs. Levin said they were doing, while I blushed, but was secretly pleased about it all. She shared many other insights and in many other ways helped a shy young Hungarian girl become a confident young American woman.

So it was on that bright September day in 1951, I met two special American ladies who forever changed my life: one who welcomed me into the land of promise, and one who helped me make my way in this golden land. I will always remember Mrs. Levin’s kindness and Miss Liberty’s warm welcome.

First published in Mature Living Magazine, copyright (c) July 2004

Thank you for reading the long story of one proud American lady! Happy Independence Day, everyone! God bless America!


Anonymous said...

Renie, reading your story,I had tears in my eyes.tears of Joy for you and tears of Gratitude for being born in this country.You were in OUR(yours and mine) country 4 months when I was born. I am proud to have you as a friend. God Bless you my friend.
That's my story and by golly I'm sticking to it. God bless you and all of your family as well. Oh I must not for get the most important thing Big Time Hugs.

Susie said...

Hi Renie,
I've never had the pleasure of seeing the Statue of Liberty, so can only imagine your joy through this wonderfully written story.
What a perfect post for Independence Day!
Happy 4th!

Jmkdreak said...

Happy Fourth!!!


deborah wilson said...

A great story and Happy 4th Renie! Are you going to a parade or are you just hanging at the house??

Nonna said...

Happy 4th Renie!! Your story brought tears to my eyes as well!! One day I am gonna see the Statue of Liberty!

Old Lady Lincoln said...

Dear Renie,
Happy Independence day to you also. What a wonderful story. Yes it had to be hard for your Grandparents leaving their roots and coming to America, I'm sure they did it so you would have a wonderful new life. So happy that you did. In 1951, I turned 15 in Oct., I was also a very shy young girl and would blush at everything. Even now I still sometimes blush, but not like I use to. Happy 4th. Glad you're here. Patty

Mississippi Songbird said...

I'm so glad you are here.....
Have a great Holiday weekend and stay safe!

audrey` said...

Happy 4th of July, Renie!!!

(((HUGS))) =)))

Midlife Mom said...

What a lovely post for July 4th! I can't imagine your excitement when you saw the lights of New York and Lady Liberty! How did you get sponsored to come to the US and why Indiana? I need to hear more of this story! Wonderful!

Tina Coruth said...


Seeing our country through your eyes is an inspiration. Thank you!

Happy July 4th!

Love & hugs,

Sandy said...

OH wow, I got goosebumps reading this. What a wonderful visual you painted with your words, I felt like I was there, witnessing it all. Wow Renie, thanks for sharing your memories. I love your blog.

Renie Burghardt said...


I've been feeling a bit down in the dumps about my blog today, so your comment was a big boost. Thank you and Bless you!


Midlife Mom (Louise)

Immigrants after World War II had to have sponsors to come to the United States. These were the wonderful Americans who provided jobs and housing for those just arriving here. As for Indiana, that's just where our sponsor happened to be from. We didn't stay long in Indiana though. Thank you for your kind comment. I appreciate it very much.

Everyone, thank you for your comments. Bless you all!

Brenda said...

You made my day..maybe my year! Your story was just what I needed to hear. All I have been doing is grumbling about the fireworks for 2 days. What a great world we live in these days to be able to meet each other in this cyber world. Thanks for visiting my blog, so I had a chance to read your story!!!

Merle said...

Dear Renie ~~ I cried all through reading this wonderful post. I am so glad that you love America and it loves you too. I am so sorry for all you went through and glad that now you are happy and content. Bless you, Renie. You are a brave lady and a great writer. Thank you for your comments about my family Photos and
the funnies etc. Please take good care of yourself, Much love, Merle.

Nancy said...

Hi Renie!

What a perfect post for this holiday! Your story sounds almost identical to that of our Hungarian friends, the Kovacs. They said they were told they were going to Coudersport, PA. He said he had never heard of that place and didn't even know where he and his family were going, but he quickly added that they didn't care where they were going, that they were just thankful to be in America! They told of seeing the Statue of Liberty, too. I could sit for hours and listen to the stories they told. They are still in Coudersport to this very day and have visited us in SC different times!

We have never known anything but freedom here in our country. I couldn't imagine any other way of living as that is all I've ever known.

I, for one, just want to tell you that I am glad you are here in the USA and that I have had this opportunity to get to know you through blogging!

Your story brought tears to my eyes. God Bless YOU!!!!


2 LMZ FARMS said...

As always I loved your story. As you know I have been having a hard time dealing with my son getting ready to go to war but after reading this my heart isn't so heavy. You are one of the reason I'm proud that my child is protecting this country. It's people like you that trully love and apperciate this country and what she stands for. Hope you and yours have a blessed day.

Glo said...


Your stories are never long enough for me. I love reading them. Write more please. I wish I could set down and just lisiten to you talk about you life. I know life wasn't easy for you and your family. I knoew it had to be hard leaving your home land. I would love to see the Statue of Liberty some day...maybe that should be on my bucket list.

Blessings my friend,

Mary said...


This is a beautiful story and one I hadn't read before. Your first impression of America was a very emotional one. I have never seen Lady Liberty but have always wanted to visit NYC. I would love to see her and also visit Ellis Island, as that is where some of my ancestors entered North America.

Take care. I enjoyed my visit, as always.


smilnsigh said...

I have seen you comment in other blogs, and today, I came here, visiting. And I've been sitting here, with "goosebumps," reading your entry... Your story.

Thank you so much for sharing this memory with us. It says so much. So very, very much.

A lot of us never heard the stories of our relatives, who first came here. But I hope I can get a feel for how all of mine felt, when they first came to America, as well.

Many thanks to you and many hugs,
Smilnsigh blog

Mountain Mama said...

Dear Renie, your posts are 'never' long enough for me. I enjoy reading your life experiences so much, and they have made me more appreciative of my own life, as well as help me realize my daily blessings.
This post is especially touching and a perfect one for our Independence Day.
Thank you dear Renie and please don't ever stop writing.
Love, hugs & Prayers said...

Thank you for posting this for the Fourth of July! I read it through tears! I have never seen Lady Liberty but I am glad to See her through your eyes!!! Love and hugs Grams

BClark said...

As always Miss Renie, reading your blog is a joy. I have always been proud of America, that it is a place people where people can find joy and peace. What a goose bump moment that must have been to see the Statue of Liberty. Having you and your Grandparents come to America was a very good thing for all involved. Thank you again for sharing,


Grace Scott said...

Hi Renie,

What a beautiful post and told so well I felt like I was there. Thanks for sharing that glimpse into your life.


Linda said...

This is such a beautiful story. You have a way of writing that puts me right into the story observing what you are seeing. I first met Lady Liberty back in the 60's. It was pouring the rain, but that didn't stop me admiring her beauty.

Hope you had a good 4th!

Sally Ferguson said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It is a vivid picture of how my great-grandfather first viewed this great land!

Glo said...

Hi Renie,

Sounds like you had a wonderful weekend. Yesterday was hot here too and is to be hotter today. It does give us something else to talk about....heat instead of rain.

Have a blessed day my friend and you can write me a book any time.


Glo said...

Hi Renie,

Sounds like you had a wonderful weekend. Yesterday was hot here too and is to be hotter today. It does give us something else to talk about....heat instead of rain.

Have a blessed day my friend and you can write me a book any time.


Sammy said...

Wow, Renie. This story brought tears to my eyes. What a powerful and moving memory, and you tell it beautifully.

Thank you for sharing this.


ancient one said...

I loved this story. I've never been to NYC and never seen the statue of liberty except in pictures and on tv. I loved seeing her through your words. You should do a book on your whole life. You are an amazing writer.

Sue or David said...

Renie, I loved your story, It brought tears to my eyes. As I tried to read it to my husband I choked up several times. We never really know what we have, in America, we take so much for granted and expect so much. I Love your stores, Do you have a full book written on your life. I would love the name of it and find it. God Bless you.

The W.O.W. factor said...

Renie, What a heart warming story! I felt like I was there beside you the whole way! And I've never seen the Statue of Liberty...but I "felt" her through your words!
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!!!

hippochick said...

What a beautiful, beautiful story, dear Renie. I ahve goose bumps and tears in my eyes. Bless you.

~hippo hugs~

audrey` said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Renie =)