Once upon a windy November afternoon many years ago, a small dark wavy-haired tiny girl dressed in her best ruffled dress stared through the railing of an ocean liner docked at a dimly lighted New York pier. After six weeks sailing on rough seas, she was ready to meet her “Papa.” Young ten-year-old Adelfina last saw her Papa five years before, as he waved farewell from a similar railing bound for America. However on this special November day, Adelfina waited eagerly to jump into his arms, and be smothered in his warm hugs.
These are thoughts remembered, as I rubbed my hand over her name inscribed on the Remembrance Wall at Ellis Island in New York harbor many years later. I
thought of this and many other stories, my Mother, Adelfina, told me about her arrival in America.
This young immigrant girl had to walk patiently through the high ceiling halls of Ellis Island. In these long lines she was challenged by strangers she didn’t know and heard odd words she didn’t understand. The whole time she is fiercely gripping her mother’s skirts and holding the hands of Ida, her older sister, and Carmen, her younger brother.
They were coming to America to make a new home. All theyever knew was now behind them- except their Papa. He was waiting ahead and this thought alone restrained their tears.
My mother told me too, of their fears. They were overwhelmed with everything and felt frightened about what lay ahead, what to expect or even what was expected of them. Normal fears which seize the best of us when we face the unknown! They were no different from any of us today.
But somehow my mother’s family believed it would be okay. Papa would make it all fine. They just had to get to him. With this quiet faith they saw each step as bringing him ever nearer.
Slowly, Adelfina passed from one official to another. Occasionally she winced at the frightening sound of the rubber stamp making another unrecognizable marking on her papers. It was one such “bang” that re-baptized her. Imagine, Adelfina, became Dorothy, simply because a customs’ clerk could not read her name. And from that day on, Dorothy became her new name for her entire life in her new land.
Moving courageously through the stall-like aisles, newly named Dorothy felt she could endure anything, even this new name with Papa holding her. These thoughts helped make this noisy strangeness fade smoothly into comfort.
It gave my mother the inner strength to meet this present ordeal, and the many others she met in her lifetime. No matter how difficult her situation, my mother had the rare gift of seeing the positive, the joyful that ever present “light waiting at the end of the tunnel.” No doubt it was her strong belief in God’s ever-protective nearness molded I am sure by an image of her “always good and always loving” Papa
Finally after a tearful, but joyous reunion, the family was ready to begin their new life in America. With her tiny hand clasping her Papa’s, my mother left Ellis Island to learn English, become a happy citizen who loved voting, marry my father, and raise her children to be as determined and resolute as she.
As my tour boat left Ellis, I felt proud of my Mother’s story. It will live on through her etched name, but more vividly in our family’s recollections. Young Adelfina grew learning to face each struggle with the certainty that hidden within is the sunshine of God showing the way. This image of God removed apprehensions and placed instead her memory of a loved and cherished young girl of long ago.
Throughout her life in her new land, Adelfina-Dorothy-my mother never doubted God’s presence or God’s smothering “big hugs.” As I write this memory I know she feels just as secure and at peace enjoying those “ big hugs” God now gives her forever in eternity.