America’s Independence Day conjures up thoughts of flags, parades, fireworks. When you think of how this all started, where this all came from, you maybe conjure up visions of the revolutionary war, men in powdered wigs signing the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, George Washington. America’s independence maybe started way back in the 1700s, but it continues today. And sometime in between then and now is the story of how my family became Americans.
I won’t give you the whole story now, of course, but maybe someday, when I am finished with it and get it published, you will buy a copy. I will sign it for you. In the meantime, let me share with you a day in 1924.
On September 1, the SS Republic, sailing from Germany, docked at Ellis Island. A young mother and her four children, ages 11 to 5, walked off the ship and touched American soil for the first time. After spending hours in immigration lines, struggling with the foreign language, Emma, her two daughters and two younger sons were finally joined by her husband and oldest son who had made the same journey a year earlier.
They would eventually settle in Chicago, where life continued to be a struggle, but was nothing compared to the poverty they had known in Germany. The middle son, Paul, got a job selling newspapers on the street corner, keeping one cent from each of the three cent papers he sold.
In 1934, when Paul was 19 years old, the family moved to Tripoli, Wisconsin, where they took up farming. His siblings all married, some moving away, some staying nearby, but Paul stayed on the farm, helping his twice-widowed mother. He was 30 and driving a school bus to supplement the farm’s income, when he asked one of the female students on his bus to the dance. The rest as they say is history.
In 1961, Paul, then 47, would hold his newborn baby in his arms. He and his wife would name their youngest child Christine Marie. Paul’s life as an American was more than complete. And mine was just beginning.