Dedicated to my weird dad.
Under a sky as blue as the lake below, I worked against the harsh cold, trying to grow crops so my family can eat. I could only hear silence in the mountains. My name is Bernard Finklestein and I was born in Austria. I was fourteen when I came to the U.S. in 1910. What I remember most about Austria is the farm, my close relatives and the towering mountains.
In my country, I was very poor. On our farm, there were too many kids and we did not make enough money. We had barely anything to eat besides fruits and vegetables. It was hard to work because the kids were loud and the cold was painful. We had few friends. We were Jewish so the government did not like us. Soldiers would raid our towns and harass us. Then one day, my parents told me that I would go to America. I had heard about â€œthe golden land,â€? but to go would mean to leave everyone behind. I felt happy and also sad. I felt happy that I would not have to be hungry and I would not have to work so hard. I felt sad to leave my parents and brothers and sisters.
Over the next few months, we made enough money to afford a third class ticket. On the day I left for America, I had to say goodbye to my family and I wasn’t sure if I would ever see them again. I promised to visit them in Austria, but I never did. Time passed too quickly before I had to board the ship. Even before the ship left, I was already homesick. In a short time, the ship gave a lurch and we sped off to America. All day, I sat in the steerage compartment. Steerage is near the bottom of the boat and it’s where the poorest people had to travel. It was uncomfortable and it smelled of vomit. Sometimes strange people would wander about the compartment begging for money. Passengers often grew ill, and one died. At times, I wasn’t sure if I would survive. Everyday, we would eat potatoes and sometimes some bread. We remained in steerage so we never got to get any sunlight. Many other families came from places I had never heard of. Often the waves would toss us around like our horse-drawn cart at home.
One day, the ship started to slow down and a man in a bright blue velvet suit came striding in. He signaled everybody out the door. I realized that we must be in America! I ran to the deck to try to see the golden farms and houses. I wanted to see the great green lady that welcomes you. I saw her and she looked even taller than the mountains at my farm! We walked off the boat onto Ellis Island. When I looked for the farms, I noticed none, and nothing was made of gold! But, the city sparkled in the sunlight. As soon as I touched the ground I knew I was safe. We were all led into a big brown building and a guard took me into a big square room. There were my relatives from Buffalo who had sponsored me so I could come to America. They told officials my name, where I came from, and that they would be taking care of me until I was old enough to take care of myself. I travelled with them to their home in Buffalo. It was strange to be taken care of by relatives I did not know. I felt homesick again.
It took awhile for me to get used to America. I didnâ€™t understand the meanings of things, like, what was a hotdog? I stayed with my relatives for several years and we grew close. We spent many afternoons in the public library reading books together. I learned English and got a job with an insurance company and soon after that, I started my own business in Buffalo, New York. I got married and had a child in 1926. We were still poor, but not as poor as I was in Austria. I was able to sponsor my two sisters and brother to come to America before World War II. I can still remember the farm where I lived for my first 14 years and still feel sad that I left my parents, but America did turn out to be a golden land for me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natalie Finton was born on December 16, 2002. She has a jumpy little sister named Lily. She lives in Watertown, MA where she plays softball on the Crushers. She is a good pitcher. Natalie likes mac and cheese, carrots, and hotdogs, which were introduced to America in 1893. Â