Saturday, December 22, 2012
“Mama,” I whisper, “why’d we come to town today?” More importantly, why are we at the train station? She doesn't answer me or maybe she didn't hear me. I glance around, trying to find a clue as to why we’re here. I find nothing. If I had the courage to ask Papa, I would-- but I’m not in the mood to hear him snap at me to “hush up.”
A newspaper stand next to the ticket booth-- if it could be called that-- snags my attention and, suddenly, I know why we’re here: to see the German immigrants arriving today, Tuesday. I’d read about it a couple of days ago in Papa’s newspaper. One question solved, a new one unanswered: why are we here to see the German immigrants? To greet them? No way. Papa is not the greeting sort-- he doesn't even say “good morning.” To be honest, if it wasn't for mama, my four sisters and I would die from lack of love.
A distant hoot! snakes into my thoughts, indicating that the answer to my question is to arrive soon. Looking at my sisters, I notice that they’re puzzled too and, yet, like me, they ask no questions. Correction: I did ask one-- but it wasn't answered, so that doesn't count. Hearing the hoot! closer, I devote my attention to the mammoth, black monster charging our way. Definitely scary looking. But what scares me more is the mystery the black monster will soon reveal. Positive thoughts, Grace, and stop being overly dramatic.
The train halts, emitting an ear-splitting screech. I wince. A small group of people straggle off the train. Definitely German. I scrutinize each person, viewing them as a possible threat. Or maybe I‘m just curious. Eventually, they all move away from the platform-- all except one boy clutching a small carpet bag, his eyes darting furtively from side to side.
Compassion fills my heart, then quickly fades away as Papa moves swiftly to the frightened boy and exchanges a few words with him. Maybe frightened is not the best word to describe him. Vulnerable yet strong is more fitting. There's a matureness about him that clashes with his young age-- maybe a year or two younger than me.
Papa reaches us, the boy at his side. He thrusts the boy forward. “This is Wilhelm,” Papa says in his usual brusque voice, “he will stay with us for an indefinite amount of time. His parents died on the voyage here to America. He’ll earn his stay by helping out on the farm.” Translation: he’ll become Papa’s slave. The pieces slam together in my brain. How many times had I heard Papa complain about having five daughters and no sons to help out with the farm? That the farm was too much for one man to manage by himself? Well, not quite by himself.
Protectiveness rises in my chest. It doesn't matter that Wilhelm is a stranger, he had just suffered a terrible loss. I will do all in my power to comfort you-- even if it means doing double my share of chores. It’s clear that mama and my sisters feel the same way as they make up for Papa’s coldness by welcoming Wilhelm warmly and embracing him. I stand in front of Wilhelm and beam my brightest smile. Taking his hand, I give it a warm shake. My welcome needs no words, I doubt he would understand me anyway.
His eyes lose some of their iciness, but he doesn't smile. I release his hand and look around for Papa. He must have slipped off to prepare the horses for the journey back home. It’s just as well, I wouldn't want him overhearing my next words. I take hold of Wilhelm’s hand once again and peer into his pale blue eyes. “Wilhelm, I’m so sorry about your parents and I’m sure you must be frightened in this strange land all by yourself,” I say slowly, not caring that he probably doesn't understand me. These words must be said out loud. “I promise to care for and comfort you. I always wanted a brother,”-- I smile,--“and I pray that one day we’ll become the best of friends.” And, who knows?, you just might be the miracle I prayed for, to show Papa what it means to truly love.