As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I think of all those who left family and friends to travel here, in perilous conditions, for the chance of having a new and better life. Some came for adventure, some for gain, and others for religious freedom. I wrote this poem about my Great Grandfather’s family coming to America from Switzerland. On that voyage we are told they lost their youngest daughter. Details are unknown, so I wrote this fictional poem detailing what I thought might have happened. My Grandfather was only six years old at the time. It really makes me appreciate the blessings I have because of their choice to risk it all and come to America. I thought I would repost this as a reminder to us all.
The Long Sad Voyage of 1882
(Goodbye Little Sister)
Ships tall masts reaching high to the sky
Awesome for a boy of six just wondering why
His family packed up and left their home.
Heading for a new world they travel alone
Brothers left behind grown and married.
Younger and sisters stay with the family,
Watching the Alps fade as the shadows wane.
To the port of Le Havre floating down the Seine.
Ready to board this giant bucket of timber
Excitement rising trying to remember
All of his friends left behind in Basel
New adventures unseen in this perilous travel
Noise and activity surrounds them all
White sails slide up and begin to unfurl
Down to steerage on the ships second level
The Roth family finds a place to settle.
Into the briny dark seas they sail
To New York Harbor and where liberty hails.
As the week drags on the voyage is rough
Young Christian and sisters find sleeping is tough
The food is bad, unlike cooking back home
The water in barrels kept from the rats’ roam.
But somehow this packed and unsanitary condition
Made some folks sick with dysentery emissions.
Little sister was one whose resistance was lacking.
As the days dragged on her fever not slacking
Worried mother and father prayed for God’s backing.
Little sister got worse there was nothing to do
As her fever raged on everyone knew.
Late one night while everyone slept
Little sister passed on our little angel had left.
O how we cried and mourned this great loss
Little sister had died before we’re across.
The captain came by early that dawn
Saying sadly, “She’s gone, now we must send her on.”
The day was spent in tears and sad wails
As the orange sun was setting we bid our farewells.
Wrapped in a blanket lowered into the swell
Into the briny blue she fell.
With prayers and weeping the sadness abounds
Young Christian stood watching as folks gathered round,
Little sister was gone for her t’was too late,
Wondering if he might be next for this sad fate.
On reaching New York the emigrants unloaded
Ellis Island was crowded each family recorded
Christian and family moved on to Ohio
With promise of hope always held high.
Words still to come reflect how it should be,
“Give me your tired your poor yearning to be free”
Give me your sad you distraught still counting the cost
Seeking religious freedom in a land unknown
Where Freedom and Liberty stand alone!