It was the Spring of 1908. Magdalena looked upon the water as it glistened in the sunlight.
A group of men stood beside her to her left, leaning against the railing of the boat as she was and looking out at the endless Atlantic ocean. The pungent smell of their cigar smoke reminding her of her father and his friends back home in Italy. She could not understand what these men were saying, but their words and laughter with each other comforted her. They were all on their way to America, and their dreams were seemingly coming true. The spray of the ocean, and the brisk breeze, felt refreshing against her cheeks as Magdalena inhaled the fresh, cool air.
Magdalena looked over at her poor sister and tried to comfort her. Maria still was suffering from motion sickness, and she leaned over the railing in miserable anticipation to *****. Ladies and girls in babushkas were singing nearby, laughing with each other in the joy of each other's company. Magdalena really wanted her sister to experience the joy she was feeling, that these women and men were feeling around her.
She had to worry about her sister all the time. At age sixteen, Magdalena always felt responsible for Maria, especially now that she felt she had dragged her with her on this large passenger boat traveling across the vast Atlantic, a ride that seemed endless.
Maria was not quite fifteen, and she seemed more like a little girl to her older sister. Back in their small village in Italy, they both knew what their fate would be.
"You are lucky to get what you get", Magdalena recalled her father saying to her. "You are not the pretty one in the family, and we are not rich!"
Maria's father, Matteo, was not a bad man, but a blunt one. He knew he had to marry off his daughters one day, and the day came that Magdalena's father received an offer from a man almost thirty-five years older than she was for his daughter's hand in marriage. He was a simple peasant farmer, like her father was, and he went to the same Catholic church as Magdalena and her family did.
"I don't want to marry him!" Magdalena confessed to her mother, Bella. "I don't want that life, Mama!"
"You don't need to love the man to marry him!" Bella shouted. "Don't let your father hear what you are saying! You need to be grateful! Do you think we can take care of you forever?"
Magdalena tried to be grateful. Out of eleven children that her mother bore, only six survived. It was not an easy life. Her brother, Matteo, the third, and her sisters, Sofia and Arietta , were older than she was. Maria, and her brother, Alberto, came after her.
Her father had already arranged for marriages for Sofia and Arietta. Both of them were currently pregnant, and Magdalena did not know if they were happy or not. Between the two of them, they already had five children. She never heard them complain, but she also rarely saw them smile. It was as if they accepted their fate with quiet submission and without a scrap of passion for their existence.
Magdalena looked over at her sister. Maria was retching, her hair hanging down about her. Madgalena lifted her sister's hair off of her sister's face, and gave her sister a handkerchief for her to wipe her face with.
"I am so sorry" Magdalena said, deep remorse in her expression.
Maria looked over at her sister, with her pretty green eyes, and asked, "Why?"
"Because I made you do this", Magdalena confessed.
Maria shook her head. "No, you didn't. I wanted to come".
They smiled at each other, and Magdalena thought her sister had the most beautiful smile ever. No wonder the men were buzzing about their home in hopes to find favor with their father. She could never be envious of her little sister, for she loved her too much.
Maria was going to be next, the last of the girls to marry off. But, first, it was Magdalena's turn. It was settled. She was to marry Vincente Morino, a forty-nine year old bachelor, a stocky man with thick white hair and mustache, and a gruff voice that scared her away.
When she cried out to her father to have compassion for her, pleaing that he reconsider, his anger burned within him. "You either marry this man or you don't live here anymore! You will need to fend for yourself if you don't! You will not bring shame onto this family!"
Magdalena would cry herself to sleep almost every night. She shared a bed with Maria, and her sister would just hold her to comfort her. They had the closest bond among all the siblings. Maria looked up to her sister with great admiration, as did her sister to her.
All her hiding away of her money paid off. Magdalena had to earn her keep by doing sowing and caring after a neighbor, an elderly widow. Every week, her mother and father expected her to hand over all of her money to them, for the common good of the family, for their survival.
She used to feel guilty for holding a small portion of it back. They surely would not discover it if she did. She dared not to tell anyone , not even Maria for fear she would be discovered and punished.
But now she found a good reason to tell her.
Some of the townsfolk had relatives that had went to America to live. If they were able to write, they would tell of tales of working so hard, but because of it they were now living lives they had never expected, of more food, of more space, of more freedom.
Magdalena removed the floorboards from below her bed. She pulled out the lovely paper money and coins from within her small metal chest. She now believed that she had enough money for her passage, and perhaps enough for one more.
"Do you want to get married to one of these men?" she asked Maria one day . They sat upon their bed, the soft, afternoon light filtering through their lacy, beige curtains. The distant sound of children playing could be heard on the streets below.
Maria didn't know how to answer quite at first. "No", she eventually said. "I am too young!"
Magdalena grabbed her sister's hand and clasped hers together upon it. "Then come with me", she said. "I am going to America".
Maria's jaw dropped open, and she looked like she had seen a ghost. She shook her head in disagreement.
"Don't leave me!" she cried out, tears welling up in her eyes.
"I am not!" Magdalena assured her. "You go with me!"
But how could they possibly do it? Two impoverished girls from central Italy, from really nowhere when it came to maps and the greater world around them. Could they really leave?
"I have saved some of my money", Magdalena whispered, for fear someone could have returned back home.
"You did not!" Maria whispered back. Maria worked, too, caring after some children down the valley. She never had enough courage to hold back any of her money.
It was a terrifiying concept, for both of them. Maria was both excited and fearful. She had decided that she would trust her sister. Madgalena knew she loved her greatly, and that she always would. Maria knew Magdalena loved her. But her mother and father! Her sleepy, little town! She would probably never see any of them again. This made her hesitate.
So Magdalena gave her time to think about it.
In the meantime, Magdalena continued to hide away money. Her mother was busy sowing her the wedding dress that her defiant daughter vowed to herself that she would never wear.
Then one day Maria came up to her sister in the garden in the back of the house. "I decided that I am going with you", she said bravely. She looked at her sister with a mixture of bravery and fear. Her breaths were short, and her heart was beating quickly.
Magdalena, her basket filled with zucchini, was standing in disbelief. She looked upon her sister with a warm, slow-starting smile.
"Then you better take me with you!" a young voice said from behind a tree.
Oh, no! Alberto! Their twelve year old brother appeared in the scene, coming from behind that old tree by the rose garden.
Fired burned in Magdalena's eyes. Alberto, that little snake! That rat! It couldn't be!
Who do you think you are spying on us?" she hissed at him. "And you don't even know what I am talking about!"
"Oh, yes I do!" Alberto responded, smugly. "You have been hiding money from Mama and Papa! And now you are going to America!"
Did he try to steal her money? Did he get his *****, little hands on her precious stash? Magdalena wanted to choke him, her insolent little brother, the youngest of the children who always was too smart for his own good. He just stood there, his cocky smirk on his face like he was so triumphant.
"Keep your voice down, or I swear you will not lived to see thirteen!" Magdalena warned him.
"You think you are going to leave me here alone?" Alberto told his stunned sisters. "Don't take me, and I will tell them. Take me, and I won't say a word".
Magdalena felt the need to grab a large branch to rush at him and beat him senseless. But she just stood there, hands on her hips, glaring at him in a showdown of angry eyes.
Alberto stood his ground, and he would not budge an inch. "Alright", Magdalena said in a harsh whisper, "And do you expect me to pay your way? I cannot do it!"
Alberto laughed, his eyes dancing in amuzement. "Do you think you are the only one who hides money?"
Magdalena felt better now that her sister's color was coming back. The air on the boat was refreshing as she breathed it in deeply. Where was Alberto?
"Oh, there he is", Maria pointed out. She shook her head and laughed. He was busy talking away with a pretty, young girl. Always the lady's man, the sisters agreed, far beyond his young years.
So now there they were, the three of them upon this boat. Magdalena did not want to betray her parents. She felt that they might want to come to America, but maybe they would stay where they were at. Perhaps they felt that they were too old to make a fresh start, or they could just be too afraid.
Would they miss her? Magdalena often wondered. Would they hate her for what she did? If so, she prayed that they would forgive her. It was bad enough she had left, but now Maria and Alberto would be gone, too, and she was responsible for it.
"Mira! Mira!" a man shouted out in Spanish. Another person cried out, "Look at that! America! America!"
All faces were now captivated. The closer they came, everyone watched intently, like they were at a glorious theater. A low murmer of different languages all came about at once.
It took a long time to reach close to this unknown land, this vast coastline of the New World. It was just such an amazing sight that nobody wanted to go down below deck, one of sugar maples, and cherry blossom trees, of elegant homes nestled in cliffs.
Magdalena saw buildings much taller than she had ever seen in Italy as America came closer and closer into her sights, as her boat was making its way into the New York Harbor. She stood by her sister and gripped her hand in excitement. This took quite a long time to recach that destination, and it felt like a dream.
Alberto eventually ran over to his sisters. "That is it! That is it! The Lady Liberty!"
All three stood there amazed, with all the other passengers rushing about on deck and standing to look. She was a very tall lady, quite a lady indeed! A petina, a bluish-green, she stood there proudly with her lantern raised to the skies. Magdalena thought she was the most lovely sight that she had seen so far on her journey, and she could not stop the tears from flowing down her face.
Maria squeezed her older sister's hand, with tears streaming down her face, as well. As they held each other tightly, all Maria and Magdalena could do was cry in their relief and their hope.
Alberto waved wildly at the statue, as if she would wave back. Others laughed and cried. Many waved, too, and many stood there completely silent and struck with awe.
They had made made it. At last! Magdalena felt like she had made the right move, even though she did not have a clue what her life would hold out for her.
Even so, she felt like she had found herself a home.
copywrited...............dedicated to all the immigrants who came to this country.