Monday, April 2, 2012

New Beginnings - Thoughts on My Husband's Coming to America 50 Years Ago

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the day my husband and his mother arrived in America. He was barely a teenager when they left their homeland in the Bavarian state of Germany and traveled across the Atlantic for seven days.

A few days before their departure, Walt hid in a farmer's barn because he didn't want to leave. His mom knew where he was all along, and he reluctantly accompanied her on the voyage to America to join his older sisters who were already here. Walt told me that after he arrived on land he walked sideways for days after being at sea for so long.

Walt's mom spoke no English when they arrived in New York, and he only knew a few curse words he'd learned from the G.I.s stationed near their home. So, after they arrived and a customs officials searched their belongings, Walt couldn't convince the burly agent not to confiscate antiques and collectibles they'd brought with them. The collectibles were from World War II, World War I, and the 100-Year War.

Thus, was Walt's introduction to America. The hope is that the collectibles, including daggers and swords, ended up in museums, but most likely they were sold by the inspector. Later that day Walt and his mom were greeted by his sister and brother-in-law (a Massachusetts policeman), but by then it was too late to track down what happened to the confiscated goods.

What is weird about the timing of this fifty-year anniversary is that last week I received two Facebook friend requests, both from Germany. I didn't recognize the names and started to delete them until I read the messages--one in German and the other in English.

The first was from Walt's nephew who still lives in Bavaria, and whom we hadn't heard from in more than twenty years--when we lived in Germany. Reiner speaks Bavarian, German, English, and French, so he has no problem conversing in English. But, he used a pseudonym and I didn't recognize his Facebook name. The other note was from Rudy, a classmate who wrote in Bavarian to tell Walt about their class reunion next month. My German is rusty and I could make out only a few words, so Walt translated the rest. What's strange is that my husband is not on Facebook, but Reiner and Rudy found him because I use my married name on Facebook.

So, how does all this relate to writing? Here's what I think:

Beginnings -  While staring at a blank page is not as daunting as leaving one's homeland, sailing across an ocean, and starting a new life--starting a new story, essay, poem, or novel is exciting and a bit frightening. Sometimes it takes awhile to convince yourself to get going.

Faith -  Letting go of the familair to take a chance on the unknown takes faith and courage. Who knows what lies ahead?

Setbacks - Not knowing how to respond to someone in power is a helpless feeling.  Writers deal with rejection every day. The best way to handle it is to speak up when you can and do it gracefully.

Connections - Have an online presence. Like the two Bavarians who found Walt through my Facebook page, who knows if an agent or an editor might be searching for you? You might want to use a name people recognize--unless you're tyring to avoid bill collectors or old flames. ;-)

Celebrations - Making a daily word count goal, completing a final revision, winning a contest, or receiving an acceptance are all reasons to celebrate. Let's just hope it doesn't take 50 years!

So, happy anniversary, Walt. I'm so glad you and your mom decided to join your sisters in America and made the trip across the Atlantic fifty years ago! 

And good luck to all writers who have the faith and courage to begin, survive the setbacks, make  the connections, and celebrate success.


  1. Donna, what an interesting tidbit to share. Makes me want to track down the swords and daggers. You didn't say if Walt was going to attend his class reunion. I have enough trouble putting faces with people I haven't seen in under five years, much less 50.

  2. Hi Alice,
    Thanks. The reunion is next month, so he's not going to attend.

  3. Very interesting blog today, Donna. I love how you tied writing into the 50 year celebration today. Glad to hear about your making a family connection with Facebook.

  4. Hi Claudia,
    Thanks. It is strange the way things work out.

  5. What a fascinating tale, Donna. I imagine that there is a CS "Power of the Positive" story in Walt's experiences. Have you considered that?

  6. What a neat tie-in, Donna. You have such a natural style of blogging, it seems like the experience of relocating across land and ocean, without understanding the language, is obviously a metaphor for writing!

  7. Hi Sioux,
    Thanks. Good thought about the "Power of the Positive" anthology.

    Hi Marcia,
    Thanks. You are so kind. When I think of the courage it took to leave a home behind and embark on a journey to make a new home, the thought of starting a story or an essay isn't so frightening.


  8. This is a great post. It covers so much and ties it all together. My dad's family came from Germany, too, but many years earlier.

  9. Hi Carol,
    Thank you for your kind words. If you get a chance, visit your dad's family homeland. It's a beautiful country.
    Oh, and I like your post today about buttons.

  10. Donna, so glad yu found your Walt and so sorry he never found his antiques. This was a wonderful way to connect writing to an event such as Walt experienced. You are an inspiration to writers.

    1. Hi Linda,
      I'm glad I found Walt too--or rather that we found one another.
      Thanks for being so sweet!

  11. Thanks for sharing part of Walt's story! Glad you two connected! :) I love the comparison to writing; glad you shared it with us.

    Have a wonderful week,

  12. I love the story. My mother's father and his brothers came from Norway when they were in their teens, and I can't imagine what that was like. Writing is a great adventure, too, but perhaps a little easier on me than my grandfather's ocean voyage.

    Patricia Stoltey

  13. Wow, that is such an interesting story. How exciting that friends and family from across the sea have found you and Walt again through your blog! The power and reach of the internet never fails to amaze me.

    Critter Alley

  14. What a great story - it is amazing what can happen in life.

  15. Oh, Donna, that's quite a story--and you even connected it to all sorts of fine writing tips. That pretty much made my day.

    And P.S. Love the Spring look here--have a blessed and happy Easter!

  16. Inspiring post. When I first read the topics for "how it relates to writing," I thought one of the headings said "Starbucks." Then I read it more carefully, and realized it said Setbacks. That makes much more sense!

  17. Great blog post, Donna. I guess I never heard exactly how you and Walt met. I assumed it was in Germany! Silly me! :)
    I cannot imagine being on a ship for that many days.....and wondering the entire time just what kind of a place would I be living in? Very scary!

  18. Hi Karen,
    Thanks. Have a blessed Easter!

    Hi Patricia,
    Immigrants are sturdy stock-and survivors.

    Hi Pat,
    Isn't amazing how the Internet has been used to connect folks across the globe?

    Hi Lynn,
    You are right. It is amazing.

    Hi Cathy,
    You are so sweet. Wishing you a happy spring and blessed Easter!

    Hi Mary,
    Starbucks would work too!

    Hi Becky,
    Thanks. You are right. I don't know if I could've made that long journey either.


  19. Donna,

    I just wanted to tell you that when I first read your blog entry we had a German exchange student living with us over the weekend!

    My youngest daughter, Sara, is a 9th grade student at Little Rock Central High School. Her high school has an ongoing exchange program with a high school in Berchtesgaden, Germany, located in the German Bavarian Alps.

    In fact our oldest daughter, Lauren, spent 3 weeks in Germany when she was 16 as part of her school exchange program, along with 12 other American students.

    This was our 5th year to host German students and we love it!

    Congratulations to your husband and thanks so much for posting.


    1. Hi Leslie,
      How generous of you and your family to share your home with exchange students, and what a wonderful opportunity for your daughter to participate in the exchange program.
      Thanks for your kind words.
      Hope you had a Happy Easter!

  20. I really enjoyed this blog post. Thanks for sharing!


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