From Across The Ocean

Pain struck his hip with the sharpness of a skinning knife when he fell beside the rock. His hip had been injured years ago when he was caught under water and thrown against a dock. Now this long ocean trip worried him.

In Oregon far to the west in the United States of America, Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw watched the unveiling of a statue of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery. At age of eighty-five, Anthony was pleased to take part in the ceremony since it was the first statue erected in America to a woman because of deeds of daring. Unknown to him at the time, this would not be the only woman to impress the young Hungarian in the years to come.

His heart beat like a hammer in his chest. A smothered cry against the mittens his mother had knitted for his parting gift brought the scent of yarrow and a different kind of pain. His home was two weeks and two hundred miles behind. Did he harbor foolish dreams after all?

He was cold and scared. He expected difficulty in sneaking to the ship but he never imagined such misery. Eyes tightly closed and huddled in his heavy woollen overcoat, a warm room appeared behind his eyelids. He would have cried with despair if the words of his saddened mother hadn't entered his mind with the potent force of a fist in the gut.

"Go. I cannot bear to lose any more to the foolish war." She had wept quietly and defied the village priest's warning that young men would be imprisoned if they immigrated -- IF they were caught.

Too many people were leaving the Austro-Hungarian Empire, lured by promises of riches in the New World. It didn't take much of a promise to encourage men to leave poverty and futility of life in a war on the Russian front.

The incredible dream to reach in America was that
ordinary people could own land!

Michael Hodak was just six months short of his eighteenth birthday as he neared the seaport. Weeks would pass before he reached America on the recruiter's ship. He must be strong and brave. He clung to the crisp paper deep in his pocket -- his passport. He was recruited to work in the American steel mills. For that privilege he was told he must work for two years. Unscrupulous Americans had no difficulty in keeping knowlege of laws from these people who could not speak English. To indenture servants in the United States of America had been illegal for almost ten years.

There was no Ellis Island, no stature of Liberty for him. Steel fortunes were made on cheap labor and no chances were taken for rejections of the men engaged by recruiters. Company-owned ships came into other ports where agents overlooked deformities or suspected illnesses. These men had come to work. No one would pay for their return if they had been rejected. As fugitives from Europe, they had no place to which to return. They were deserters.

Deserting his mother was not Michael's choice. His family insisted he make an decent life for himself in the new land. He was the only male left in his family. All males at age 18 were sent into battle from which they returned often as gruesome bodies. The few surviving men in his village were old and crippled. That's the way it had been as long as he could remember. Soldiers occasionally returned for visits but did not come home to stay.

Defending home and village would have been worthwhile but the land was not their own. All belonged to the King and was overseen by chosen gentry. The battlefield was far off and the war was about somebody else's land. It made little sense to those left in the poverty of working the lands for royalty. His mother and older sisters worked the fields. The smaller boys tended village hogs, herding them across the river to forage.

He snuggled deeper into his coat and snorted quietly at the image of naked boys grabbing the bristly tails of hogs dashing into the chilly water. With their clothes bundled on top of their heads, the boys laughed with joy as they were towed across the river by the very pigs they were to herd. Amid scrambled grunts the pigs heaved themselves ashore and ambled into the trees. While the pigs feasted on acorns and roots in the deep forest, the boys unwrapped their bread and bacon from the bundle, dressed in their dry clothes, and kept a close eye on the four legged critters that were the protein basis of their winter diet.

Memories such as these sustained Michael for years. Twelve hours a day each week he shoveled coal. One week he shoveled during the day and got twenty four hours off. The next week he worked the twelve-hour night shift and the seventh day worked twenty-four-hours into the next day shift. He got a few dollars to buy his clothes and food. He bought books in English to learn the new language and skills in crafts.

Dreams of owning land gave him hope and sustained his energy for years to come.

-- Memoirs from a daughter's collection