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When Ryn was in the seventh grade she thought she wanted to do three things when she grew up, she wanted to be an English teacher, a writer and a mother. All of that traveling, adventure, and Peace Corps was just research for what was to come. After more than twenty years of being told she would never be able to have children, she had two beautiful baby girls, a year and a half apart. She spends many of her daytime hours teaching English at Case Western Reserve University, and all of the rest of her time, inspiring her two little girls, or being inspired by writing at the writers’ workshop she calls “home.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Immigrant Ship

By the time we got to Bremen, I was actually happy to be on the ship, but what I didn’t expect was how sick I would get. I had been on boats lots of times for fishing, for fun, for getting to the next place, but this ship was bigger than the biggest hotel. It was named The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, and it didn’t seem like it could float. Once we started moving, everyone got sick, mother more so than me. The elderly, children, even the big strong men couldn’t control themselves. It seemed like the babies had it best, maybe because they are carried so much, but they had their own problems: fevers, rashes, coughs, and lots of crying.

Another thing that I didn’t expect was how many Slovaks there were. It seemed like the whole ship was filled with people like us leaving for the same reasons we were leaving. Some were from our village, or my grandmother’s village. Many were named Theresa. There were a few Lithuanians and Hebrews, but Sunday mass was basically in Latin with the special prayers made in Slovak.

On the second day, Mrs. Jakubik’s little boy Andrei became very sick. He had had a fever for three days and just couldn’t be consoled. No matter what she or little three year-old Maria tried to do, he wouldn’t eat either. All the women tried to help. One older woman suggested that a little vodka would pacify him because he was probably just teething. But on the morning of the fifth day, he died. He was just 23 weeks old.

After a few words from the priest, they threw his little body overboard. Mrs. Jakubik’s face turned grey and hollow. Her eyes emptied. How would she greet Mr. Jakubik when he met them on the pier?

The women took turns taking care of little Maria and distracting her from the truth of her poor little brother, while Mrs. Jakubik just laid in bed staring at nothing, but a sad sob would bubble up every now and then.

Much of my day time was spent walking on the decks. If I needed to vomit, it was easier to lean over the side. But also, the fresh air was rejuvenating. And water was shades of blue I could only imagine. Excitement was starting to build up in me about what this new life would hold.

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