Continued from October 5, 2016
A few days later she waited on the dusty road that ran past the farm, for the cart that would take her to the village railhead. She checked again for the money she had sewn into the hem of her coat. She clutched the stiff gray cardboard cover of her passport, reassuring herself yet again that Jan’s letter and the photograph of her sister’s wedding dress were still tucked inside.
So many people had come to say goodbye to the dozen villagers who would be leaving. Tears, hugs, repeated warnings to be careful…but no one was there for Rosalia. She would be the first of her family to make this trip, the member of the family who would save enough money to bring others over. She was the only one left who had no other responsibilities…no husband, no children. And while it was usually a father or a brother who took on this burden, this wasn’t a possibility in Rosalia’s family.
She had carefully prepared the night before, using a small, precious piece of soap her childhood friend Helena had given her. But the 30 minute ride on an open wooden wheeled cart to the village railway station had already left her feeling unwashed.
Rosalia had heard gossip about how wonderful life could be in America but very little about the realities of getting there. She looked with alarm at the numbers of emigrants at the Krakow train station; they defied counting. Hundreds of people pushed and elbowed one another, trying to forge a path to the steps of one of the train’s cars. It was apparent that there would not be sufficient space for everyone and yet everyone continued to wedge themselves and their belongings into a car. Baskets and bundles of goods that would travel with each of them to their destinations filled aisles and eventually became additional seating. Babies cried, toddlers whined, old men wheezed. The air was filled with the smell of coal, oil, grease. Everyone did their best to help those who needed it, but always there was the threat of losing one’s place in line and, even worse, of losing one’s footing and being crushed between the wheels and the tracks.
Rosalia grunted as she hoisted her grip up the steep steps of the railway car. It seemed to have grown heavier since she left home. She smiled gratefully at the young man who helped. The train that would take her to Hamburg, Germany would roll through 775 miles of countryside. She looked with dismay at the open windows that she knew would blow cinder-filled smoke from the engine into the rail car, found a seat on a hard-backed bench, and silently cried. Pigs were not so crowded on the way to market.
The train’s horn sounded and with a lurch, the iron wheels of the massive black monster threw up sparks. They were finally on their way. Aromas of hard cooked eggs and spicy Polish sausage filled the car as passengers unwrapped and shared what they had brought. Despite the hot, crowded conditions, the travelers’ moods were high. The unknown might be scary but it was also exciting.
Rosalia stared out a window, thrilled at the speed with which the steam engine rolled between Krakow and Hamburg. But the many stops it made to pick up additional emigrants from their small villages, made the train trip seem endless. The murmur of voices and the repetitious rhythm of wheels on tracks soon had her dozing.