Continued from October 12, 2016
In spite of the frightful conditions in the bowels of the ship, Rosalia and Joasia had faith in their futures. The constant banging and the clanging of the gears and pistons and pulleys made sleep impossible and going up onto the deck on dark, slippery steps was both frightening and dangerous. To pass the time, the girls played cards. Passengers sang, danced, talked, and then talked some more.
“What were the stories you remember from when you were little?” Joasia asked Rosalia.
“Well, they weren’t all stories,” Rosalia answered. “My mother would rap me on the head with her knuckles if I crossed my thumb right over left during prayers. And just as bad was crossing my legs during mass. The Virgin Mary would cry.”
Amid giggling and sighs, the stories went on, triggering all-too-fresh memories of what they were leaving.
“Did your parents believe the stories about the dangers of leaving gloves on a bed, or about the bad luck that would visit the family if people hugged or shook hands on either side of a doorway?”
“Yes! And we always tied a red ribbon to a baby’s stroller or clothes to protect the baby if someone looks at it with an evil eye.”
“Don’t kill a spider; it’ll rain.”
“Don’t give a watch as a gift to a woman.”
It wasn’t long before the girls’ giggles soon drew an audience, and stories about favorite family meals took over.
“Kielbasa! My mother cooked those sausages in sauerkraut and served them with her rye bread.”
“Gołąbki! My job was to boil the cabbage head and then peel the leaves. Hated that part. But I sure ate my fair share after we stuffed those leaves with meat and rice.”
Eventually, though, memories from the life they’d left gave way to rumors about the life they hoped for. Stories circulated endlessly—stories they’d heard of rejections and deportations at Ellis Island. They spent hours rehearsing answers to questions they expected from the inspectors, and even more hours trying to learn a baffling new language. Anyone who spoke even a few words of English found himself to be very popular.