American the Beautiful
After disembarking the ship, they were directed up a long flight of open
stairs. Heinrich had hoped to see New York, but landing in Philadelphia
meant his cousin could meet him after he cleared customs. A job on Jewlers’
Row awaited. There he would perfect his skill making wedding rings for the
Dragging his luggage on either side, Heinrich was breathing heavily when he
reached the top. A man pointed at Heinrich. A woman came over and took him
by the arm.
"What is your name?" she asked, leading him toward the doctor.
Heinrich did not reply.
"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" she offered.
"Ja," he answered.
"Wie heissen Sie?"
Heinrich, who had decided to change his name as soon as he got to America,
"Welcome, stranger," she said.
Henry did not understand. “Willkommen streng?” Why was she welcoming him
severly to America? He thought of his future life with this woman: honeyed
words whispered to one another as he slipped on her finger the ring he made
during his lunch hour at work.
Speaking slowly and clearly in his native tongue, for he could tell her
German was not good, Henry asked, "Why am I not allowed to be with the
others from my boat?"
Her knowledge of German exhausted, the woman did not respond. Henry turned
and she smiled at him. He thought he would not see another American so
The doctor conducted a quick examination then used a piece of chalk to place
an H on the lapel of Henry’s shirt. Henry smiled. He thought the H stood for
"Henry." It stood for "heart."
Few were aboard ship as it steamed back towards Hamburg. No longer able to
discern land off the stern, a man splashed unnoticed into the chilly
Atlantic, a few concentric rings that quickly disappeared while he thought
of his American love and her harsh welcome for a man named Heinrich.
First published: February, 2008
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