Saturday, September 25, 2010

Footsteps of Family

Cohoes Falls
With Heather's mother in town for a few days following the National Extension Association of Family & Consumer Sciences Conferences in Portland, Maine, we wanted to show her all great things NY.  We made sure she had some I Love New York pizza, a Bella Napoli cannoli (or two), and that she got a chance to see Cohoes Falls.  We couldn't let her leave without trying to win back her vacation expenses at the Saratoga Gaming & Raceway Casino.  Down South she loves to pull the slots in Tunica and of course we never say no to tagging along...we're all dying to go gorge on the Paula Deen buffet…y’all that lady knows how to cook!  

Who's robbing this train?  Not us!
Well, we had to haul Phyllis to the NYC to see the really cool stuff.  Anticipating this trip and many more like it, we just bought a cute little L.L. Bean backpack (complete with married monogram) and drove to Tarrytown where we caught the train to Grand Central Station.  That ride was almost a no-go when we got behind a gaggle of foreign exchange students trying to use the electronic self serve ticket machine...they didn't make the train.

Come to mamma!
Grand Central Station is pretty impressive if you've never been there before.  We played tourist and had our pictures made in front of the clock before taking off to Chinatown.  Fellow Missourian Stacey Million was actually in town at Kleinfeld’s for the day with her friend who was shopping for a wedding dress.  Stacey recommended Joe’s Shanghai on Pell Street for lunch and once we found it, we were not disappointed.  They had some amazing dumplings!  The sights, sounds and smells were almost overwhelming in Chinatown and the prices were great!  All the fabulous I Heart NY stuff you could buy for super cheap!

Maybe next time.
The adventure continued on to Battery Park where we boarded the Miss Liberty on our way to Ellis Island.  No joke y'all...the lady next to us in line was from Tupelo, Mississippi!  We had a great time talking with her about the Flea Market, the Grove, what a rip Elvis' house is and our mutual love for Abner's Chicken.  She was a real sweet girl and was like most everyone else on the boat that afternoon, interested in touring the Statue of Liberty.  Don't get us wrong, we would have loved to have paid our respects, but she got the skip this trip.  Our goal was to make it to Ellis Island…just like my grandfather did 86 years earlier. 

Saly & Matthew
In early January 1924, 23-year-old Matthew Schiefer arrived at Ellis Island on the packet ship ORCA from Austria.  Family friend Dominkus Kocher had arranged for his travel and in exchange for his passage, Matthew agreed to work for the Kocher family for one year.  After leaving Ellis Island, Matthew boarded a train to Shirley, Arkansas and then caught a ride with the local mail man to the small community of Fox.  There, he was met by Dominkus’ nieces, 12-year-old Saly and 14-year-old Anna.  After fulfilled his year-long obligation with the Kocher family, he spent the next three years working and traveling all over the United States.  Just before ringing in the New Year of 1928, he decided to return to his homeland and thought it might by nice to stop by the Kocher’s before he crossing the pond.  Take a wild guess who was all grown up by now? Matthew’s travel plans changed when he married 16-year-old Saly on March 2nd 1928. 

Celebrating 50 years together!
The couple would have five children, Phyllis being the baby.  A first generation American baby!  The only Schiefer child born in a hospital in 1951, Phyllis was born just four days after Saly’s 40th birthday.  Matthew was 51-years-old.  Fast forward 27 years later and Heather came along in January 1978.   Matthew passed away from a heart attack later that same year, at age 79, just months after he and Saly had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Phyllis and her siblings had Matthew’s name put on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor several years ago but had never seen it.  We knew it was there and our only goal in NYC was to find it.  By the time we finally got to it, we felt like we had been the ones to cross an ocean to get there!  "Matthew Schiefer" stood out boldly on panel #559 and it meant more to us to see that name than anything else.

Matthew Schiefer, Austrian Immigrant, 1924

The Great Hall
It was so hard to believe walking through the Great Hall at Ellis Island that my grandfather had been there before.  More than 12 million immigrants have passed through there!  Some spent hours there, some spent days, some even spent weeks.  New arrivals were asked 29 questions including there name, amount of money they carried and occupation.  Anyone with a visible health problem or disease was sent right back home.  Some of the "lucky" ones were treated in the island's hospital facilities...that's where more than 3,000 would-be immigrants died while being treated.  On average, about 2% of immigrants were sent back to their homelands for reasons such as criminal backgrounds, chronic contagious disease or insanity.

Thanks Matthew!
The Ellis Island museum showed us in great detail what the immigrants had to go through to enter the United States.  We found Matthew Schiefer's journey even more amazing considering he didn’t speak a word of English when he came from Austria.  Government workers translated for him, and helped to make sure his papers were in order, that he passed the multiple medical evaluations, mental tests and even helped to determine if he was financially sound enough to not become a public charge.  Had he failed any of these tests, he would have been deported back to Austria immediately.  Which means you would not be reading this right now…Feels like a moment in Back to the Future II for a second doesn’t it?!?  Our pictures aren't fading are they??

As children, we grow up believing our parents are the biggest, baddest, bravest people we know and sometimes that remains true and sometimes we outgrow those ideas.  Maybe courage runs deep in the family tree?  We're pretty sure that Matthew had it.  And we're real sure that Phyllis had it because she never even flinched when we drug her across the city to the middle of a very crowded Times Square.  Nothing like a little adventure to spice up your day!  She promised that she had a good time when we finally got her home around 2:00 a.m., but swore she caught some kind of rash on her ankle from riding the subway.  We just explained to her that everybody needs a souvenir to take home with them from NYC.

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