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Immigrants on a ship.



by Ken Sanes

I remember as a child
watching my mother
stir homemade soup
as it simmered on a hot stove.
As I watched her,
turning to speak to me,
I was only vaguely aware
of her thickly framed body
and old fashioned shoes,
and her simple dress
with a pattern of flowers.
But I can see her vividly now,
just as clearly as I remember her story:

She came to America as a teenager
on a ship from the old country,
alone in steerage,
and passed through Ellis Island,
filled with hope for a better life.
Then she worked,
cleaning tables
and washing other peopleís clothes
twelve hours a day.
Finally, a decade after she arrived,
she had a restaurant,
based on her popular recipes,
and a husband who,
like the recipes,
came from the old country.
But her husband died
after my brothers and I were born
and, for most of her life,
she just got by,
raising us alone,
and telling us about the father
we never knew.

Later, when my brothers and I
had our own families,
we would gather together
while she cooked for us
and told our children stories
about life in an earlier time.
But her own life ended
too soon, as well,
and, on our last visit,
the sight of her in a hospital bed
was a cause for despair.
Lying there, she didnít know our names
or why we were there, 
but she still smiled at us
like she had just woken up
from a sound sleep.
Then, as she stopped breathing,
I turned to my children,
who were huddled at a distance,
quietly watching,
in their first encounter
with life and death.
And I remember thinking
that they would look back at her life
when they were older
and finally know her as she really was,
fully embodied,
                      in her universal principle,
and always interested
in the welfare of the people around her.

Looking back now
after all these years
I can still see her restaurant,
and the way it acted as a refuge
for three generations,
a place for homework, dinner,
and comic books,
where everybodyís children
could eat like family
and experience the connection
between food and love.
And I can still see her
when she was young and vigorous,
standing in the kitchen in the back,
stirring the soup
while my brothers and I
laugh and play nearby.
                           And she turns to ask
if I want homemade bread
because it is good for dunking.
And, yes, I do want homemade bread --
except now it is me who is asking,
and, as my grandchildren
listen to my question
and look up at me,
I hope one day
they too will realize
they were experiencing
a universal principle,
however incomplete,
and know the essence
and understand.


Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10084 /
CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de
via Wikimedia Commons

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