Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Nursing Home and Me Part 5- Miracle at Ellis Island

One of the more eccentric residents I encountered in my time, was Vera. She had never married, never had children and had no living family. In the three years I knew her she never had a visitor. Occasionally she would receive mail from her guardian or a friend she corresponded with. If not attending an activity or eating in the dining room she spent her time in her room.

She was a God fearing woman and never went anywhere without her bible. It's worn Burgundy cover could often been seen tucked between the seat cushion and armrest of her wheelchair, nestled carefully in her lap robe. If she were in bed, the bible would always be open on her over bed table, making visible her writings in the margin. She attended only four activities- church, bible study, Hymn sing and balloon volleyball.

She was a competitive Balloon Volleyball player (think Volleyball while seated, but replace the volleyball with a balloon) and very competitive. Our city actually holds tournaments once a month throughout the winter months. All the local nursing homes are invited to compete, and some of those teams coaches are ruthless. You'd think we were dealing with Olympians vying for the Gold,instead of seniors out for socialization and exercise. Truth be told we weren't very good. One of my residents continually fell asleep. Another was so confused she usually watched the balloon fall in front of her- without moving. I had two key players. She was one of them. She always assumed the same position- front middle. If she couldn't be in that position she wouldn't play.

I have to admit that she was one of my more difficult residents. Within in the first five minutes of meeting someone she would ask "Are you a Christian?" Their answer would determine the amount of interaction she would have with the individual from that point on. I say she was one of my difficult residents because she often had a difficult time accepting my admission that I was in fact a Christian with my activity programming choices. She was particularly unhappy with my decision to have a belly dancer as entertainment once a month. She often would wheel past the dining room while this activity was going on, give me a disapproving glare, shake her head and return to her room. Another of my activities that she vehemently disapproved of was Bingo. Not so much the game, but the fact that I allowed a prize of 50 cents for each winning game. I was after all encouraging gambling in her eyes.

It was during my Bible study that our bond grew. She began to share parts of her history with me. She was born in St. Petersburg Russia. Her family emigrated to the United states when she was around the age of 7. She showed me a family crest that her father (an artist) had drawn for a Czar in Russia, and an article printed in a local newspaper detailing the history of her father and the crest. I could see the pride in her face as she handed me the crest and the article (which I was given upon her death). She then shared with me the story I have chosen to share with you today. I only hope I can do her story justice

As I said earlier, her family immigrated to the United States when she was seven-ish. That would have been in the early 1920's. Her father had worked for years to secure a host family and have all the necessary paperwork and funding for their passage across the Atlantic Ocean. He wanted to escape the hardships in Russia and wanted to secure the American dream for his family. Her family didn't have much money, and her father had contacted a relative living in America to assist with making their dreams come true.  After ensuring the relative would meet them there and assist with the necessary $25 fee, they boarded their ship and began their voyage to the land of hope, promise and freedom.

They sailed for many days in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Her mother and father were happy despite the conditions- they were headed to America! Finally, at port in American territory, the had to undergo their first series of health inspections. The doctors gave them a quick once over, looking for obvious signs of epidemic disease. The wealthier individuals who passed this initial health inspection were allowed to disembark and begin their new lives. The lower class, (which included Vera and her family) was ferried to Ellis Island to complete a series of additional health and legal inspections. Upon arriving at Ellis Island they carried off their baggage, and were separated. promising to meet up again once they had passed the inspections. Vera was put through a series of health exams and intelligence testing. Any question as to the health of her or her parents and they were at risk of having to board the ship and return to Russia. After what seemed like hours she was reunited with her father.

Her mother was not there. They waited. Still she did not appear. They watched men, women and children coming from the examination rooms, some with tags on their shoulders with various letters written in chalk. Those with the letters were the individuals thought to be sick and returned to hospitals for further examination or back to the ship from whence they came.

They waited all day. Her father became worried. Vera had been born via cesarean section and her father feared the scar that remained would be an indication of sickness and that her mother would not be permitted entry. Finally, around sunset, when barely anyone remained, her mother came walking from the examination room. There was a tag on her shoulder with writing that Vera could not decipher. Her mother was crying. As her father feared, because of the scar, she was being sent back to Russia. She had begged to be able to say good-bye to her husband and only child. Her father insisted that they pray. And so, they knelt together and did just that.

While they knelt holding one another, a man approached them. Vera watched him as he walked over to her mother. He was tall and kind looking. She was not at all afraid. Instead of fear she felt peace and love. He had a sort of glow around him, and he smiled at her. The man tapped her mother on the shoulder and began speaking to them in English. None of them could understand him. They were confused. He smiled again and removed the tag from her mother's shoulder. He tore in two, let it fall to the ground and motioned for them to go. Frozen, they stared, not sure what to do. He reached for her mother's hand, helped her up and gently pushed her toward the door. Her parents quickly began gathering their possessions, and Vera did the same. Suitcase in hand she looked up, seeking assurance from the man- but he was gone. And the tag from her mother's shoulder was gone too. She followed her family out the doors that day, and they began living the American dream.

Vera told me that to this day there is no record of her family ever entering Ellis Island. She told me that she knows she witnessed a miracle that day. And though she was not sure if she had met Jesus himself, or one of His angels, she knew for sure that God had intervened that day.

She told me this story many times in the years that I knew her and I never tired of hearing it. You may choose what you believe, but I believe that the day she arrived in America there was a miracle at Ellis Island.

Other Posts in this series: The Nursing Home and Me, The Nursing Home and Me Part 2- Reunited, The Nursing Home and Me Part 3- Russell, The Nursing Home and Me Part 4- It's Not Always as it Appears.

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