My wife and I recently made a trip to Long Island, N.Y., to visit a brother of mine and his family. During our stay, we went into New York City to take in a few sights. The weather was hot and humid, and our party included my two nephews, 4 years old and 10 months.
First we rode the Long Island Rail Road for an hour to get into NYC, then we took a subway to Battery Park in order to catch the ferry to the island on which the Statue of Liberty is located.
The streets of NYC were crowded and noisy, and keeping young Hartley, the 4-year-old, under control was a constant endeavor. He was so excited to see everything and always wanted to get ahead of us.
The subway was crowded and very hot – there was no air-conditioning until we got in the cars themselves. The crowd waiting to board the ferry was large and noisy, with all sorts of street performers vying for our attention as we waited to get on board. The ferries were three-story affairs that easily carried several hundred souls, glad to get under way and feel a bit of breeze that humid day.
When we arrived at the island, the size of the statue itself was breathtaking. It was mammoth, towering over us like a colossus. Considering its size and placement upon several levels of elevated brickwork, it astounded me to think how it would have been put together in the first place – made in pieces, elevated onto its skeleton and finally fastened to its frame. What a monumental undertaking.
It occurred to me more than once on the way there and back, that this must have been somewhat like our ancestors’ experience, arriving in this country a hundred or so years ago – riding in cramped quarters in heat and humidity and other oppressive weather, enduring the pitch and fall of the ships over stormy seas, without a concession stand or modern bathrooms to make the trip more pleasant. And all for a chance at a better life than what they had at home.
It was quite a sobering thought. My wife and I each have moved to different cities to start anew, on occasion, and it’s a daunting task when you don’t know anyone there and only have limited contacts. We always worked things out. But imagine coming not just to a new city or state, but a completely different country, to start life over. How hard that must have been.
The power of freedom is compelling. Our Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, is a symbol like no other. The United States is fortunate indeed, not only to have it, but to be the place that everyone wants to be.
Semmes lives in Midway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.