Part 2 is the concluding installment of my great-grandmother’s letter, The Ins and Outs of the United States, and our final journey with Alice.
I explained back in January to Anna King on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, that although I call these memoirs ‘letters’ they aren’t actually addressed to anyone in particular. However, it is clear when you read Alice’s words that these are more than just personal reminders of the past – they are proof of a life lived and they are written with readers in mind.
Once again, it has been a pleasure to share my great-grandmother’s life with you and I’m sure if she were alive today Alice would be thrilled that so many people are enjoying her escapades.
All content written by Alice Grant (née Brinkworth), 1887 – 1961.
The gateway to America – Ellis Island – watching a stream of immigrants from all corners of the earth, all ages, all colours and all languages, seeking entry into a country that we were waiting to be turned out of. It was the experience of a lifetime.
I had the bedroom next to the one that had been occupied by Vera Lady Cathcart on her much self-advertised detention there. I may say in passing, that while Ellis Island liked the lady personally, they felt that they had been made the goat to gain publicity for her, but of course that is her life story, not mine.
Life on Ellis Island in the Deporting Division was monotonous, yet interesting. Husbands were allowed to visit wives from 3 to 5 daily, but mine was taken sick and removed to hospital and I only saw him for one hour once a week. A matron took me on my visit and to every guard we passed she said, “one to hospital” so that I was kept track of.
We of course were termed ‘warrant cases’, we had violated the immigration laws and were constantly in the charge of a guard and matron. We were counted up to bed at 6.30 at night and counted down at 6.30 in the morning. The days were passed as best we could, we had a fair amount of personal liberty being able to walk in the corridor and visit each other’s rooms. There were numerous social workers who tried to befriend all, to welcome the coming/speed the parting guest. I mention them with grateful remembrance of many kindly words and actions they tried to make us forget the bars at the windows. There was a kindergarten for the children and there were many happy hours even on Ellis Island – a concert Tuesday night, pictures Friday.
We went on the lawn for one hour’s fresh air daily, but I seldom got much as I had to take my family out in batches, drop one lot at the foot of the stairs and rush back for the next. I couldn’t have them ready waiting as we never knew when we were to go out in case we arranged an escape.
I shared a day room with four more, and merry tales they told, we were English speaking together. Where is she now, the lady who had jumped the border from Canada five times and deported each time? Or the little girl who used to Charleston to us? Or the Syrian maid who came to my bedroom one night in a white robe and towel turbanned head, fresh from a bath, all her garments washed out, wanting to spread them on the bed-ends in my room to dry during the night?
Where is she now, the lady who had jumped the border from Canada five times and deported each time?
I wonder how the sad little Italian woman is faring. She came in without a passport and had since married an American citizen and was just most in need of a husband’s care and her own home, but back to Italy she went alone and must remain there a year and a day before she can return and her husband claim her in the country.
Seven weeks in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, even that comes to end and once more we were on board a train making for across the border – going out the way we came in. A guard and matron took us, not in uniform of course. Once more we travelled at night and when dawn came our eyes fell on Canadian soil and we saw the dear old Union Jack, we were aliens no longer, but not yet free. We were locked in a stateroom on our liner at Montreal till the boat sailed and then we were free, free to have the children running in the sunshine and get back health and after all that had passed, content to be sailing toward the Old Country once more.
England looked lovely in June and yet perhaps once more we may want to leave her, but rest assured it will never again be non-quota.
- To read Alice’s story from the beginning, click here.