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Sweet Land of Liberty

Fri, Jun. 29, 2012 Posted: 09:31 AM


I keep a photo of my family’s old wheat ranch near my desk. It reminds me of the hot summers of my childhood, but this story really began in the early 1800’s.

My German ancestors left their farming community in the aftermath of a war-torn native country. Poverty stricken except for their farming implements, they sailed across the Baltic Sea to the rich, fertile Volga River valley in Russia. Unfortunately the colder climate led to years of crop failures. Besides hunger and disease they faced bands of marauders who robbed and murdered.

But nothing could prepare them for what they faced under Bolshevik and Communist rule. My eighteen and nineteen year old great grandparents escaped with two wooden trunks and enough money to board a ship bound for America—sweet land of liberty. Horse-drawn wagons brought them West. And they began farming yet again.

As a child, I’d walk the half-mile to the graveyard that adjoins the original homestead. My grandma filled in the stories that the grave markers didn’t tell—desperate hardships, childhood diseases and accidents that took family members much too soon. I heard about their food shortages, crop failures, and how they helped one another through hard times.

When my grandpa was four his father died suddenly. Neighbors planted & harvested the family’s land until my grandpa was 13 and took over the ranch with the help of his younger brother. He never had the chance to finish school, but he was the wisest man I knew in my young life.

I remember the times when my grandpa would work from dawn until noon cutting his wheat and then harvest a sick neighbor’s crop until it was dark. Day after day he’d do this---taking a chance that bad weather might ruin his wheat—but knowing his neighbor needed his crop worse. That’s just the way people were.

I realize I’ve lost something they had—a respect for the America that made my life here possible. I’ve forgotten about our nation’s immigrant heritage and all of those who came seeking freedom and opportunity. I should be forever thankful to America. The story didn’t end well for the others who never made it out of Russia.

Celebrating Independence Day reminds me of my ancestors whose tombstones are in a small little cemetery near their hard-worked land. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the American immigration policy and the freedom it offered. Thank you America for opening your doors to my family.

Karen Farris