It is a natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren until she turns us into beasts — I know of no other way of judging the future but by the past.”
— Patrick Henry
I am a first-generation American. My grandfather John Skonietzki and my father, William Adamski Sr., emigrated to the United States in 1922 and 1923, respectively.
My grandfather had tried on two previous occasions to gain entry to the United States at Ellis Island. He was denied both times because he had a sty on his eye.
On his third try, after conferring with a brother who was already living in Springfield, Ill., my father came second-class and brought along my mother, who was 19 years old and the oldest of six living children. Five brothers and sisters had died young, probably as a result of not having enough food or proper medical attention.
After gaining entry and coming to Springfield, my grandfather went to work in the coal mines and my mother went to work at the St. Nick Hotel. Within a year they had saved enough money to send for the rest of the family.
My mother had dated my father in Germany, and she asked her father to send the passage money for my father. My father was also discouraged with life in Germany, and he left his mother and father, whom he would never again see alive. He did, however, return to Germany in 1952 and again in 1972 to visit his four sisters and two brothers.
My father also went to work in the coal mines. In the evenings he and my mother went to school to study English and get their citizenship. As part of their citizenship, they had to study the Constitution of the United States of America. I am sure that the First Amendment was meaningful to them. They were married the next year.
During the Depression, work was hard to find in Springfield, and my father and mother moved to Milwaukee, where my father went to work in the steel mills and on the shipping docks. From there they went to Scranton, Pa., where my father again obtained work in the coal mines. I was born in 1934 in Throop, Pa. In 1935, my family returned to Springfield and my father went to work at Allis-Chalmers. Within two years he had been made a foreman in the shipping department, and he retired from the company after 35 years.
My father didn’t march in any parades or demonstrations, but he was very proud that he was now an American. He was disciplined, had his opinions, called people by their names, and practiced friendly persuasion.
My mother told me incredible stories about the depression in Germany after World War I. For instance, in her young life she had seen oranges in her home only three times. She spoke of the daily cost of living. One day a loaf of bread would cost $1; the next day it would be $5. She said that as inflation took over, people needed wheelbarrows to carry their money to the grocery store to buy food — that is, if they had the money. She also told me the story of a young boy who tried to salvage the meat from a French horse that had died in a field. He was put before a French firing squad and executed.
Today we have politicians, ministers, and others who quote Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, and God as to what is right or wrong with our country. My parents believed in this country, God, and family. (Fittingly, they both were born on the July 4, 1904.) Like my parents, I am proud to be an American; I like parades, and I march in them.
Times change, but history remains. Abraham Lincoln had a difficult decision to make with regard to our country; we went to war to preserve the Union. It was a most controversial and painful decision but the right one.
I believe that if we as people in 2005 believed as Lincoln did, things would be right for our country, God, family, and the world. There were debates and negotiations in Lincoln’s time, as there are today. I believe that when trust is lacking, meaningful negotiations are difficult to achieve. Also, truth, as a relative of trust, needs to be verifiable. And, last, a little friendly persuasion and measured words might also achieve our goals.