Recently, I came into the possession of my very first family heirloom. Long story short, my mom needed to move to a new location and as a consequence she reluctantly had to offload a few more items for us to store. Since we are packrats and seem to be unable to throw anything away, we were the logical choice (that and she did not have any other options). Joan picked up the items and donated the things that my mom wanted to go to charity but with the strictest instructions not to confuse “the basket” for donations.
As it turns out “the basket”, which is pictured above, is the very basket my dad’s family used when they emigrated from Romania. They started their treacherous journey to the United States just before the Iron Curtain fell. This simple, humble, farming family, (my family) loaded all of their worldly possessions in two wicker baskets and left everything they had ever known to pursue life in the new world. My grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and dad started their trek carrying everything they would need in these two baskets. Unlike the suitcase that you no doubt have in your closet, attic, or basement, these baskets had no wheels or straps and needed to be carried everywhere from Timisoara to Detroit. My arms are tired just thinking about it.
I must confess that as a young boy, I explored every box, every nook, and every cranny in the basement of the house I grew up in on Old Mission and I never came across this basket. Until right after my dad died last year and my uncle wrote me a letter telling me about the baskets, I had no idea it existed. Even after my uncle told me the story of their travels, I still had no context, since I had never set eyes on the basket. Now, suddenly, as we are moving my mother into her new place the basket is unexpectedly in our house.
I was swept up in powerful emotions when I first saw the basket and learned from Joan that it was special. This is now one of my most prized possessions (even though we are just storing it for my mom). I ran my hand along the wicker weaving and opened it and heard the squeak of wicker rubbing against wicker. I tried to imagine me preparing for such a journey and loading everything that was important into one of these baskets. I tried to imagine the courage that it would take to take on such an endeavor. I tried to imagine them in the lower deck of a ship navigating across the Atlantic during a time when it was dangerous to be in those waters. I tried to imagine the conditions of the space they occupied barely large enough for the five of them and their two baskets with only the food that my grandmother thought to pack for a seemingly endless journey.
Even writing this now, my eyes are filled with tears imagining everything they went through to start a life in the U.S. and seek only an opportunity for a piece of the dream that thousands of others had shared. I am honored to be the custodian of such a tangible part of my family’s history and hope that I can impart the significance of this simple basket to my own children.
I remember growing up hearing stories from my friends about how their family’s ancestors were some of the early settlors in this country and have lived here for generations. I remember feeling a bit jealous that their family had such a claim to the citizenship. As I get older and wiser, I now appreciate just the opposite and am grateful and proud to be a son of an immigrant and my claim is every bit as equal as theirs. This is an amazing country, with its flaws and imperfections, and I am confident in the fact that if given the opportunity to do it all over again my grandparents would not have changed a thing.