Their Great American Dream Story by Danielle Kroll

Their Great American Dream Story by Danielle Kroll

Illustration by Danielle Kroll

Illustration by Danielle Kroll

In 1968 my Grandma moved herself and my Dad out of Poland. He was fourteen and she was thirty-seven. 

Decades earlier during WWII, my Grandma and her sisters were taken from their home and were forced into labor on a German soldier’s farm. When the war ended, her family was released from serving and they split up. Half of her sisters moved to America, one moved to Australia, and the rest–my Grandma included–went back to Poland. The borders had changed during the war and their hometown was no longer a part of Poland so they picked a new home in the small city of Legnica. 

My Grandma had my Dad when she was 20 and raised him with a little help from her family. She built a good life for them and had a decent job but Poland’s prosperity was grim in the sixties. She couldn’t imagine a happy future for my Dad there. 

They applied for relocation to America in 1966 and were finally approved in 1968. That May, they took a train to Warsaw to catch a plane to America. All their aunts, uncles and cousins rode with them to say farewell. They landed in JFK and moved to Garfield, New Jersey, a suburb of New York mainly inhabited by Polish and Italian immigrants. 

When looking for work, the only job my Grandma could find was a cook in a kitchen. A step back from the secretarial job she had in Poland, but her lack of English made her unqualified for anything more ambitious. For the first few years she struggled to find happiness in her new home. She only asked my Dad once if he wanted to move back to Poland. He said, “No way, I love it here!” And she never asked him again. 

She took night classes to learn English. In her late forties she attended college to receive an Associates degree and worked as a lab technician until her retirement at sixty-five.  

 

My Grandma’s resolve to provide the best future possible is apparent in everything she did. Her love and determination gave way to a wonderful life for my Dad. He met my mom, a Garfield-native Polish girl, while working at Dairy Queen in high school. My Mom says she is the capstone of his great American dream story. For my Grandma, I think it was her grandkids. 

Danielle Kroll, New York
Illustrator
hellodaniellekroll.com

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