Streets of Gold

December 27, 2012
Streets of Gold

April 1935

America. The land of opportunity. The streets of gold. He had made it there. Only to find it was all lies.

Giuseppe Bosellini, or Joseph Bosellini as the Ellis Island immigrations office had so unceremoniously named him, had made it to America. He had made enough money to cross the ocean. He suffered through the long weeks on the boat. He was accepted by the immigration office, hopeful at the sight of the enormous green lady. She was grand. She was the America of his dreams. He saw the writing she held, and desperately wanted to know what she had to say. He asked half the passengers leaving the boat if they spoke English before he found one who could read the words to him. He was told that the lady wanted “the tired, the poor”. He was tired. He was poor. This country wanted him.

For the first few weeks, he slept wherever he could. Alleys, parking lots, other people’s back yards. Finding work was difficult. This wasn’t what America was supposed to be. After a long while, he found a job. It was a small job in a big factory. Every day Guiseppe got up at six-thirty, arrived at work by eight, and was home thirteen hours later. He spent those thirteen hours toiling away at his machine. The machine was fast, cold, and unfeeling. The work that the machine put him and his fellow workers through was enough to kill anyone. But he couldn’t complain. He felt deep inside him that somehow this country would change his life for the better.

Even though he had a job, he had yet to find a house. Truthfully, he was not sure he could ever afford one. One night, while it was raining hard, he found a garage to sleep in. It was dark and damp, but it was better accommodations then he usually had. He had been sleeping for several hours when a noise woke him. Someone had come into the garage. Frantic at the thought that the owner of the garage would find him, Guiseppe squeezed himself into the small space beneath the car. He managed to look out from under the car and saw a beautiful olive-skinned woman about his age in tattered clothes. She couldn’t be the owner of this car. She must be a homeless immigrant like him. He came out from under the car, knowing he was safe. The woman fled at the sight of him. Not wanting to rob a fellow immigrant of a place to spend the night, he went after her. After explaining the circumstances, he brought her back to the garage. The two spent the night talking to each other. They were both tired, but they both wanted to know more about each other: he about the lovely olive-skinned woman he scared away, and she about the stranger kind enough to bring her back. After that night, they continued to see each other. Guiseppe got to know more about this beautiful girl. Her name was Lucia. She was a few years younger than him, lively and king, and had a spirit of patience and wisdom that far exceeded his own. And her eyes. She had the most radiant set of dark hazel eyes that the good Lord ever put on this earth.

When they got married, he was twenty-one and she was eighteen. Neither of them had any family in this country, so the only wedding reception they had was the post cards they sent to their parents, aunts, uncles, and many siblings telling them the good news. The postage cost them two weeks pay.

As he worked his thirteen hour days at the factory, she worked just as long for the seamstress at the corner store. Every night they’d walk home together to their small apartment on the ninth floor of a decaying apartment building. It was crowded and creeky, and twelve blocks from their places of work, but it was all they could afford. When they got home, they’d talk about their days. Life had become nearly as fast, cold and unfeeling as the machine he worked every day. As monotonous as life had become for them, each of them would always think of one or two moments of their day that would interest the other or put a smile on their face. Sometimes they’d laugh. Sometimes they’d cry. They didn’t cry because they wanted to complain. No, they solemnly took whatever life threw at them. They cried because sometimes there was nothing else they could do, nothing to help cope with the pain, the monotony. Nothing to make life easier. Nothing to combat the lack of hope for something better.

What they did have was their love and Guiseppe’s music. Guiseppe played the harmonica. Boy, did he play the harmonica. Hearing him play the harmonica was the closest anyone got to hearing the angels sing. Sure, he didn’t get to play it as often as he wanted, but when he did play, all the problems they faced were lifted from their shoulders, and everything in the world was right.

They had been married for over a year when Lucia became pregnant. As overjoyed as they were at the prospect of having a child, Lucia’s pregnancy was not an easy time. Each morning, Lucia had to go to work, helpful and obedient, trying not to let her condition get in the way. If she did, the seamstress would certainly fire her. With masses reaching Ellis Island daily, it would be all too easy for her boss to find another girl. During the entire nine months Lucia was pregnant, she was only absent from work the day she gave birth.

They had a daughter named Lina. She had her mother’s eyes and beauty, and by the way she kicked, her father’s strength. And as much as her parents loved her, they knew she meant even more sacrifice in their already harsh lives. Guiseppe worked longer hours and Lucia had no choice but to work fewer. They had to get a smaller apartment, one six blocks furthr from where they worked. But it didn’t matter. They loved their daughter.

After Lina was born, something happened to Lucia. At first, it was j7ust some mild coughing. Slowly the coughing grew louder and Lucia grew weaker. Those dark hazel eyes began to fade. Soon Guiseppe had to leave work to care for her, and the family lived on what little money they saved. Lucia’s passing seemed more and more imminent. Her illness reached the point where her faint breathing was the only thing that assured her husband that she was alive.

Lucia had been suffering for some months when the hour of her death seemed at hand. There was nothing Guiseppe could do. He just sat by her bedside and held her hand, waiting and weeping. He stayed there for several hours when something happened. Her breathing. It sounded almost normal. Then her eyes opened slightly, very slightly. Her eyes were weary, wearier than they had ever been, but they were open. She moved her head a bit, as if to sit up, but she was too weak. He gingerly kissed her hand. It was the frailest thing he had ever felt. Her mouth moved, trying to form words. Only one came from her, softly, barely audible. “Har-mon-ica.” He knew what she meant. He took out his harmonica and played it. He played not with his mind or with his body, but with his soul. And as Lucia faded, a smile grew over her face.

A few days later, Lucia was buried. Depression took hold of Guiseppe during the days leading up to the funeral and the days after. As painful as it was, he had to pull himself together. He was now alone in the world with a young daughter to raise.

So this was America. The land void of opportunity. The dirty streets. This was America, not the America of his dreams but of his nightmares. But he had to move n for his daughter. He had to make his way in these streets.

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