Contest #177 shortlist ⭐️

56 comments

Adventure Drama Funny

There’s no sweeter sound in the world than your name.


Until it doesn’t work for you.   I started as Sean Murphy but ended up as Albert Schweissfuss . This is my tale of an immigrant’s life. 


=====


……”There’s no future here for a young lad” 


Ma stated the obvious. I was fourteen, full of romantic ideas of a successful future. Ours was just another family cursed with extreme poverty. She couldn’t afford to show any pity, she had to encourage me to leave home, though her heart must have been breaking.


………” You have to go, son. Find a better life”.


It started with rain, even more than usual. The west of Ireland was devastated, the potato blight was now in its second year. Almost overnight a dense blue fog blanketed the puddled potato fields. 


A sickening odor forecasting death and destruction penetrated every window and door. Nothing escaped its vile reach. When the wind and rain ceased the eerie stillness was worse. The crop was ruined and destroyed by the fungus.   


One million died and two million emigrated. 


England sent some Indian corn and maize, but it was poorly ground causing painful digestive problems.  Too weak to man the boats and haul heavy nets of fish, thousands gave up and perished. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.  I knew there was a better way.



Walking out the door to hitch a ride when possible and walking to Belfast gave me a purpose.


=====


Several attempts to be hired legally as a cabin boy in Belfast aboard ships bound for the new world failed. Watching the line of emigrants, desperate, close to tears, a couple with three kids about to board looked quickly at me, seemed to grasp my situation. I can’t understand to this day how they appeared at that moment. Nodding meaningfully, the father shepherded me into the midst of the kids to avoid detection and I boarded looking like part of the group. They were second class passengers and once aboard, I snuck into steerage. Before we parted, the mother hugged me whispering quietly,


……”God be with you, son”


Although hungry, cold and filthy, I did survive that long sea journey. The exhilaration of being among throngs of people talking of a new start in a magical new land with floating elevators and exotic animals, I felt welcomed with the warmth of a family’s embrace.



Bawdy jokes, vulgar ditties leaving some in tears of laughter. and always afterwards the rosary. A few even fancied themselves as talented singers. We’d suffer Danny Boy or Galway Bay until someone yelled: 


…….” Ah, shut yer friggin mouth, Paddy. Yer a pain in me arse.”



Mary Ann Rafferty told the same ghost story over and over. 


…….”Fr. Ambrose, a lovely young priest was walking on a lonely road, at dusk…


…….” ooh at dusk,” we’d all repeat.


……..when there appeared a terrible old hag, oh she was filthy with a big crooked nose and a loose manner. She tempted this young beautiful priest. Knowing ‘twas the divil himself he said in a loud voice:


……”.in God’s name who are ye, and what do you want? (This with a hushed tone and beatific glance upwards.)


……..”And in a flash, she was gone.”


At fifteen I was curious thinking why wouldn’t the devil have the sense to make the temptress more attractive.   


=====


The first obstacle to overcome was on landing in New York, Ellis Island. Tagged with information placing me as a child of the family that helped me as a stowaway, I passed through medical check. After a cursory look at my ID. a six-second check of eyes, and lungs and a question to determine mental alertness, with knees shaking, I heard:


……” he’s young enough, he’ll make it. Let him through.”



 After that, it was every man for himself. Determined and full of youthful exuberance, I lined up for hours until with terror I approached officials wearing uniforms. In front of a barrier, and behind that two blue painted doors marked Immigration and the other Deportation. I started praying.  


It was chaos. All I remember is shouting of strange-sounding names, someone answering with hand raised a quick signing of papers, then either deliverance or rejection through a blue-painted door. That door, the one marked Immigration, was the gateway to the world I craved, but lacked the necessary paperwork, the ID tag was insufficient.


What happened next was either a miracle or the result of overworked, careless entry officials.


……..”Schweissfuss, Albert”


Nobody responded, hesitating for a moment, his name was repeated no one answered so I raised my hand.


I entered the United States of America with a visa in a stranger’s name.  


=====


From the barge to lower Manhattan, I held my face up to the sun and breathed the air which felt clean. The shock of new sights and sounds. Seagulls, dozens and dozens making such a racket. Hard to describe what I was feeling, both anxious and radiating supreme confidence at the same time. Hearing the word freedom I wasn’t sure what it meant but the sunshine on my face and the birds flying overhead I thought it must mean heaven. Passing the Statue of Liberty, dozens of adults cried holding their hands to the sky.   


=====


Washing dishes in a cafeteria was my first job. It paid real money plus tasty food. Reuniting with the family who first befriended me, I paid a few cents rent to share their two-roomed apartment. They were glad of the extra money, and I had nowhere else. It worked fine.  


Meeting dozens of other immigrants, Irish, German, and Jewish. I soon learned my identification papers bearing the name Albert Schweissfuss sounded hilarious in German. It translates as Sweatfoot! The Authorities must have mangled the original name, to render it unrecognizable. I said a guilty prayer for the victim hoping things worked out for him.



Fortunately, Fr Schmidt, pastor at St. Peter’s Church, in lower Manhattan, a true friend, and a German immigrant himself, caught it early before I had to use it.


…….”I can fix this with the bishop, and a couple of bottles of altar wine next time he visits. We can change it to the middle letters only, Weiss, leaving the first name unchanged”.


And that’s how I became. Al Weiss.  


=====


Yes, that’s me. actor, writer, plumber, painter, and tailor I’m all of them. I’m probably even you, dear reader. Part of the greatest wave of human migration the world had ever seen.


I never saw my mother again, but I know she loved and was proud of me. I can imagine her saying….



…….”I knew he’d fall on his feet.”



My other Mother is the Lady standing in New York Harbor. I often stop by and chat, like I’m talking to Ma. I have to be careful I’m using new expressions like swell. Ma will notice I’m adapting and forgetting the old Irish cuss words.


I never get tired of reading:


 …Give me your tired, your poor

     Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

…..The wretched refuse

…..Your teeming shore

…..Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me

…..I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

December 20, 2022 01:22

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56 comments

Chris Campbell
04:11 Dec 21, 2022

Mary, I think this is your best piece yet. It reads like the opening chapter of a book. I would certainly like to hear more of Al Weiss's journey. Absolutely hilarious how he ended up with that name. My family are all Irish (I'm first conceived and born on English soil), and without going overboard, you have written the Irish nuances extremely well. Being a Tenor myself, I laughed at the Danny Boy comment. I loved the line, "At fifteen I was a bit curious thinking why wouldn’t the devil have the sense to make himself a bit more attractive." ...

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Mary Lehnert
04:21 Dec 21, 2022

Wow that was a good comment, Chris. Also your implied compliment that I could tackle a book. So happy to hear you think it’s my best yet. I’m trying to find my core and then maybe able to express it . If you know what I mean.

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Chris Campbell
04:26 Dec 21, 2022

Yep, I do know what you mean. This is such a great training environment. After one year on Reedsy, I think I finally have the setting for my novel, and I'm leaning towards a comedic friendship of two bungling burglars during the height of the London Blitz. Reading Ben Kane's historical fiction books about the Romans has pointed the way for me to tackle historical fiction.

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Mary Lehnert
04:34 Dec 21, 2022

I’ll be first in line to buy it

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Chris Campbell
04:55 Dec 21, 2022

Thank you.

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Jan 13, 2023

This was a fun read :) As others have pointed out, it definitely feels like the beginning of a bigger story, especially considering the careers Al lists off. Considering how dour and miserable the background to this is, with the poverty and famine, the story itself is very bright and hopeful, and very much feels like a youthful adventure. Al's a cheery protagonist and easy to root for. I am left wondering what happened with the guy who's identity he assumed. Given they botched his name, perhaps he made it in too. "cursed with extreme pov...

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Mary Lehnert
21:47 Jan 13, 2023

Oh Michal, ‘tis with extreme modesty(ahem) I would mention the sequel and next chapter in the saga. Schweissfuss Revisited and Schweissfuss Rebuffed. I even hope one day to produce a book. One fan(?) has already suggested it would make “not high brow but not quite dime store level”. Love the camaraderie on Reedsy. There’s a story somewhere from all the comments.

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Philip Ebuluofor
09:18 Jan 08, 2023

Interesting work for sure. Congrats.

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Mary Lehnert
15:37 Jan 08, 2023

Thank you for reading, Philip. I looked at your stories and understand why Schweissfuss would interest you. Injecting humor into depressing stories is a good way to sugar coat the message . You do this very well.

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Story Time
18:02 Jan 04, 2023

I've loved your other pieces, Mary, but this one is really special. I feel like it's the beginning of a much larger story, but I was happy to dip into the world for a bit.

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Mary Lehnert
19:39 Jan 04, 2023

From you, Kevin. Keep talking. I’m really listening. Thank you so much. Mary

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Shirley Medhurst
17:01 Jan 04, 2023

I like the way you join this & the « revisited » story together. I think this one definitely deserved the Shortlist !

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Shirley Medhurst
16:51 Jan 04, 2023

Hi Mary, this is the 1st story of yours that I’ve read…. Absolutely loved it 😍! I agree with the above comment that you really do have the makings of a novel here, you have so much to play with. Your writing style really drew me in. Well done! Am off to read some more of your work now…

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Mary Lehnert
19:50 Jan 04, 2023

Shirley hi Just had a very enjoyable time reading your stories too. We share a few things London. Australia and a love of the Bard. The problem now us how do I top Schweissfuss. You are not making my life easy. That is a remarkable place to be in with your comments along with so many other excellent Reedsyers. Thank you so very much. Mary

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Chad Eastwood
06:57 Jan 04, 2023

This was a really good story. I really felt for the guy. Nicely done.

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Amanda Lieser
03:27 Jan 04, 2023

Hi Mary, Oh my gosh! This was a beautiful tale. I loved the incredibly imagery and the way that we got to walk this journey with this character. I was enchanted by the way you created these characters and found a way for us to be so attached to them. That hook in the beginning of was superb. Nice job!

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Mary Lehnert
03:30 Jan 04, 2023

One of the great things about Reedsy , Amanda, is first the publishing and then the joy of having someone read it, enjoy it and post it. Thankyou so very much. Mary

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Stevie Burges
15:45 Jan 03, 2023

Lovely story, Mary. Congratulations on being short listed. Well done.

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Mary Lehnert
15:52 Jan 03, 2023

It never gets old, Stevie Thankyou so much for reading and commenting. Now how to top it is the question. Hah

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Stevie Burges
15:58 Jan 03, 2023

Just keep writing. Every time I write something that I think is good I panic that this will be my best - and every time I am wrong. Keep writing - you clearly are good at it.

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Suma Jayachandar
13:51 Dec 31, 2022

What a deeply affecting story swaddled in humour! This story deserved recognition. Congratulations!

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Mary Lehnert
14:24 Dec 31, 2022

What a wonderful compliment. . Thankyou Suma

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Chris Campbell
01:08 Dec 31, 2022

Mary, congrats on being shortlisted. Great story.

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Mary Lehnert
01:23 Dec 31, 2022

Thank you so much. Chris

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Wendy Kaminski
19:51 Dec 30, 2022

I love so much that this shortlisted! Congratulations, Mary!! 💕

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Laurel Hanson
19:45 Dec 30, 2022

I love this: "My other Mother is the Lady standing in New York Harbor. I often stop by and chat, like I’m talking to Ma." She's the first thing I saw of America from the deck of a ship, classic memory there, and she is very powerful.

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Mary Lehnert
19:50 Dec 30, 2022

How nice of you Laurel. Congrats on the win. Yes anyone who went through the emotional wringer of immigration understands . I am shocked by how this story resonated with so many. Thankyou

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AnneMarie Miles
16:21 Dec 30, 2022

Yes! Congratulations Mary! You really deserve it for this one. Awesome job. 🎉

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Delbert Griffith
15:45 Dec 30, 2022

Congrats on being shortlisted. This story certainly deserves the recognition, my friend!

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Mary Lehnert
19:17 Dec 30, 2022

So nice to be appreciated Delbert. It never gets old. And, your encouragement. Mary

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Liv Chocolate
10:10 Dec 30, 2022

What a delicate beautiful writing style you have

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Mary Lehnert
14:21 Dec 30, 2022

With a name like Chocolate what else could you be? What a nice compliment. Thankyou Liv

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Tommy Goround
09:24 Dec 30, 2022

You made it to Friday. Your story is fun. Drum roll.... Good luck.

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Mary Lehnert
14:47 Dec 30, 2022

Tommy , Reedsy is not about winning or losing but the camaraderie. which is so delightful as your comment is. Thankyou

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Wally Schmidt
16:10 Dec 29, 2022

The consensus here is that this is the start of a longer story and I couldn't agree more. But first let's talk about how delightful this one was. I found myself reading the dialogue with an Irish brogue, which is really a testament to how well it is written and how believable the characters are. I loved the little details, the favorite one was of him reading the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It is difficult to fathom what a difficult journey immigration is even today, but what is true is that each immrigrant has their ow...

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Raey Kubiak
19:38 Dec 27, 2022

Really touching. A beautiful quest. Well done.

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22:26 Dec 26, 2022

It was so beautiful story. I am really impressed Mary!

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Mary Lehnert
23:02 Dec 26, 2022

You are so welcome and may I offer my very best wishes to you for this wonderful season. Mary

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