Fifty years is a long time to love a woman, Abe admitted as he leaned out his window and breathed in the fresh spring air. A lot can happen in that time to cool a man’s passion and make him look for something new. But his love, although changed and matured through the seasons of his life, had remained as strong as the day it began a half-century ago.
He had been young then, only thirteen and “fresh off the boat” as they call new immigrants today. His uncle Herman had sent for Abe and his widowed mother when the trouble began in Europe, promising to provide a home and work for them in New York. But illness on the journey had taken his mother’s life and left Abe delirious with fever as the ship steamed into New York harbor.
His uncle, grieving for his sister, signed for Abe, took him as his own and nursed him back to health. Abe was heartbroken over his mother’s death and desperately lonely, but he worked hard in his uncle’s butcher shop—grateful for the kindness—but never smiled and rarely spoke.
“You need to get out and have some fun,” his uncle said one day, urging him to take the day off to see the city.
Reluctantly, Abe left the shop, a few of his uncle’s coins jingling in his pocket, and wandered the streets of Manhattan. The fresh air lifted his spirits, and the ocean breeze made him hungry. He bought a hot dog and took a boat ride.
Gradually, he began to notice the people around him. He found them to be a mixture of nationalities, and he felt less alone.
Then he saw her, and from the first moment, he loved her. She was beautiful and in his boyish eyes; she was a real lady. She drew him like a magnet, and he did not resist. He spent the afternoon shyly getting to know her and went home determined to see her as often as he could.
At first, she was like a mother to him. He told her about his loneliness, his fears, his hopes, and his ambitions. She listened and didn’t laugh at his wild dreams. Her example encouraged him to follow them and to reach for the sky if he could. Hope replaced his loneliness, and he began to smile. Uncle Herman noticed and was pleased.
At sixteen, he began to see “his lady” through different eyes. Although he loved her the same, he no longer needed her mothering. With new confidence and hope, he kept an eye on her from a distance.
A war exploded in Europe, and she bade farewell and inspired boatloads of soldiers bound for the battlefield. He wished he could go too, if only to receive that special attention from her.
From his uncle, Abe learned she too was an immigrant and had come from Europe. The knowledge of her heritage only deepened his love for her. He went to the library and learned a sentence in her language, practicing it until he knew it perfectly. Then one day he approached her closely and whispered, “Je t’aime. I love you.” She did not blush, but Abe remembered he had.
At twenty, his ungainliness was gone, and he began to muscle out. His uncle introduced him to Anna, the daughter of one of his best customers. Before long, the butcher and the customer made arrangements, and Abe and Anna were married. He was very fond of Anna and even came to love her. She was sweet and gentle and made him happy. She even understood about his lady whom he saw weekly.
“I think you love her more than you do me,” Anna teased one day.
Abe took her into his arms for a reassuring hug, but he did not deny it. His lady had been his first love and held a special place in his heart.
Four daughters and a son came into his life and he introduced each one to his lady. They all seemed awed by her fame and importance and quickly grew to love her, too.
Abe’s memories of the past were interrupted when a wildly painted pink sedan screeched to a stop below his window, its radio blasting metallic music into the quiet neighborhood. Nicolai, the boy who lived across the street, jumped out of the car and waved goodbye to his friends.
“Cut out that noise!” Rosella yelled from her window two houses down. “Nikki, those are no good friends for you. I tell-a you mama!”
Nicolai reminded Abe of his own son Ramie, back in the 60s when the country was in a state of turmoil and dissatisfaction. Ramie, along with other boys his age, burned his draft card and disgraced the flag. In pain and frustration, Abe ran to his lady for comfort. She was having a hard time then, too, and Abe remembered how dejected and tired she looked. They mourned together for their anguished and bitter young people.
But that was twenty years ago, and Ramie had made a full turnabout. Now Ramie’s car bore the bumper sticker: “America! Love it or Leave it!”
His lady was better, too. She had a new lease on life. As time passed, she was being loved again, honored again, given the place of recognition Abe knew she so well deserved. He had supported her with everything he had, as she had done for him. He was happy for her. Her success was his success.
Abe felt a warm tear trickle down his cheek and fall onto his arm.
“Grandpa, are you happy-crying again?” his little granddaughter asked as she came up beside him. “Are you thinking about your lady?”
“Yes, Rosie, I’m thinking about her.”
“My teacher says she’s having a birthday soon and there will be a big party. Are you going to the party, Grandpa? Will you give her a present?”
“Yes, Honey, I’ve got a gift for her, something she’s always wanted. He thought of a refugee family from his native country that he was now able to sponsor. Their arrival time was planned carefully. They were to be his gift to his lady. He could remember her exact words when he asked what she wanted.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated 136 years ago, on October 28, 1886. Conceived by politician Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, designed by sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi, and built by architect Gustave Eiffel, Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift to the United States from the people of France.
Jackie Houchin is a retired journalist. She covered a variety of events, wrote interviews, and covered a few investigative stories for three newspapers in Los Angeles. She is a book reviewer and currently writes for three blogs. She wrote a 12 part series stories for children about missionary life in Africa, and received honorable mention in a Short Story Contest for “Autumn Gold.” She’s had some poetry published as well.