Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Harbor memories

Periodically the city invites people who volunteer a lot to attend special events. A friend who has done heroic work in the parks was invited on a Circle Line cruise, and invited me as her guest last night. It was a low-key and extremely wonderful event. And one of my favorite ladies in the world was there:

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As the boat passed Ellis Island, I related to my friend the story of Snuggler's four-year old passion for immigration. Some kids are fascinated with dinosaurs, and others with princesses: my girl just loved immigration. We borrowed dozens of picture books from the library -- When Jessie Came Across the Sea, The Memory Coat, Grandfather's Journey, The Keeping Quilt, Long Way to a New Land -- and rode the Staten Island Ferry past Ellis Island many times. We visited the Tenement Museum, and read All of a Kind Family aloud. (We finally made the trek to Ellis Island when Snuggler was six.)

Then for her seventh birthday, Snuggler announced she wanted an immigration-themed party. Right. No prob. (What?!?) I figured it out. When the guests arrived they each were given a cardboard cut-out of a suitcase, which they got to "pack" by cutting out pictures of clothes and household goods from magazines. Then they all crammed onto the boat (the sofa), and I narrated us across the choppy sea. When we arrived at Ellis Island, they each had to go through the process of getting approved: mental and physical checks, questions, etc.

Then the doorbell rang, and lo and behold there was an Irish immigrant selling potatoes! She came in and talked to the girls in a thick brogue for half an hour about her family (who'd just gotten off the boat last week), and how her four brothers were looking for work, and how her mother was a wee bit sick. She told how scared she was at Ellis Island, and how crowded her tenement was. The guests were enchanted. And after "Mara" left, we had cake and opened gifts. The party favor was, of course, a copy of If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island.

Several months later Snuggler told me, "At first I couldn't figure out how Mara came to our house. Then I realized that probably she was just going around to all the little-girl immigrant-theme birthday parties!" Yes, of course -- that's it!

It's the only time I ever hired entertainment for a birthday party. But it was worth it.

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When you take the boat out to the Statue of Liberty or to Ellis Island, you stand in a long line. Eventually, when you reach the front, you go through a metal detector. The day we went, I beeped. I'd forgotten about the pocket knife in my backpack, which in those days I kept for cutting up apples, slicing cheese for crackers, etc.

I asked the National Parks Service person if there was somewhere I could store the pocketknife until we returned. She said, "You could go hide it in Battery Park!"

Right. Because it's safer to keep knives in public parks than to bring them on the boat.

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