Thankful that Grandfather followed the beacon of hope



My grandfather immigrated to America in 1896. He was only eight years old at the time. He left behind a small, rural village in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe. There, he shepherded goats to high mountain pastures. He traveled countless miles by land to reach the port of Bremen, Germany. He crossed a stormy Atlantic Ocean by steamship to reach Ellis Island. He spoke no English. He had no appreciable skills of value. He had little more than the clothes upon his back to see him through. What few possessions he and his family shared were sold to cover the expense of their package. But they sacrificed willingly. They sacrificed because America was a beacon of hope; a land that promised freedom from oppression, respect for human dignity, justice.

My grandfather settled here in Youngstown. His birth name was Mikhail. His neighbors called him “Mike.” He learned to speak English, and became a U.S. citizen. As a young man, he served his country in the United States Army. When he left the service, he married my grandmother, and raised a family of eight children.

To be sure, my grandfather faced many challenges in his new life. He worked long and hard hours. He became a butcher, and then a steelworker. Like everyone else, he struggled through unemployment during the Great Depression. When he found work again, he labored in the fiery heat, noise, and danger of the local steel mills. Year after year, he endured. He learned by doing and became a master mechanic. He found self-respect and pride in his accomplishments. He taught his children to do their best as well.

A second call

When World War II began to ravage Europe, his sons answered freedom’s call. One son fought and struggled to survive in the bitter cold and death that was the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. A second son died from wounds received in combat in Germany. In his lifetime, my grandfather learned all too well the price of freedom. But he loved his country, regardless of his hardships. And, each Sunday morning he dressed in his best suit, walked to Holy Name Catholic Church, and knelt in thankful prayer for all that he had been given.

If I ever have the opportunity, I’d like someday to journey to that small mountain village where my grandfather was born. I’d like to walk the high pastures where he roamed as a young shepherd boy so many years ago. In the setting sun, I’d like to gaze upon the horizon as he did, and yearn for a far away land that valued — above all else — the principles of freedom, respect for human dignity, justice. Perhaps in my grandfather’s footsteps I’d be able to glimpse the America that served as a beacon of hope for the world. For, in recent years, the America of my grandfather has begun to fade away. It is almost as if our nation has forgotten those very ideals that made us the envy of the world. It is almost as if such ideals no longer matter. But they mattered once to a young shepherd boy and his family. And, they mattered once to two American sons who fought in a World War to keep those principles alive.

It is not too late for us to return to our roots, is it? We can still remember what America should represent, can’t we? We have kept room in our hearts to appreciate the sacrifices of those who came before us so that we might live a better life, haven’t we? After all, Thanksgiving is here. And just perhaps, like my grandfather before me, we would do well to kneel in quiet prayer and humility, and give thanks for all of our blessings.

X David Bobovnyik is a Youngstown lawyer who writes from time to time about family and friends, especially around the holidays.