“When the War was over,” she resumed her story, “that woman went back to doing whatever it was she did in peacetime. But a few years later, when they stopping allowing immigrants to come into America, she had another good idea. She decided that she knew a way to bring over young men and women. She would arrange it so that they could present themselves at the American Consulate in Lisbon as Americans and thereby escape the immigration laws. These men and women would be taught to assume new names, the names written on the American passports she finagled for them. And in that way she got them to the United States. A few of them kept right on with the new names, but for the most part these new Americans were too well-known to those immigrants who had come before them to stick to the names on their passports. Besides, some of them went by nicknames anyway. So they never used their assumed names. That was the way it was with me and Lucinda.
“She was able to do all this, and she did it for a long time, maybe three or four years. My father-your grandfather-was living in the United States by himself just about the time she was sneaking people into the country. He heard about it. People weren’t supposed to talk about it, but it was an open secret. He never forgot it, and when, later, he was back in Vila Ruiva da Serra, this time for good, and he took a hard look at what his daughters were facing by way of a future, he remembered this woman who worked miracles for others. Why not for him, too, or at least for his daughters. It was not yet time to think about the youngest one, but he had two nearly grown daughters and their prospects, as far as he could tell, were so bad he had to do something for them. Naturally his thoughts ran to the woman in America who could arrange it so that they wouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives in that God forsaken village. Things those days were awful, really bad, and they were not much better in the rest of the country. Thank God his son was already in America. Maybe he could get that woman to agree to work on his daughters’ behalf. Maybe. ‘Please take them out of this miserable place,’ he begged the woman. He had sought her out immediately when he heard that she was visiting relatives in Melo. ‘I want them to go to America. When they get there they can live with their brother. You know him. He’s your friend Grace’s brother-in-law. We’re practically family, you see. Aren’t we? You’d be doing something for the family, and you’d be doing it-charity-for these girls, for me and my wife-in the sacred memory of your father and mother.’ Fortunately, he told her, he could also scrape up the money to get his daughters to Lisbon, right to the ship. The passage-money itself, he assured her, would come on a loan from his son, your uncle-Tio Temudo.
“In time we received ‘our’ passports. They were issued in names different from ours, of course, and they showed birth dates that were not ours either. It all went well. In less than a year, Lucinda and I were here, in America, living with your uncle and working in the Tamarack mills. The Tamarack closed down a long time ago, but when we started working there it was full of people like us, people of all nationalities. Hundreds, maybe thousands. That’s where I met your father. He was a strong man, handsome, serious, healthy. He was older than I was, more mature. He had lost his wife many years earlier. She was only nineteen when she died, and she left him with a small son to raise by himself. The boy wasn’t three years old. She died of something called a milk leg. For the next ten years he raised his son alone. Your father was thirteen or fourteen years older than I. We got married, and a couple of years later you came along. It was right after that it happened. Somebody turned me in to the Feds-me and your Aunt Lucinda. But before they could come for us, we got a tip they knew everything, that we were here illegally, and so on. Your aunt immediately skipped the country. She made a beeline right to Vila Ruiva da Serra, vowing she’d never leave home again no matter what. As far as she was concerned, she had never set foot in America. But what could I do, married and with a brand-new baby? Your father and I talked about it. We agonized. Finally, it was decided that I had to turn myself in to the immigration officials. Good thing we did. They treated us fairly, your father and me. We were told that I had to leave the country for at least a year, and that if I did so I would then be allowed to come back-legally this time-as your father’s wife and as the mother of an American child. They suggested that I go to Mexico or Canada, because they were the foreign countries closest to America. But your father decided against them. Rather than Mexico or Canada, we should go home. ‘After all,’ he explained, ‘ you can stay mainly with your family, and part of the time you can stay with my family, my father and mother, my brother and his wife. They can all get to know you. On both sides of the family, they’ll have an opportunity to see the baby. That way time will go faster for you, and knowing you are safe with my family and your family, it will go faster for me, too.’
“And that’s what happened. The sea voyage, though, was very long and the weather was bad. It was very crowded below deck. I thought we’d never get there.” She hesitated, and then said, “I just remembered something funny. When we finally arrived in Lisbon-no, I mean Providence-and were told to line up to prepare for disembarking, we ended up way back in the line, an endless line that didn’t seem to be moving at all. I was carrying you in my arms, of course, and you were getting heavier by the minute. But you were being good, just looking around, quietly, at everything in sight. You were perfectly happy, minding your business, until, that is, I pinched you-hard-and you began to bawl, first, and then to scream at the top of your lungs. It got everybody’s attention, of course, and we were promptly called up to the front of the line. They went through my papers as quickly as they could. In two minutes we were out of there and on our way down the gangplank. You weren’t much of a crier usually, but you were still sobbing when we set foot on the dock, where your father was waiting, smoking a cigarette-which didn’t bother me a bit.”
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil– Sao Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot.