In 1944 my parents fled communist occupation in Estonia with the clothes on their back and escaped to displaced person camps in Germany. This is where my sister and I were born and lived until we became proud Americans. The First Presbyterian Church in Burbank, California, sponsored us in 1951. After a long and arduous journey on an Army transport ship, the SS Ballou, we arrived in New York Harbor on Christmas Eve. We were at sea for 4 days longer than anticipated because of severe storms. The entire ship was sick, food was scarce and adding to the chaos men and women were segregated. My poor mother had to care for a 4 ½ and 5 ½ year old by herself. Fortunately we had it a little easier because my dad offered to translate for the ship’s doctor. It came in very handy that he spoke five languages. The SS Ballou was one of a handful of ships ever allowed to bypass Ellis Island due to the dire circumstances onboard. The church had booked our train through Kentucky to visit my mother’s two sisters for a couple of days. We continued our adventure and arrived in Los Angeles on a bright, sunny New Year’s morning in 1952 and were driven “home”. Even at that age I remember being overwhelmed. There was furniture in the house and food in the cupboards. Displaced (refugee) camps were crowded. Much of the time we shared one room with another family with nothing but a sheet separating the areas. Food was rationed and my mom never knew where our next meal was coming from. My brother was in his early teens at that time. Teenage boys are always hungry but he always made sure his little sisters ate first.
Life was so uncertain during the years in the camps. At one point we were to immigrate to Australia and my dad somehow managed to get us to Italy to board the ship. We were denied boarding at the last minute because the German government forgot to process some papers. My dad took any jobs he could to get us back to Germany where he landed a very low level job at an Army Base working with the Lutheran World Federation. Shortly after that First Presbyterian found us and indelibly changed our futures.
For that we will be eternally grateful! We grew up thanking the Lord and America every single day for the life we were eventually blessed with. My younger sister and I remember parts but not as clearly as my brother who is nine years older than I am. People tend to retain only the good memories. What I remember most of those days is the unconditional love of my family. My growing up proves the old adage that money is not everything.
My dad had two college degrees but the only job he could initially find was that of a janitor. Having a family to feed he knew he must go to work immediately. No such thing as waiting for the perfect job and the perfect salary. Through my dad’s conservative fiscal management he saved enough money for a down payment on a house. He knew that was the ultimate American dream. We grew up learning that you simply don’t buy anything unless you can pay for it! My dad spent the remainder of his life managing several credit unions while teaching us to manage money.
My parents have gone to be with the Lord but I am still living the American dream. I often sense my dad looking down with great pride. He was always current on events both in the United States and worldwide. He loved to talk politics but of course none of us was interested. How I reflect on the wonderful conversations we could have had and the sage advice he would have provided. I believe my background and upbringing gives me a very unique perspective.
When we moved from California we searched the area. We looked everywhere in the metroplex but kept coming back to Euless. It took retirement for me to discover my true passion and that is to serve the citizens of Euless. I am very proud of what we have accomplished. It just proves that when citizens, city staff and the Council work together good things happen. And…it doesn’t take going into debt or raising taxes!