The small assisted-living room in Royal Oak, Michigan held the few belongings my Uncle had chosen to surround himself with during his final years…and perhaps now, his final days. As I waited for him to return from lunch in the cafeteria, I studied the faded photographs carefully placed about the room. They were a visual testament to the viability of the ‘American Dream’ in the early 20th Century.
One stood out in particular. On his dresser was a print taken from his mother's passport issued in Hamrun, Malta on September 26, 1925. Mary Abel stood proudly with her hand resting on the shoulder of her five-year-old son, Joseph, prior to their treacherous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean together. How could she know then how much responsibility would eventually fall upon his slender shoulders.
From the dresser, my attention was drawn to a shelving unit sitting opposite a well-worn corduroy chair. Normally where a television would sit, the shelves held a special collection of objects that had earned their place amongst the treasures of his life. I could imagine him sitting there for hours on end reflecting upon them, reminders of a life well lived, but not a life without its share of pain and suffering, I knew. I studied the mementos one by one, trying to piece together the man I had known only from snapshots in time at annual Christmas parties as a girl and later at weddings, family reunions and funerals. Suddenly, I felt compelled to know the story behind each and every one of them.
Little did I know at the time that this journey into the past would also determine my future.