By: Lucy G
United Kingdom, Grade: 7
The diary of Jessica Price
May 2nd 1932
I t was exactly two years ago that our aunt and her fiancé Jack left for America. I wonder what her life is like now. What her home is like. I shouldn’t think I’ll ever find out though. You see, I, Jessica Price, live at home in England, and I have never left the country, and I guess I’m not planning to either. I’ve lived all my life in this house, always with Timmy, Susan, and, of course, my mother and father. We live in a small estate outside the main city of London. Our house may be small, and it’s nothing to be proud of, but we’re better off than most, caught up in this depression, and at least we have a home. Many don’t, or struggle every week to pay their rent.
I’m so proud of this diary. I received it in the post, from Aunty. She sent it from America. So I do have something from the New World. It would be so wonderful to visit Aunt. But it’s a long journey across the Atlantic, and only those who plan to set up home actually make the journey. Aunty must have been so brave.
May 3rd 1932
I plan to ask my teacher for some details on America. It would be nice to know something about the world in which my Aunt lives. I want to know something about the history of this country, and some Geography, too. It seems amazing to me that there is a single country as immense as America. So many people live in it. Aunty is one of many, many millions.
Asked Miss about America. She was so happy to tell me! Her two sons sailed out there three years ago. I wonder if they have met Aunty. But no, she tells me, there isn’t any chance of that happening. There is such a large population, it is impossible. I know now that America is also going through a depression similar to ours. I suppose Aunty hasn’t been affected too badly by it, since she has money to write us letters, and why, she even bought me this leather diary! Anyone in the midst of a depression would not be able to do that. Although, she could just be lucky. We live in a nice, middle class area, she might as well.
May 4th, 1932
I played with Jilly today. She’s my friend at school, and she lives in a home very similar to mine, but she lives with only her parents.
We grew some flowers in the garden. I am skilled at gardening, since any family who has the money grows their own produce, since the shops are too expensive. Mama even sold vegetables in the local market at one point, but no one has the money to buy them any more.
My father works in London, dealing with money in the banks. Not many bankers have their jobs any more, because many banks have closed. Father thinks his job is safe though, since he works in a larger bank. I hope he’s right. Jack also works in a bank in America, but I know nothing about it, but I still assume that jack is not going to loose his job. I do feel sorry for him and Aunt though, since only a few, months after they arrived in Ellis Island (I don’t know much about it, but I think it’s a small island where people rest on their way into the country), the stock market crash took place, and they found themselves in the depression. But at least they got a few happy months, unlike us. I found all this out from Miss. She’s very nice, and we spend a good amount of time talking together about the way our families live out there.
A beggar came to the door. They’re a regular site in these streets, since they know that we have money, and that some people will give them food and drink. Mama doesn’t, since she knows that if we give to every poor person who turns up on our door, we soon will run out of money ourselves.
May 6th, 1932
We’re going to America! I can’t believe it! But here’s what happened anyway.
Father returned home late last night from work. I heard distraught voices downstairs and then mother was by my side, gently waking me.
“Come downstairs, sweetie. Something has happened and we must tell you about it. We must make a decision together, as family.”
On walking into our kitchen, I found father looking exhausted, sitting back in his chair. He sat up straight as I walked in. Mother followed with my brother and sister. Mother spoke first.
“Something awful has happened and we need to decide what to do. Father’s bank has closed, following many others in this country. It is unlikely he will find another job, it is certainly nothing we can count on, and we have no one to help us. We have never been to church, so we will not receive help from the parish. We have only one relative.
She is Sarah. She may help us. I will write to her now.”
May 12th 1932
We received mail early this morning. Here’s Aunt’s letter:
To my beloved family,
I am so sorry to hear the awful news, and I cannot bear the thought of you being thrown into poverty. We must help you. I could send money, but as you say, I, also would like to be with you through this awful time. Anyhow, money won’t last forever, and I don’t want to have to keep “topping you up”. There is no point in us coming to you, wedding plans have already been made, and Jack has a good job. However, we would be happy for you to come to us.
We have a nicely sized house, with a few spare bedrooms, a large garden. It is nicely furnished, and I’m sure you will find it perfectly pleasant. I hope you have enough money for the crossing, if not, do write and tell us and we’ll try to help.
All my love,
“We must go. It’s our only hope.”
Timmy cheered, while father looked dazed, and Susan solemnly agreed with mother. I, I am ashamed to admit, burst into tears with the shock of it all, and ran to my room.
Late at night
Mother came in to speak to me. I think she sensed how confused I was feeling. She explained to me that we could make such a difference. Although we would fall into poverty together, we could help immensely by being there in the first few months. I agreed and promised I would do my best to help with the move. Her last words to me were,
“I am relying on you.”
May 18th 1932
Preparations to move have kept me from writing, but now we are ready, and we set sail tomorrow. I said a tearful good bye to my teacher, who is very jealous. I don’t know why, since we are leaving the small depression in England to join total poverty in America. She wishes me luck, and has made me promise to write. Jilly, also, is very upset about my departure, and I have also promised her I will keep in touch. I think I will paste their letters in this book, since I want to keep you up to date with English life, although I expect life will be rather similar in America.
May 20th 1932
We set sail yesterday. Our ship is nice, but rather small. However, the voyage should last little more than a week. That is good. 100 years ago, it would have been half a year. I sleep in a cabin with my entire family, on uncomfortable bunks. The crossing is proving to be very gentle, at night the boat rarely rocks.
May 21st 1932
Nothing happens. I spend my whole day dreaming of the things we will see in America. I have also found that I have a talent for sketching. I wander around the ship and sit up on deck drawing what I see. I cannot wait to arrive in America, where I will see proper sites.
May 27th 1932
We’ve sighted land! It is still early in the morning, but many of us were woken by loud cries from the sailors. We all rushed onto deck and saw a faint line growing in the distance. America!
We are coming onto the coast of Ellis Island. We can see America beyond. I now understand what Ellis Island. It is a centre for immigrants to America. We must now pass tests to enter America. I am very nervous. Aunt told stories of people being stopped, even sent home, for not passing medical or intelligence tests. How awful it would be now to be sent back on the next ship home, and have to face friends and tell them that one of us let the family down. And we’d then we’d fall into total poverty. I’d feel so ashamed.
We’re on the island. We’re sitting in a waiting room. It’s a small hall, but so many people! There are people everywhere, people from every culture. Blacks, whites, English, Russian, Polish, Scandinavians. And everywhere there is talk of the depression. Officials are going around, trying to tell everyone what kind of world we’re entering into, warning us that many places are totally gripped by poverty, and that it’s unlikely that any of us will get a job. I think mother may have been very slightly mad when she made the decision to go to America. Why would anyone want to enter a world like this?
Late at Night
We passed the tests! Many people are saying they’re going easy on us, since the country’s in such a bad state anyway, a few more immigrants who can’t work wouldn’t matter, not that they would be able to get a job anyway.
We walked into a smaller hall, where we were examined by doctors. No one seemed to be looking for anything in particular. I’m sure they knew what they were doing though, and sent us on up a huge flight of stairs. This, according to Aunt, is to see if we’re lame. What a joke. Timmy could run for England, and the rest of us are fit enough.
The intelligence test went fine, they seemed delighted with Susan, and looked as if they wanted to fail her, just so she could stay on the island with them. I’m glad we’d all got over our previous shock, or they would most likely have labelled us mad and sent us back home.
May 28th 1932
We are in America! We are off the boat and heading up through New York on the train. Aunt lives in Ohio, so we’re going there. It shouldn’t be too ling a journey.
I’m writing a letter to Jilly. I don’t have the paper to write to Miss as well, so for now, I’ll ask Jilly to tell Miss I’m thinking of her, and her sons, and I’ll soon be in Ohio.
May 29th 1932
We’re here! Or not right in the house yet, but it’s all still wonderful! We arrived in the early hours of the afternoon. We arrived in the nearby town, and, following Aunt’s directions, we arrived in a very rich street. I wasn’t expecting this, and I suggested we walk down the road to see if there were some smaller houses further up the street. But no, father insisted this was the right house. So went up to the large oak door and knocked, but no one came, so mother went next door with father and knocked. I am now sitting here on a rock, writing and staring at the mansion that is soon to be mine.
It is very large, with huge doors, and gardens stretching right round the house. A stable stood to the side, and the house itself stretched back a long way. The front gates were grand, with gold colouring and a silver eagle sitting on the front of them.
Two adults walked down the street, a man and woman, arm in arm. The woman wore a startling red dress, with jewels embedded, and her hair was done up on top of her head. She wore sparkling silver slippers, and she walked tall and straight, despite their heels. The man wore a black suit and smart shoes. A smaller girl walked in front, a pretty black dress and a stark white apron. She walked tall and with dignity, but it was obvious she was their maid. One thing was for certain, they were not Aunt and Jack.
They turned towards the gates, and my hopes died. This was not the house I was to live in, I’d been right. But then they saw me. The woman screamed. In one instant her she turned from being in control and dignified, to totally crazy. She jumped up on a rock, her husband close behind her.
“That!” She screamed out, pointing at me. “Who is it? Why is it in our gardens?” I was shocked. I didn’t look smart, since back at home, there had been no money for new dresses, and mother simply stitched our old ones, but I didn’t think I looked that bad.
The lady’s husband was trying to calm her down, so the maid hurried over to me.
“Good evening. Sorry about all the fuss. I’ve been expecting you. Your aunt, she was a good friend of mine…….”
“Stefanie!” the woman screamed, “what are you doing, making friends?! Send her away, and come back here!”
Before hurrying away, the kind maid whispered “take this” and handed me a scrap of paper. I hurried off to mother, the paper tight in my hand.
I reached a shocked mother, and handed the note to her. She read it aloud...