A Tale of Immigration at Christmastime – My Father’s Father’s Story

(I first posted this true story in December 2016. )

Stories define us. We tell stories to explain ourselves, our understanding of reality, and our relationship to one another. Stories can be true, or stories can be fictive – stories are like fibers that hold together the fabric of our lives…

From the time I was a young kid until well into my young adulthood, my father’s family used to gather at their parents’ (my grandparents’) house on Christmas Eve. There was a lot of food, much talk, and cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course, my grandparents.

My grandfather, as I recall, would eat and have a beer or two and mostly was a quiet observer of the celebration. For one reason or another I never talked with him much – he spent a little more time with the adults it seemed, and that was ok – he was Grandpa.

Anyway, one Christmas Eve, I must have been 16 or 17, I was feeling a little too old to be sitting at the table and being silly with my cousins and too young to share a drink and talk with the uncles – so with my plate heaped with food I went into the parlor to take a seat and eat. I expected others to be there, I mean it was a small apartment, where would everyone go? But, I was alone in the parlor with my grandfather who was finishing up his food and enjoying a beer (Miller’s High Life, I think)…

So, I sat down in a chair near my grandfather and asked him how he was doing, and we chatted about the cold and my school.

Then, quietly, because he was a quiet man, he said this to me, or this is how I recall it… “Did you know I first came here on Christmas Eve? It was cold and snowing. from the train at South Station, I got on a wagon with everyone else. My name and the address were on a paper pinned to my coat.”

He patted his shirt to show where the paper had been pinned. Then he continued –

“We were on a wagon with some hay and our bags. It was going slow from South Station up Summer Street toward South Boston, only I didn’t know where I was. It was cold and the snow was wet. As the wagon rolled slowly up Summer Street some boys started to run toward us. We thought they were greeting us because they were laughing. They were yelling, ‘Greenie! Greenie!’ And they threw snowballs at us. One hit a woman and her kid who sitting near me. ‘Greenie! Greenie!’ They yelled some more. We didn’t know what that meant, but my brother later told me a greenhorn was not a good thing.”

Before I could ask any questions, one of my younger cousins came jetting down the hallway, bumped into an uncle and almost upended the Christmas tree. Our conversation ended as abruptly as it began.

For one reason or another I never got around to finishing that conversation, but it has stayed with me since. I think I’ve talked about it with my father, but he said he had never heard that story.

For a long time, I thought the story too coincidental –

But there is truth there. The record shows that my grandfather listed as Petrus Kleponis arrived at Ellis Island on December 22, 1904, and that he had $2.00 in his possession and was going to stay with his brother Konstantin at Bolton Street, South Boston. Given processing and paper work, my grandfather would have arrived at South Station on Christmas Eve 1904.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be just 20, alone, thousands of miles away from home life on a farm in a small village and find oneself first at Ellis Island then after a train ride in South Station – all without knowing the language, traveling not with friends or relatives but by one’s self.

I cannot fathom what it must have been like to be on a wagon, rolling up a strange street in a strange land and to be accosted by strange shouts of “Greenie!” The snowballs, I would imagine erased any doubts about intent.

1904 seems so long ago, but have things really changed that much?

My grandfather is gone over 40 years, and our family does not gather in that 2 nd floor flat on Christmas Eve anymore – we have all gone our separate ways in our successful lives.

I think I understand a little better why my grandfather was a quiet, content observer at those Christmas Eve gatherings. I’ll bet if he were around he would not want his grandsons or great grandsons throwing snowballs or shouting “Greenie!”

Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing

There was that morning we took a walk

Along that wooded path around the lake

To escape the rising noise of the day,

The chatter of news that seemed to drown us.

Sun filtered through the just-leafing trees,

Warming us and heating the still damp ground.

Dormant leaves, as if having their own mind,

Began to rise in a swirling ballet

Opposite of their long spiral from branch

To earth, where we expected them to stay,

Resting in decay. We were struck silent.

This defiant dance filled our heads with thoughts

Of magic, of incomprehensible

Forces bent on overthrowing nature’s

Constitution, supplanting what should be

With a new unthinkable order, but

Even leaves rising on a windless path,

An event that seems to topple reason

Has explanation, if only we trust fact.

  • J. Kleponis, Wilderness House Literary Review 16/3, Fall 2021

Matins (a poem)

Here is one of my recent poems from
Wilderness House Literary Review 16/3.


Repeated incantations and visions:
birdsong breaking the silence of darkness,
gold and then powder blue pushing away
the purple blush of night’s fading veil…

We are blessed by hope at the horizon,
the ritual of a new day for us,
independent of us, always ongoing…

The first light of morning is a prayer
By which we consecrate our daily tasks.

  • Joseph Kleponis, WHLR, Issue 16/3, Fall 2021.

Some Good News

Some good news.

The Nevins Library in Methuen has notified me that my poetry book, Truth’s Truth, will be added to the library’s poetry collection!

So, you can wait to borrow it – or go to Amazon, Kelsay Books, or Indie Bookstores and order a copy – I mean the book could be on hold for a while at the library!!

Order a copy at Amazon or Indie Bookstores or Barnesand Noble or at anyone of the great European online stores or online stores in Australia and New Zealand.

Truth’sTruth #poetry #creativewriting #poems

Truth’s Truth

There are many people to thank for helping bring my book of poetry Truth’s Truth to fruition. The editors and publisher of Kelsay Books have given me this opportunity to publish a book. Family members, particularly those who listened to early drafts, helped me. The editors of magazines, Boston Literary Magazine, Eucalypt, First Literary Review – East, Muddy River Poetry Review, and others nationally and internationally have given my poetry a boost.

Close to home the Grey Court Poets of Methuen, North Andover Poetry Corner, Frost Foundation of Lawrence, MA, and Rockport Poetry have given me time to read at open mics and encouraged me through their patient listening.

it’s great to have a book out that reflects my poetic efforts. I hope you’ll check out Truth’s Truth at Amazon or the Kelsay Books online bookstore.

Here’s the Amazon link: