My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

The venetian blind Lady Liberty at the heart of “Bring Me Your Yearning” actually existed.

In 1986, two days before the 100th anniversary of  New York’s original Statue, she mysteriously appeared overnight in the middle of the Susquehanna River near my childhood home of Dauphin, Pennsylvania, seven miles north of the state’s capital. Her origins remained anonymous for some time, and the Lady, built to stand through Labor Day, instead remained a beloved landmark until 1992 when storms destroyed her. By then, Gene Stilp had been revealed as her creator, and he organized fundraisers for her resurrection–this time constructed of durable materials. To this day, Lady Liberty greets travelers along Route 322, her raised torch a symbol of hope and a reminder of our shared history.

(You can read more about the Dauphin statue and see pictures of the original here: 

Lady Liberty endures – from ‘knucklehead’ idea to a beloved landmark

The Legend Behind Lady Liberty on the Susquehanna River )

*****

The title “Bring Me Your Yearning” was inspired by lines in Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colussus” gracing the New York Lady’s base. While I set my story to coincide with the Bicentennial, characters and details pay homage to the 1986 Dauphin original. Susquehanna becomes Susquehannock. George alludes to Gene, Peters to Peters Mountain Road which runs from 322 through Dauphin and over the hill to my former home on Claster Boulevard. Nell was my beloved step-grandmother. Summers she visited from her home near West Chester, and we shared the twin beds in my room. Many nights we stayed awake until midnight as she told stories about her children and their service during World War II. About being widowed young, then her marriage of convenience to my maternal grandfather. She needed a provider for herself and her children. He needed a caretaker for himself and his. That I never recorded her stories is one of my profoundest regrets. 

Madeline Harper pays homage to two different stories: Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline series and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The first recalls wonderful memories of reading to my children at bedtime, each of them snuggled in my arms. For a while, my son’s favorite was his Alfie anthology. My daughter’s, Madeline. Both characters are curious and brave, adventurers whose single-mindedness  provides valuable insight into childhood. In Lee’s classic, one of my all-time favorite novels, children see and understand more clearly than adults the evil implicit in prejudice and racism, and in doing so they teach those adults necessary lessons about human dignity, justice, and community. 

Thus, the choice of a child’s perspective in “Yearning.” 

At ten, I vividly recall studying my world and its occupants with greater clarity than I could at the time articulate. I also knew myself to be separate and distinct from them, not merely an extension of family and neighborhood.  Hence, the third-person reflective narrator to mediate that which Maddie understands but cannot express. In some ways, she is like the younger me: observant yet headstrong, passionate yet adrift. Aware of injustice yet unsure of how to name it and fight it. I saw her, George, and the sergeant very clearly, as if we were long-time familiars.

However, this story was very difficult to write, beginning in 2015 and evolving over countless revisions until late 2019. For the longest while, I couldn’t determine why Maddie is so drawn to Lady Liberty. Why does she believe she must fix the statue’s broken torch? 

The answer gradually occurred to me as I witnessed reports of immigrant caravans walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum. Of children separated from their families and jailed in detention camps. Of law-abiding Dreamers threatened with deportation to countries as foreign as unexplored galaxies. 

Like Maddie and the sergeant, they are exiles yearning to belong. To build a better world for themselves and their families.

Lady Liberty represents that promise of solace. Respite. 

Home. 

And she belongs to us all. 

*****

You can read “Bring Me Your Yearning” at Dreamers Creative Writing: https://www.dreamerswriting.com/michele-reisinger/

I hope you like it!

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