Reflecting upon what made America the country that it is as we approach its 200th birthday, I would have to say that one very important part of it was the courage of the many people who left their homelands in search of a new country, new ideals, and new dreams. Of course, this started with the pilgrims, but the great variety of life of the America we know today comes from its many immigrants throughout the years. Most of us are quite proud of whatever our heritage is, as it makes us the individuals that we are. I know am, and I would like to recount a personal story of the courage and determination it took to come to America: that of my Grandmother.

My Grandfather, Michael Livak, first came to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1905. He worked in building a railroad tunnel in Pennsylvania and in the coal mines of Virginia until 1908. He then returned to Czechoslovakia to marry Helen Malejko. Then he came back to the United States to Proctor, Vermont where he got a job with the Vermont Marble Company.

In the meantime, back in Czechoslovakia, Helen Livak stayed in her village of Klemoca, and had their first son, John. When John was only one year old, Helen packed up all of her belongings in a cloth sack that she had made herself, and without her husband knowing it, bearded a ship, with her son, and headed for America.

The courage and determination it must have taken for Helen to do this must have been incredible. The crossing took 9 days, and of course, Helen knew no one else on the boat. All of this, plus the added worries of coming to a strange land where she would not know the language, plus the fact that she was arriving in New York, and had absolutely no idea of how to get to Proctor, Vermont, must have been a phenomenal feat to face. But, being a very determined woman, she managed, and managed quite well.

After getting through the customs in New York, the officials there put Helen and her son on a train for Vermont. All she knew was that she had to go to Proctor, but she had no idea of where that was. It was at this point that a sheer stroke of luck happened. She overheard some Polish people in front of her saying that they were heading for Proctor, Vermont. Being able to understand a little of the Polish language, Helen decided that she would follow these people, and get off the train where they got off. It was in this manner that she got to Proctor, Vermont, and found her husband.

Helen and Michael Livak lived in Proctor until June 1919, when they moved to Rutland Town, where they bought their own farm. All of their children spoke Czechoslovakian until they entered school, and it was through the children that they learned the English language.

I am sure there are many other stories that other families have of their parents or grandparents coming to America. And I am also sure that each of these stories is equally interesting, and makes their family as proud of their heritage as I am of mine and my grandparents, and how they came and started a new life in a new country.

Written by Terri Livak

From Town Historical Book 1976