With the Marco Beach Boy Chronicles spanning over four decades, there are some stories that read like a foreign-intrigue screenplay straight out of Hollywood. The following is a coming to America story that arrived on Marco to tell the tale, but the saga began behind the iron curtain and with the austerity of communist Poland.
As with many narratives that cannot be forgotten, this story of a Great Escape began one afternoon on a sailing trip near Marco when one of those perfect weather days unlocked the inhibitions of strangers and released the spirit of freedom.
With the wind, the waves, and the sunshine streaming, there were seven aboard who were transported to another time and another place by an older couple on vacation from Chicago. It was at once obvious the couple were immigrants because of the strong accents from their homeland.
“Yes, let me tell you friends,” the beautiful blond woman began. Her accent was strong but also elegant. “We are coming from Poland. My husband and me. We love America. We love Chicago. America is the greatest country in the world. Let me tell you friends. Only someone coming from a communist country can tell you how special America really can be.”
The woman from Poland with the very blue eyes was so dynamic and animated she sparked an interest in all who were aboard. After a few minutes, a young American from our heartland spoke up. “How did you come here from Poland?”
“Let me tell you friends,” and the story of the Great Escape began. “We were living in Poland and life was very hard. In all the communist countries of the Eastern Bloc, life was very hard. There were stores but very little on the shelves to buy. We were often hungry even though we worked hard. The clothes and communist shoes were terrible. After we were married, my husband and me, we decided we had to get away and start a new life before we had children. We wanted our children to be free. We did not want to live like punished persons in a prison.
I knew that for us to get away, I had to go to university while my husband worked to save money. I went to university to study ancient history for four years while we worked and saved money.”
“When we had 900 dollars saved and hidden away, I applied for a visa to travel to Greece to study the ancient ruins,” she said. “This study was our secret plan to escape, and we worked on this for four years. My final test for university – and traveling to Greece for university study – was the only way to leave the country.”
“When we applied to the communist government for passports, it took almost a year even after university approval. When the airplane tickets were ready and we were only a few days away from leaving, we were surprised when we learned we must go to the government center and apply in person for the visas required to leave Poland,” she explained.
“When we arrived at the center where all the soldiers were working, we waited in line for hours. When our turn finally arrived, we were led into a small room and a rough man in an army uniform began to speak. The man with the uniform and the pistol said ‘I know the only reason you are here is to escape Poland and the Eastern Bloc. Your university studies in Greece are only a trick to never come back. Therefore, I will be not be giving you the visas you must have to leave Poland. Good day.’”
“After the army man said these words, for a moment, I could not speak.” The woman paused. Everyone aboard could see the anguish, the anger, and the disgust as our brave lady from communist Poland continued her story.
“Let me tell you friends,” She began again with resolve. “I became so angry I forgot to be afraid of the man and his pistol. I told him ‘I have been working years in university to study the ancient ways of life and I am regarded as a very important person. I must have our visas at once! The soldier who was the official shook his head. If you were such an important person, he said, you would know how to get a visa. You would know how to show me the proper respect. What kind of respect would an official person such as yourself need to be shown? I asked. A person of my position and authority would require $500 dollars tomorrow in this very same room. Perhaps even a little more,’ he replied.”
Her story continued. “The following day after waiting in line for hours the same soldier saw us, and we were led back into the small room.”
Before the man with the pistol could speak, the university student with her husband opened her purse and produced an envelope filled with cash. “Here is the $500 dollars that an important person needs to show respect and acquire two visas.”
“The amount of respect needed for one visa is $500 dollars.” The soldier with the pistol announced. “The amount of respect for two visas is $700 dollars. I must have the correct amount immediately or perhaps I send you both to prison for trying to bribe a visa official.”
The total amount saved in four years was $900 dollars. Without another word, our beautiful hero produced two hundred more dollars for the soldier. He took the $200, placed it in the envelope with the $500 and said, “come back tomorrow.”
As the story unfolded, we learned that neither husband nor wife slept that night because they were so worried the visa official would simply not be there and keep the money, or ignore them, or place them in prison. When the couple did arrive the next day at government center, once again, the wait lasted for hours, but when the same official saw the couple, he simply produced an envelope with two valid visas and offered, “Bon Voyage.”
With no further trepidation apart from intense scrutiny of the passports and visas at the airport in Poland, the Great Escape was complete when the airliner touched down in Greece. We also learned the husband cleaned the inside of oil barges in Greece and came home every night completely covered in tar. His wife and our hero scrubbed floors and cleaned Greek houses seven days a week.
After years of saving, the couple of the Great Escape made their way to Chicago where they once again began to clean houses. After a few years in America, they formed a maid service company that cleans over a hundred houses a month and they now have over fifty employees.
“Let me tell you friends,” our hero finalized at the end of our sailing, “please do not ever take your wonderful country for granted. America is the greatest country ever!”
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: Lost and Found and Surrounded by Thunder—the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men. Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.