A Pastor’s Ponderings: The Steamer Trunk

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Rick MooreBy Rick Moore

This is the story as it was told to me. In 1899, Malaky, her brothers David and Naif, along with their mom and dad, boarded a steamship heading from Byblos, Lebanon to New York City. Malaky was eleven, David was four, and Naif was one year old. All of their possessions were inside a wooden steamer trunk. While boarding, the sailor in charge of the ship’s logbook asked for a last name. They told him Muir. The sailor didn’t know how to write Muir so he spelled their name Moore. On the way across the Atlantic Ocean, the father had a heart attack. They were only half way through their eight-day journey, but they held onto the hope that he could receive medical help once the ship arrived in New York. As they passed the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island, people began to cheer. But after the small ship docked, and the family started to leave the ship, sailors detained them.

There was a strict rule at Ellis Island in those days: If a person onboard was sick, they were not allowed to go to ground. The sailors said the father would have to return to Lebanon. The mother could not understand. Though she only spoke broken English, there clearly had to be some mistake. Surely they wouldn’t break up the family. A fellow traveler from Byblos, Abraham, who spoke better English and fluent Arabic tried to intervene. The sailors would not budge. The rest of the family could decide to stay or go back, but they were not going to let anyone sick off that boat. Abraham told the mother the children could stay with him and his wife if she wanted them to. As the mother cried, struggling to make sense of it all, pleading to the sailors to let her husband off, the fog horn began to blow. The sailors yelled to the family “stay on the ship or leave now, but the father isn’t getting off.”

In a split second decision, the mother suggested Malaky take the steamer trunk with the family possessions, and stay with Abraham’s family. She felt the two boys were too young to stay without her. Malaky watched in disbelief as her sick father and the rest of the family sailed off. On the way back to Lebanon, the father died.

Abraham was unable to find work in New York, so he moved Malaky with the rest of his family to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he secured a job. Malaky also found work in a factory as a mill girl. There was no way for them to communicate back and forth from Lebanon, but they did receive word from other travelers that her father had died.

After several weeks went by, Malaky asked Abraham for the key to the trunk. He said he thought she had it. In all of the confusion on board the ship, the mother forgot to give them the key. Abraham offered to break into it, but Malaky asked him not to. She said “I’ll wait for mama to open it.” Many nights, Malaky would lay her hands on that old steamer trunk and pray to see her family again. About two years later, the mother had raised enough money to pay for a second journey back to America. When the mother finally arrived in Worcester with Malaky’s two brothers, there was a family reunion like none other. Before going to bed that night, Malaky asked her mom for the key to the trunk. The mother was puzzled. She had no idea where the key was. After waiting all that time, Abraham had to break open the trunk anyway.

My Great Aunt Malaky died when I was twelve years old, but I still remember her. The old steamer trunk sits in my living room to this day. Though no one ever found the key to the steamer trunk, they did find the key to happiness. Thank God for family.

Rick Moore is Communications Pastor of Destiny Worship Center.