Margaret (Maggi) Sellers
02
Nov

Margaret (Maggi) Sellers

“My grandfather’s American Dream was shattered…I cannot imagine how he felt.” – Margaret (Maggi) Sellers

In 1928, my grandfather Ewen McLeod II, at the age of 25, set out to make a better life for his wife and first child, my mother. He left them behind in Fife, Isle of Skye, Scotland so that he could set up a home for them in America. My grandparents didn’t know how long they would be separated but the idea of the American Dream held strong. 

grandparents

LEFT: THE EWEN MCLEOD II FAMILY (CIRCA 1930);
MIDDLE: MY GRANDFATHER, MOTHER “MUZMUZ” AND GRANDMOTHER “GAGA”;
RIGHT: AUNT PHEMIE HELD BY MY GRANDFATHER WITH GAGA AND MUZMUZ

When my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island, he endured the “six-second physical” exam that all immigrants went through. The Public Health Service doctors would briefly observe every person coming through Ellis Island for obvious physical ailments. The officials wanted to ensure that newcomers were able to work and support themselves prior to their entry into America. 

It was here that the inspectors found Ewen had varicose veins. They sent him to the Ellis Island Hospital Complex on the south side of Ellis Island for treatment which unfortunately was unsuccessful. My grandfather’s American Dream was shattered. Heartbroken, he was forced to return to Scotland. I cannot imagine how he felt.

Determined not to let his family’s dream slip away, he underwent the painful procedure of having his varicose veins stripped. 

At the end of 1929, my grandfather once again made the trip to America. He secured a sponsorship from a family member already living in America to better his chances. This time, he was successful! 

Shortly thereafter, on February 26, 1930 my mother Margaret Pringle Thompson McLeod Sellers, at 17-months-old, and my grandmother (“GaGa”) Margaret Pringle Thompson McLeod, arrived at Ellis Island. 

My McLeod family roots were now set in the soil of their new homeland, settling in Hartford, Connecticut – a city my sophisticated and fun-loving mother absolutely loved! Formerly an engine fitter, my grandfather began a long career as a machinist and tool room supervisor for a bookbinding company in Hartford, Connecticut, while GaGa worked as a bookkeeper. Together, they had two more children, Euphemia Dryburgh McLeod Warner (Aunt Phemie, b. 2/4/1931) and Ewen McLeod, III (Uncle Sussy, b. 3/17/1946; d. 7/6/2018). Eventually, my grandparents
saved up enough money to buy a home in East Hartford, Connecticut, furthering their American Dream and their place in the land of opportunity. 

family MAGGI

AUNT PHEMIE, GAGA, MUZMUZ AND THEIR DOG

While my grandfather passed in 1956 before I was born, I have wonderful memories of my GaGa who passed when I was about five years old. Throughout my life we celebrated some “old country” family traditions like plum pudding during the Christmas holidays and our version of Shepherd’s pie (no vegetables and beef not lamb). My mother was a self-taught gourmet chef and her meals were legendary!

My mother, known to my sister and me as “MuzMuz” (and later to our friends as “The Muz”), seldom shared much about our family’s immigration story. However, I can still hear her singing Scottish lullabies to me – the same ones her mother sang to her. While the words to the songs are unknown to me, the memories are special. My love of gardening today came from my mother, who learned from her father.

MUZ

LEFT: MUZMUZ, UNCLE SUSSY AND AUNT PHEMIE;
RIGHT: MUZMUZ’S HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR PORTRAIT

I know my grandparents, like so many immigrants, just wanted to assimilate into the American way of life. They wanted to fit in so they didn’t talk about where they came from much. They were hardworking and proud people who also passed on many traditions. 

MuzMuz was truly my best friend. She worked hard and dedicated her life to my sister and me. She wanted the best for us, just as her parents had wanted for her and her siblings. 

I was so proud to take her to Ellis Island to have her photo taken a couple of years ago by Joe McNally. It meant so much to her. The immigration identification card with her chubby little cheeks that she is holding in the photo is still pristine – no worn corners and not faded at all. That document was so much a part of her family’s story she kept it in a special folder with all of her important documents. 

maggi session

MUZMUZ AT THE ELLIS ISLAND HOSPITAL COMPLEX FOR THE JOE MCNALLY PHOTO SHOOT, OCTOBER 23, 2018

On July 8, 2021, I lost my mother at the age of 91. Today instead of being able to ask her questions, I learn of my Scottish heritage through other ways. I attend “Robert Burns” festivals. I have a copy of the ship manifest that shows my mother and grandmother’s names. I read old family letters. I cherish the childhood books that belonged to my mother. I connect with the people on Facebook who own the distillery house, called The Grange, in Scotland where my great-grandfather once lived and worked. I proudly share my maternal ancestor’s name of Margaret (I’m the fifth) just as my first cousin Ewen is the fourth to carry on the paternal family name.

Most importantly, I donate to Save Ellis Island, so that this symbol of the American Dream – my family’s dream and yours – may withstand the test of time and nature. In particular, the hospital buildings were an important part of my family’s story – it is my hope that future generations will continue to hear the stories those buildings have to share.

Please join me in this effort. It is up to you and me to keep these buildings from fading into the past. 

 

PLEASE HELP US BY MAKING A DONATION

 

Thank you for reading my story,

maggi sig

Margaret “Maggi” Sellers