Although she grew up in South Germany, Caecilie Spyres is grateful for the journey she has travelled to become an American citizen.
by Lisa Porterfield Thompson
The pleasures and perks of living in America, land of the free and home of the brave, are often taken for granted, especially by those of us who were born here. Caecilie Spyres, however, has never taken her status as a United States citizen for granted. In fact, she worked diligently and tirelessly to gain the status in the first place, and has worked persistently and rigorously to stay here in the States once that citizenship was gained.
Caecilie was born the oldest of 10 children to dairy farmers in South Germany, in the small Catholic village of Großschönbrunn. She said everyone she knew in the village had big families, and she said all she’d ever known was hard work. “We just worked on the farm, and worked in the house, and helped where we could,” she said. “Every time my mother had another baby, I helped take care of all my younger siblings. After I finished my schooling and went to work, I gave every paycheck in full to my parents to help pay the bills. I never thought to do anything different.”
So, it’s no surprise that when Caecilie found herself a newly-divorced single mom in a foreign country, she did the only thing she knew to do: she worked hard. “I started working at the Meat Block on County Avenue, a grocery store that doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “In Germany, once you complete the ninth grade, you choose a trade to learn, and I chose to learn butchery. When I came to the U.S., that was the one thing I knew how to do, so I did it.”
Caecilie met and married a member of the U.S. military and moved to Northeast Texas in 1976. By 1979, she was pregnant with her oldest son, and then divorced shortly thereafter. She remained gainfully employed as a butcher, first at the Meat Block, and then at Albertsons® on State Line to provide for herself and her son. “In 1984, I applied for citizenship,” Caecilie said. “I took an entire year to study for the test. I needed to know how to speak, read and write English, and I needed to know basic facts about U.S. history.”
Caecilie said she watched a lot of soap operas and “Sesame Street” with her young son to learn English. “My language was not good when I first came here,” she said.”I took an English class in school in Germany, and flunked it. I told the teacher I’d never need to know English, and she said it was a good thing.”
But Caecilie did learn English, and she eventually successfully immigrated into the United States. “I appeared before a judge in Dallas who asked me a couple questions about the three branches of the U.S. government, and asked me to write something in English for him,” she said. “I wrote ‘Today is a beautiful day because I’m going to be an American citizen.’ Three months later, I was sworn in as a citizen in Tyler, Texas, but first I had to renounce my German citizenship.”
Caecilie paused for a minute. “That was a very hard decision,” she said. “It was big. At the time, I was pregnant and had a young son. I knew it was the right thing to do, but it was a bittersweet day for sure.”
Caecilie never once considered moving back home to Germany, especially after she had worked so hard to gain her citizenship. “When I left Germany to move to the U.S. in the beginning, my Daddy stood at the gate and waved goodbye to me. It was only the second time I’d ever seen him cry in my whole life, and he told me that I could always come home if I need to, no questions asked,” she said.
There were hard times for Caecilie, most of which revolved around being a single mom caring for two sons on her own. “I never got any help,” she said. “There was no help for an immigrant, so I just put my head down and worked hard. It was all I ever knew how to do anyway.”
Caecilie said her move to the United States was a culture shock. “I grew up in a little town, where everybody knew everybody, so even moving to Linden, Texas, at first, and then Atlanta and eventually Texarkana felt like a big difference,” she said. “Thankfully, my trade helped me get a job, but everything felt different here.
“I always knew I didn’t want more than two children,” she said. “I worked hard, and instilled those ethics in them. They both started working at 16, went to college
Caecilie’s mother with her four daughters: Caecilie, Erika, Maria and Tina.
and earned their master’s degrees. There were always home chores to be done, because they knew that’s what I expected out of them. I think that’s why they are so successful now.”
Caecilie started out in the deli at Albertsons® cutting meat, but has worked in every department in an Albertsons® store in the past 38 years. Her real passion has been for floral design, which is how she has developed not only a career, but a following of customers over the years. “I always like to do floral,” she said. “I always ended up helping out with floral on the holidays and eventually took over the floral department when we moved back to Texarkana. I’ve established many customers, done weddings and funerals, and all the things a normal floral shop does. In 2021, I’ll have 40 years in, and I’m considering retirement then.”
Caecilie met her husband, Chris, who was also employed at Albertsons® at the time and married in 2004. Together, the two enjoy traveling, gardening, cooking and spending time with family now.
Caecilie has come a long way as a U.S. immigrant, but she still remembers how grateful she is for the journey she has travelled, at times working three jobs and caring for her young children. “I’m just so thankful that God blessed me to be an American citizen.”