Their arduous journey had finally come to an end. After six months on the ocean, land looked so beautiful. They felt like ants in sea of immigrants. So this was America. They stared at the huge statue holding her arm up with a flame. What a magnificent sight! They couldn’t read but were told what was written, “Give me your poor, your huddled masses.” They descended the ship and through Ellis Island to register. They were being pushed and shoved in all different directions. These people certainly were not friendly! Hubert, Rosa and Teresa finally got their turn to register. Since they could not read, everything was read to them with their responses.
“Name?” said the census taker.
They didn’t understand English, so shrugged their shoulders.
The tired census taker was smoking a cigar and looked like he had been dragged through the mud.
With Irritation in his voice, he said,
“Oh for crying out loud, damn you foreigners, if you wanna live here, learn the language!”
Hubert and Rosa didn’t quite understand, but sometimes gestures transcend language barriers. A kind German couple offered to translate. The man was tall with balding hair. His wife was a very short gray haired woman wearing a black scarf. Like a scared doe, she examined her new surroundings.
After they got through the initial: Name, Port of Entry, sponsor, etc., they waited for Josef (Herbert’s brother to pick them up). They piled into the old Model T pondering their fate. Rosa was huge with child now, and they needed to find a place to stay…fast.
Of course, they would stay with Josef for the time being, but his house was not very large and to accommodate four adults (Rosa’s sister Teresa had come with them) and a baby was not very practical in a one bedroom house. It’s true , that in Hungary, five people in a one bedroom house would be glorious, but they wanted to live like Americans.
This baby would be very special. After a long line of Hungarians, he or she would be the first American born to the family.
“Hubert!” cried Rosa. "Come quickly, the baby is coming!" Hubert was in the other room with Josef and didn’t hear her. Teresa, held her hand and they sat on the sofa.
“Teresa, we must get a midwife…now!”
Teresa had hoped they could get settled before the baby came, she had no idea where she could find a midwife, she couldn’t speak English, so was at a loss. Think, what to do!
“Rosa, I am going next door to get help. Many of these people speak German too, some came with us on the boat.”
Teresa ran to their neighbor and pounded on their door. A tall man dressed in a spin striped suit, wearing a monocle carrying a pocket watch answered the door. Teresa thought he looked odd, but started speaking very rapidly in a thick German tongue.
“Slow down, slow down, the man answered in English. What seems to be the trouble?”
Great. My sister’s going to have a baby any minute and she had no way of letting anyone know. She would have to use sign language. She pointed to her belly and spread her arms quite apart. She pointed next door and grabbed her stomach as though in pain. She then rocked her arms as though holding the baby.
The man didn’t catch on, but his wife had come in the room and knew perfectly. She ran with Teresa next door as fast as their feet could carry them. Rosa was moaning and groaning on the floor. Herbert and Josef had left because that was nothing for a man to see. Before they left, they did manage to prop a pillow under her. As luck would have it, and they hadn’t have any thus far, Magdalena was a midwife. She held Rosa’s hand and helped her through her contractions. She yelled at Teresa to get clean rags. After several hours of labor, the baby was born. Magdalena cleaned her up and handed her to Rosa, who was now lying on the couch with sheets under her. Rosa looked at her new daughter and smiled. “Katarina, my American baby”
Hubert and Josef came downstairs when they heard the baby cry. Hubert looked at his baby daughter with tears in his eyes. He was disappointed that she hadn’t given him a son, and while he loved the baby, he yelled at Rosa,
“My first born child is a girl? I will forgive you for this, but the next child must be a boy.”
Rosa wanted to yell and scream at him but she was so tired, she just wanted him to go away. Magdalena was still there, and couldn’t believe the cruelty of this man. But it was none of her business, she had done her job. She gave both Rosa and Hubert some instructions.
“Rosa, you need your rest, if you need help, have your sister come get me.”
Without saying a word, she told Rosa in a gesture, ‘don’t let him near you’. She looked at Hubert and though she knew the kind of man he was said,
“Please let her rest, she’s very weak right now.”
Hubert nodded but was angry at a mere woman telling him what to do. He’d put her in her place one day.
Teresa sat by Rosa holding her hand.
After they had been in America for some times, their funds were running low. They would need to find work. Although Hubert was a farmer by trade, he was in the city and would need to learn a new trade. He and Josef looked everywhere. No one wanted a German immigrant. Then one day they found a factory looking for workers. It was a new factory and they were in desperate need of help. They would hire anyone. It was a rubber factory call Poppenheusen. Hubert and Josef worked 12 hours, 6 days a week. The money was poor so Teresa went to work while Rosa stayed home with the baby. Hubert had somewhat gotten off his role as tyrant. He was too tired to yell at Rosa, although he insisted she must have dinner for him when he came home and the house would be spotless.
A year later, Rosa was with child again, this time she gave Hubert the son he wanted. He was ecstatic and was actually kind to her.
Teresa and Josef had begun to keep company and a wedding was planned in the spring.
Rosa warned Teresa that Josef could be just like his brother.
“No way, he is a kind man. Why they are so different, I do not know, but they are different as night and day. And remember sister, this is not an arranged marriage like yours, we are in America now, and they marry whomever they love. I love Josef very much. Unfortunately, sister, your marriage was forced. I’ve never forgiven our parents for that.”
“Nor have I. But he seems to be getting better now that he’s in America. I know he really doesn’t want to be here, he constantly talks about “old country”. He won’t even try to learn English. It’s so strange, I didn’t want to come here but have adjusted, he dragged me here, and now wishes he were back in Hungary. Men in this country do not treat their women as though they were nothing, he was difficulty with this. After all, a woman must “know her place”.
That summer, Josef and Teresa were married. They moved into another house, which grieved Rosa. Teresa was the only one she could talk to. But Teresa only moved in the house around the corner, so it wouldn’t be so bad.
Time marched on, the Schlee family was learning the ways of America, although Hubert was still stubborn in his ways. Rosa had four more children. The oldest one, Herbert, got the brunt of Hubert’s wrath now. He left Rosa alone. But Herbert was the oldest male, and according to old country tradition, it was his job to watch the others. If they did wrong, he was beaten for it. Herbert hated his father and wished him dead. He was constantly beaten and reminded how things were in the old country. Herbert had had enough of his father. He was so angry, he turned at looked at, his face red with rage. Although he was shorter in stature than his father, He looked up and said,
“Listen, you damn kraut, you’re in America, get over it, and for crying out loud, learn to speak the damn language!”
Herbert was beaten very badly for those remarks. No child in Hungary would dare talk to his father like that! His father let him know and if he ever spoke to him like that again, the beating would be much worse, he would wish he were dead!
Herbert was so angry with his father and his old country ways, he wished the old man would just up and die! He got his wish. It was in the late 20s and early 30s where rheumatic fever ran rampant. Three of the children died. How Herbert escaped that fate, they never knew. When the last child, Rosalia, was born, the fever was over. The only ones left in the family were Rosa, Herbert and Rosalia. Herbert was 17 when his father passed away. He had to quit school and work. He was now the man of the family. A new chapter in the Schlee family was just beginning.
To be continued….
Mary E. Lacey