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Mary E Lacey, Desertrat

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Life in America
By Mary E Lacey, Desertrat
Thursday, June 02, 2011

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This is the last chapter of the trials of the Schlee family. The first two were Good-Bye Beloved Land, and American at Last

Dedicated to: Herbert Francis Schlee
First generation American


    Now that Hubert was gone, the Schlee family was going to have a tough go of it, even worse than before.   An immigrant family in the middle of the depression, what else could go wrong?  And the head of the family was a 17 year old boy.  The family was made up of Rosalia, Herbert and Rose.  Rose was born several years before Hubert died.  In the year of 1933, when Herbert passed away she was an eight year old little girl.  To the rest of the family, Hubert was a terrifying tyrant.  But by the time Rose was born, the roaring lion had turned into a quiet peaceful lamb.  Rose was devastated when her father died.  He had always said she was his sweetheart.    Rosalia and Herbert could not believe the change in him.  Herbert and Rosalia would always think of him in different ways.  Herbert thought he was the worst man on earth.  Rose thought he was the sweetest man that ever lived.  Rosalia had simply tolerated him his whole life, was a dutiful wife, but wasn't exactly a grieving widow.

    When Hubert died, Herbert had no choice but to quit school.  He would have graduated the next year.  He was disappointed, but knew his first duty was to his family.  If his father taught him nothing else, it was that family comes first.  Herbert applied for a job at Poppenheusen rubber factory.  But because of the depression, the factory had to close.  Herbert looked everywhere for work.   Times were hard, and he had an extra hardship, he was Hungarian, though most people considered the Schlee family German, as this was their native tongue.   

    Herbert pounded the streets looking for work but was often greeted unkindly.  Since work was scarce and he was an immigrant, most people thought they would take jobs away from Americans.    Herbert went down the street to the local grocery store.  He prayed that something would happen.  He walked in back of the store, inhaled, and went to the store owner.  He cleared his throat to get his attention.  The owner was bending over lifting heavy boxes.  He had on a filthy apron and was smoking a cigar.  His bald, graying hair and weary face gave Herbert hope that he would need help.  He was an older man and looked to be much too old for that sort of work.

    The owner turned around and looked at him.  He and his mother often patronized the store, so the owner recognized him.

    "Yeah, Dutch, what do want?  I know you don't got no money in these here times; so what are you here for?"

    Herbert looked down, and then up again at the man.

    "Mr.  Anderson, I need a job, any job, I'll do anything you want.    I'm having trouble feeding my mother and sister now that my father is gone"

    "Yeah, Dutch, heard about your old man.  Tough break, kid.  But, hey, times is hard for everyone, and I don't got nothing.  I can barely keep the store open now.  Do you see anyone helping me?  No, I have to do it myself, and my back, well, it ain't too good.  But I just can't afford anyone."

    "Please sir, let me help you load those boxes, at least."  Herbert had a plan.  If he helped the old man for nothing, maybe the old man could give him at least a pittance.

    "Look Dutch, I just told you I can't…."

    "No, sir, I'll do it for free, you look like you need the help.   Mom and me, well , we come in here all the time, you've been nice to us, so the least I could do was give you a hand."

    "Well….okay, my back is sore, but you ain't gettin' paid!"

    Herbert got right to work loading the boxes.  He was used to hard work.  He worked for several hours until the chore was done.   The old man thanked him and Herb walked out.  Maybe he would find it in his heart to somehow give him something, even if it was free food.

    As he walked out, he saw another boy about his age enter.   He looked through the window, and although he couldn't hear, he knew what just happened.  Mr. Anderson had hired another boy to the job.  Mr. Anderson smiled at the boy, shook hands with him, and the boy got right to work sweeping the floor.

    Herbert had seen this before and was tiring of it.  Mr. Anderson, who couldn't afford to pay him, an immigrant, could afford to hire a 'real' American.   People just wouldn't hire immigrants.  They felt the immigrants were taking their jobs away.  And in this terrible depression, jobs were hard to come by.  Herb also hated being called 'Dutch', but said nothing.   'Dutch' was a bastardized version of the word 'Deutsch', which meant German.  All German immigrant boys were called Dutch.

    It was getting late, so Herbert started home.  Once again; no work.  How was he going to support the family?  They weren't too bad right now; his Mom had her garden so they had vegetables.   There was never any meat; that would be a real luxury.  They had some fruit trees, and a milkman came by ever so often and gave them free milk.  Their clothes were nothing but flour sacks.  Sometimes Rose had to wear Herbert's clothes.  But their mother had grown up under these conditions, and it didn't bother her in the least.   Although Josef, Hubert's  brother,  managed to get the house, it was by no means paid for.  They had no money, but they did have a roof over their head.  Many didn't.  When Rosalia saw a homeless person, she always took them in.  Being a very stringent Christian, she knew it was her duty.  The house was getting crowded and people contributed what they could, which unfortunately wasn't much.    They lived in a small neighborhood called 'Little Germany' and everyone helped each other.  The neighborhood was in a very poor run-down part of College Point, New York.  But things were happening fast.  Rosalia had obtained a huge sack of flour about ten pounds, when they came to America.  She made bread daily, but the flour was running low, and with fifteen people in the house, it would be gone soon.  Her garden was almost exhausted.  Rosalia knew hunger; but she didn't want her children or these other people to go through what she did.

    Herbert started out the next day walking farther than ever.   His shoes had holes in them, but he couldn't concentrate on that.  He had gone so far, he went into farm country.   He knew it was probably useless, but he crossed the field and walked to the house.  He knocked on the door, and a man with a shotgun, pulled it on him.  Herbert had never been so frightened in his life.  He stepped back away from the burly, gigantic sun-tanned man.   The man shoved the gun toward him and asked, "What do you think you're doing on my property?!"   Herbert's first instinct was to turn and run, but he might get shot in the back.  Sweat was pouring down his face when he bravely asked the man,

    "I mean you know harm, sir, I was just wondering if you had any work.  I'm very strong and I can do anything."   The man lowered his shot gun.   He understood these terrible times.

    "Is that so?  It just so happens I do have a little chore that needs doing, and I sure as hell don't want to do it.  I can't pay you much though.   It's a rather unpleasant thing, I must warn you."

    Herbert was ecstatic.  "I don't care how unpleasant it is, I'll do anything!"   The man sighed and said,

   "Okay, come with me."   He took him to a pile of horse manure.  Herbert's stomach was turning from the stench.  "This needs to be shoveled every day.  Now I can't pay much, but if you work from Monday through Saturday, I'll give you two dollars a week.  Of course, you'll be doing a few other chores, so you'll be busy sun up until sun down.  Two dollars!  Wow.  That could get his mother some flour to make bread!"

    "Alright, Dutch, you start at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.  You'll get paid every Friday.  By the way, I'm Mr. Douglas, and what is your name besides Dutch? 

    "Herbert Schlee, Sir, and thank you, so, so much!"

     Herbert took off running, not even thinking of the holes in his shoes and the blisters on his feet.  Finally, a job!  He would have to leave the house at 5:00 a.m. every morning to be there on time, but so what!

    He ran in to the house and called to his mother, "Mama, mama, you'll never believe it!"

    Rosalia took the apron off she was wearing and said, "Herbert, calm down, you'll hurt yourself!"

   Herbert clasped his mother's hand, "I got a job!"

    He set out very early the next day to Mr. Douglas' farm.   Mr. Douglas was right there showing him what to do.  It was very unpleasant shoveling manure every day, as Herbert found out in short order.  He always swept the barn, did small repairs, and anything else that needed to be done.  They days were long and he was exhausted when he got home.

    The first day of the job, he offended the olfactory senses harshly, or as his little sister so eloquently put it, "Ewwww, you stink!"

    "Shut up brat", Herbert said to his sister.  He was tired and didn't need her sass.

    His mother corrected them both, "Rose, don't speak to your brother that way, he may not smell so nice but he'll be putting food in your belly!  And Herbert, I know you are tired, but you mustn't speak to your baby sister like that.  We are a Christian family, and I expect both of you to behave!"

    They both looked down at the same time and in unison said, "Yes, Mama."

    Herbert took his shoes off and ran to the shower.  While he was gone, his mother looked at the horrible condition his shoes were in.  She couldn't let her son ruin his feet because of this, he wouldn't be able to walk.  It was getting late, but she knew her friend, Mrs. Frank kept the store open late.  Rosalia had some secret money hid in a cookie jar.  Rosalia went to see Mrs. Frank to see if she could help.  She and Mrs. Frank always played a little game.  Rosalia would never accept the first price, but they would bicker over it.  Mrs. Frank was a little superstitious.  She was going to close very soon, and she would have bad luck the next day if she didn't make a sale.  Rosalia got a nice pair of work boots for fifty cents.

    Herbert was sound asleep when she came home, but knew he would be ecstatic.  When he awoke in the morning, he was overjoyed and surprised at his new present.  His mother got up early with him, and he thanked her profusely.

    Herbert continued working this horrible job for months, every night coming home exhausted and smelling like horse manure.    As luck would have it, Mr. Douglas passed away.  They were going to sell the farm, and Herbert would be out of work again.   It was on a Saturday when he walked passed Mr. Anderson's store feeling very depressed.  He went in to buy a few things for his mother.   Mr. Anderson noticed how melancholy Herb was.  He looks at him with concern in his eyes,

    "What's troubling you, Dutch?"

    "Lost my job, my boss up and died on me."

    "Oh, wow, that's rough.  Tell you what, Dutch, I hired a boy, but he was shiftless and lazy and I had to left him go.  I've heard word that you're one tough worker.  How would you like to come work for me?"

    Herb almost was ready to jump for joy, when he remembered how Mr. Anderson had lied to him when he originally asked for a job.   But he was just going to have to swallow his pride, so agreed to work for him.   To his surprise, Mr. Anderson gave him more money and the hours were shorter, not to mention the job wasn't near as difficult.  He stocked shelves, cleaned the store, and took inventory.  Because of the depression, inventory was pretty easy.

      Herb was now a grown man.   It was December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  This was the beginning of World War II, and the end of the depression   Herb went to enlist immediately.  He knew he'd be drafted, so decided to enlist so he could choose his branch of service.   He went to the induction center in Jamaica, NY and became a United States soldier.  For some unknown reason, when Herb joined the army, something clicked in his mother.  She had lived in America for 27 years, and never bothered to become a citizen.  She expressed her sentiments to Herb.   In 1942, she became an American citizen.   The Schlee family was no longer an immigrant family, but 'true ' Americans.



                                                      MARY E LACEY









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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 6/4/2011
Excellent story, Mary; well done! I know a lady here in Texas whose last name is Schlee! :)

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Texas, Karen Lynn. :)
Reviewed by Swan Son 6/2/2011
Interesting family story, Mary. It does make you wonder how the people of College Point fared during this difficult time.

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