Coming to America
How would you like to discover that the sole reason you exist today, along with your entire family, is because your great-grandmother had a premonition on her deathbed?
My grandfather’s account of his journey from the Fatherland to America, in 1901 at age fourteen, is 25 pages in length, half of it meticulously typed in single-spaced mode. He wrote it in the autumn of his life, after he had retired from business. They say good things come in small packages; by that logic, Grandpa’s journal is a goldmine of relevant family history.
Within these pages, written in a flow-of-consciousness style, my grandfather has provided us with some invaluable background, a foundation if you will, as to how and why my siblings and I were raised the way we were. As adults we talk about the German work ethic and its role in our lives as kids; in these pages it becomes quite clear.
Grandpa’s writing style was quite readable in its flow, with the exception that he never divided it into paragraphs. Additionally, his train of thought took many circuitous routes to arrive at its destination. On multiple occasions he apologizes for his meandering path, and begs the reader’s forgiveness for any confusion caused by his lack of literary proficiency.
Nonetheless, having devoured this work numerous times, the overall effect is to present a sickeningly clear picture of life in the early 20th century. Writing style aside, his portrayal of a dirty and unregulated Mid-West city, is terrifying.
Midway through page four of his account, though, in the middle of his description of his work in a stove shop, he abruptly writes the following passage,
“My mother died when I was not yet twelve, and was buried on my twelfth birthday, [in 1899] after an illness of only a week. When she sensed that she was on her deathbed, she extracted a promise from my father that he would do all in his power to send me to America. She had the premonition that a war was brewing, and wanted to prevent her son from having any part in it. I was not consulted about any details in this and many of the details were unknown to me until years afterwards. Obedience was one of the virtues demanded of children at that time, and we did not dare voice any opinions or ideas of our own. Parents in that time were not “permissive” as we are told they are today. All “grown-ups” were “Good” and all children were “Bad”. For a child to be accused of something meant he might as well admit guilt, for he would be judged guilty anyway.”
|Mark, Noel, Brian, Eric & Grandpa|
at Disneyland, circa 1957.
Reading first about Great-grandmother’s premonition, and then about the way that children were considered bad, provided me with ample food for thought, a veritable feast. It sure clarifies a lot about our roles when we were kids, especially things like the ongoing conflict between me and Mama about contributing the bulk of my weekly paycheck to the family.
All would be moot, however, if my great-grandmother’s dying request had been ignored. Here is what Grandpa wrote, on page five of the Foreword to his “My Entry into the United States:”
“Of some fifty boys who were my school-chums, half (25) fell in worldwar one, besides a number “missing”. We can only speculate on what my fate might have been." German law stipulated at the time Grandpa came to this country, that once boys reached age fifteen, they could no longer emigrate.
So on her deathbed in 1899, Great-grandmother foresaw The Great War, and because of that, Grandpa was whisked to America at age fourteen.
I will say what has already been said: What a crazy trip this thing called life is.
More to come…