I turned fourteen almost exactly on the day I started high school, a challenging enough of an adventure for me. Bishop Amat was tough, not only academically, but because there were more than fifteen hundred students attending it, compared to my insulated grammar school, St. Martha’s. Note, we were not a junior high; St Martha’s was a first through eighth grade, elementary school.
Compared to what my grandfather did at age fourteen, though, my “accomplishment” pales. Speaking only a few sentences of English, Grandpa emigrated from The Fatherland, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and then traveled by train across the country to Sioux City, Iowa. His passage would have been paid for by his Uncle Julius Eidt, to whom Grandpa was apprenticed for the first five years in America.
All along his route, there was someone there to direct Grandpa on to the next leg of his journey, a tribute to man’s humanity to man, the adults along the way monitoring the kid’s progress through he system. He obviously had his paperwork in order, with the ticket available upon demand, and so the conductor had his back.
The voyage would have been terrifying enough for me, if I were able to communicate with those around me. To travel by myself and not understand what was being said or asked of me, would have been a death blow. Therefore, when Grandpa found a "Newsbutcher," a man who peddled newspapers and fruit on the train who spoke a little German, he could relax a little-sort of.
Grandpa wrote, “The final train ride started promptly at seven P.M. We crossed the state of Illinois and the Father of Waters at or near Dubuque, I believe. There was a “Newsbutcher” on the train who peddled sandwiches, soda pop, peanuts and fruit. He knew a little German, and with my meager English, we managed to transact a little business.
I liked the strange fruit called bananas, and was familiar with oranges; so was able to stave off hunger. I got the newsboy to wake me when we crossed the Mississippi. There were no other odd happenings until next morning when we stopped at some corn fields. A branch line led off to the northland and a three-car passenger train was ready to go. The conductor had been keeping an eye on me, and so I was off on the last part of my trip. In Sioux City, my uncle, Father Schaefer, and Uncle Julius, were waiting and took me to my new home, in ‘Crescent Park’”.
What must that have been like, after traveling halfway around the world by yourself, to be united with family again, especially knowing that Uncle Julius had paid your passage to America? Grandpa must have felt indebted to him.
As was his writing style, Grandpa abruptly followed the passage above with these words:
|Might Grandpa's "kelly"|
have looked like this?
“It should be mentioned that I entered the country not merely broke, but also hatless, which happened as follows: As our ship proceeded up the Hudson River into New York Harbor, suddenly there was an excited stirring among the passengers: Liberty! There she was, facing out to sea, just as we had been told.”
I pause momentarily to reflect upon what this symbol of our freedom used to mean to the rest of the world. Today? What a joke; we are the laughingstock of the world.
The passage continues, “Everyone wanted to get a good look. And as I craned my neck, a sudden gust of wind grabbed my straw “kelly” and there it went, overboard. And so I landed in New York, bareheaded, which in that day seemed almost a crime.”
Interesting that to be hatless in 1901, outside, was to be out-of-synch with the rest of the universe.
“My cap, a typical gray one, was in my trunk, out of reach for me at the time; I did not have money to buy a hat, so traveled without.”
It would seem that Grandpa traveled without a lot of everything, including money, food and companionship, which makes the journey that much more amazing. There are times when I feel as though traveling down to Ukiah, a ninety minute jaunt, is like traveling to the ends of the earth.
And they even speak English in Ukiah. Go figure.