ONE DRAFT DOWN, ????? TO GO

 

It is good news (at least for me) that I have finished the first draft of my second book, Coming to Amerika. The first draft has been undergoing editorial review from the professor at Northern State University who translated many of the letters used in this immigrant story.

I have started on the second draft and am looking for people willing to read the chapters and give me feedback. I want this to be a compelling, nonfiction family saga and need readers’ reactions.

If you are willing to go on this second journey with me, please let me know and I will feed you chapters as I progress. To give you an idea of what it encompasses I am including here the introduction.

INTRODUCTION

We are, as John F. Kennedy once famously wrote, a nation of immigrants. Driven by famine, warfare, religious persecution, and political and economic oppression, we came to the United States attracted by the opportunity for a freer life and greater economic security. The story, of course, is more complex than this. There are those of us who were brutally brought here as slaves and found no freedom or opportunity. And, there were those already here who lost much in people, property and their ways of life as a result of contact with immigrants.

These are the sweeping generalizations of standard history books. Beneath them, however, lies what I call “history at the ground level”— the unique stories of the individuals who lived the events so briefly described in the books. Coming to Amerikais one such unique story. It follows the fortunes of members of the Lodholz family as they journey to and settle in the United States.

Having a B.A. and M.A. degree in the field, I have been passionate about history since a teenager in Beirut, Lebanon, where my father was a diplomat and we explored Sidon, Tyre, Baalbek and the great Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers. This passion has now been fueled by an extensive collection of family documents and photographs, spanning some 100 years from 1850 to 1950, which came into my and my brother’s possession upon the death of family members. This comprehensive archive is unique in its breadth and depth. A true story, it rivals fictionalized family sagas such as BuddenbrooksThe Thorn BirdsRoots and the novels of James Michener.

The family seemingly threw nothing out. Letters were saved to be savored on multiple readings. Even receipts for the sale of eggs and small drawings by children were placed safely away. In them I found a richness of detail about the lives of a wide variety of individuals I had never known, each with his or her own quirks and personalities. It made a century of American history come alive and I wanted to share this discovery of what it was like to live through those times.

In addition, as an historian, I am acutely aware that immigrants have often met with hostility, the Irish and Chinese being prime examples. We need to be reminded, with works such as Coming toAmerika, that it is the immigrants’ successes, failures, trials and tribulations which are the stuff of which this nation is made.

The book is divided into two parts, each focusing on one generation of the family. In Part One: The First Generation you will travel with fifty-two-year-old Anna Maria Lodholz and her two teenage children as they leave Ebhausen in what is today Germany, sail on the S.S. Fox through the storms of the Atlantic to walk right off the ship in New York City (no Ellis Island at the time) to join two older children, factory workers in Terryville, Connecticut. You will follow the family westward to be among the earliest settlers on the seemingly endless plains of Kansas. There with few comforts, they risk crop failures, prairie fires and grasshopper plagues for land of their own and independence. Their prairie life contrasts dramatically with the unsettled factory existence of the one family member who remains behind, working in the Colt pistol factory during the Civil War and facing possible conscription.

Later, in Part Two: The Second Generation, you are introduced to the family of daughter Anna Regina Lodholz, married to Henry Reb, blacksmith and farmer, and their many children who after Henry’s death help their mother keep and grow their farm into a prosperous enterprise. Along the way you will meet a security guard at the Chicago World’s Fair, a woman who mastered printing glass plate negatives in a horse trough; a husband who took his wife and young child to California in the vain hope of curing her of tuberculosis; and a farmer hit hard by the Great Depression, losing two farms and reduced to working as a handyman to try to make ends meet. All these and more are the real-life characters whose voices you will hear in this narrative.

In writing Coming to Amerika, I found myself submerged in their world.  I hope that you can take yourself back almost two centuries now and find pleasure in submerging yourself in their world too.

 

NOTE ON TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTERS AND DOUMENTS:

It is difficult to convey from our present perspective how important letters were to our ancestors. Often separated by many long miles of difficult to traverse terrain, relatives and friends found in letters an emotional attachment to loved ones as well as information about their health, joys and sorrows; hard times and bountiful harvests; the quick strike of death and the newborn child.

Translated for the first time for this book, the letters and documents in Part One: The First Generation were written in Old German. I have generally kept to the translators’ wording while formatting the material into more coherent paragraphs. Paper was valuable and postage cost money so the letters were often crammed with writing.

The letters and documents in Part Two: The Second Generation were written in English. In transcribing these, I have kept the spelling of the writers and provided the modern correction only when it is not obvious what the word signified. Keeping the original spelling allows the reader to catch the accent of the letter writer. The letters contain run-on sentences and paragraphs, often skipping abruptly to new topics, one indication that the letters were often written in several sessions. In this case I have divided sentences, inserted punctuation and created paragraphs in order to make the text easier to follow.

In both parts I have added contextual information about events mentioned and unfamiliar terms and items. This information is hardly meant to be exhaustive and leaves the reader to explore further if he or she is curious about it.

The letters are of course arranged chronologically, but they are not consecutive, that is, there was obviously more correspondence than was actually saved. The sequence of letters, however, provide a consistent story of interwoven lives. Coming to Amerika reads I hope like a good epistolary novel.

 

 

The School Ma’am


My great-grandmother Francina Smith had a literary bent.  She wrote occasional poetry on traditional Victorian themes—death, religion, and the like.  She also, however, wrote some flowery, but witty letters in response to items she read in the Saturday Evening Post.  These letters were not published in  the Post, but in more local papers, including the Toledo Blade (still in existence) which was widely circulated in Kansas.  She had been a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and relates her experience:

Written for the Saturday Evening Post

You Dear, Darling Old Post:

I love you more than ever—if that is possible—since I find we are permitted to come to you with our troubles.  And as Uncle Aaron would say, “I accordingly avail myself of the opportunity.”

I know it must be dreadful to be a “Reminder” and be “mistooken” for all sorts of people; I infer from Observation that it is inconvenient to be ”too little;” I have no doubt that it is discouraging to be “too big”; and to be “too thick,” or “too thin”—like sorghum molasses—may not be blissful; but I am persuaded that not one of my dear sisters (“in distress”) who have written so pathetically of their several grievances ever taught “deestrict” school and “boarded round.”

I have.

I say it not with an air of boasting, but rather with an humble and contrite spirit. Teaching may be, as some learned person has remarked, “a high and mighty calling.”  But when it comes to “boarding round,” it’s calling rather frequently, and on all manner of people.”

Just think of being circulated through a whole neighborhood like an interesting pamphlet, or an itinerant brass kettle.  To have no abiding place.  To go Jones’s tonight, and get black looks and receive admonitory hints in reference to keeping “our Johnny” in at recess.”   And have to sleep alone in a lonesome room at the end of the porch.  Couldn’t complain last night, however, as my bed was in Brown’s family room, and I had two of the children for bedfellows. One night to be chilled in Smith’s barnlike chamber, and feel little icy imps scampering up and down your back, until you think it would.be pleasant to be roasted alive a la wild “Injun,” but change your mind next night when Mrs. Green undertakes it in her little bed-room with a big fire and a mountain of bed-clothes.

To be regaled on every known edible from pot-pie to “water-million preserves.”  Variety may be the spice of life, but one cannot be expected to subsist on spice.

And when you alight, as you frequently will, at a congenial fireside, you dare not spend more than the allotted time, or it will be reported that you are “struck” with the “hired hand,” or, the hopeful heir to the said fireside, so you can only “take up your staff and travel on.”

And when your own real loves comes over to see how you are prospering, and to bring the last “Post” and “Lady’s Friend,” and a letter from Sis, and —well, on consideration I presume the foregoing will be considered sufficient excuse for his coming, so I need not reveal anything further.  But, to have all of the old ladies catechizing you concerning him; and the little boys making remarks about his having eye-brows on his upper lip; all of which you must bear with smiling composure.  You know why.  There is nothing under the sun a poor “lone, lorn” woman in the country can do but teach school (or get married) and she must be very meek and conciliatory if she gets to do that—which includes the phrase in parenthesis.

I might write much more—but if you are not yet convinced, there is a school “out on the pike,” [for] which you can secure an application, and have the opportunity of “trying it on” ”boarding around” and all.

“Walking for your supper,

Miles of up-hill road;

Whaling little urchins

With an oaken rule,

Bless me! Ain’t it pleasant,

Teaching district school.”

Anicnarf

[Francina spelled backwards]

 

 

Salleretes Anyone?

On the outside of a sheet of paper with notes giving common English expressions, such as “Good Morning,” along with their German equivalents my great-great gradmother wrote recipes in Old German for ginger snap cookies and gingerbread. This was in the day before our modern baking powder.  So what was used in its place for leavening?  “Salleretes” or more properly Saleratus—aerated salt—made by exposing a carbonate substance to CO2. It was produced domestically from the middle of the 19thcentury.  The recipes, or receipts as they were called in those days, are rather sketchy, the assumption being made that the cook would already be familiar with what to do with the ingredients.

A teacup of molasses, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of butter, half a cup of warm water.

Melt the butter with a small teaspoon of “Salleretes” and make it quite thin. Then a large spoonful of ginger and make the dough stiff and put it in the mold.  [Most likely a cast iron cookie mold].

 

White ginger bread!  [white because it is made with white flour]

A cup of flour, a cup of butter, 1 1/2 cups molasses, a cup of milk, a big spoonful of “Saleretes”, a small spoonful of ginger, two eggs!

 

Quote

Duke's Secret

 

We tend to look back at the Victorian era and stereotype the woman as squeamish about bodily functions and sex.  Now meet my great-aunt Lulu, a lively chatterbox and lover of the romance novels of the day.  In my blog from last October, Emails Are Not Letters,   you met her then financé John.  Now two children and many years into their marriage, Lulu had not been feeling well so went to spend time with her family.  From there she writes to John in answer to two letters he has sent her.  The excerpts from this letter are not for the squeamish.

Note that the Banana Musk mentioned is a musk mellon which has a banana Flavor.  Turpentine oil, despite its toxicity, has a long history of medicinal use.  The safe mentioned was a pie safe.

                                                                                                                        Sept. 3rd, 1901                                                                                                                        Bigelow, Kans.

My Darling Boy!

John, forgive me for not writing sooner, you will won’t you when you get my letter & find I did not get yours until so late in the week?  I know you would be disappointed, but could not help it as things were.

It is rather warm here & very dry. Everybody is busy haying and cutting for days.  I went up town yesterday morning after some Med for Ma. She got ready to go along and company came so she had to stay at home.  I drove up by myself or rather the boys & I.  They drove for me most of the time. . . .

When I went down after Ma’s Medicine at Hollinger he looked at the boys & said they both needed something for worms. So I got him to fix me up some for them as Henry I know is troubled with them.  Hollinger says 2 or 3 passed from him the last two weeks. He [Hollinger] says that was what caused them [her sons] to have the spell of Diarrhea last week and the week before.

Gladys, them [Maynard and Henry] and I are siting out in the shade of the maples. Pa just brought me your letters and, Oh John, how I wish you were here or I was there. Twouldn’t matter which but will try and content myself with writing. . . .[I have] an Idea some of my undsclothes [underclothes] stuffed would be a much cooler bed fellow than I while it is so awful warm.

Am glad you thought of your truant [herself] on her birthday anyway. And you ask why I left Maynard.  [Lulu presumably told John she had left Maynard with someone else for a time.] I know I am cranky and cross with them but I love the little darlings just the same & when they are sick or don’t feel well I forget Self but I am growing stronger every day.  I know but can’t believe I was very bad sick.

Some way there will be time after I come home to finish the Log Cabin before cold weather & if I don’t come in time to eat Watermelen [Watermelon] with you, it is my fault. I think a 25 lb melon wouldn’t go wanting for someone to eat it if I was there.  Do hope you can get a good price for what you have to sell.

I don’t know whether any of the folks will come down [to her and John’s home in Missouri when] I do or not.  Lousa talks some of going if I don’t start to[o] soon. If they don’t, don’t you worry about me getting along with the children as I can do that all OK. I know the time seems long enough to me so it must be oh so long to you, but I am living in hopes of the near future now. . . .

Yes, I’ll come home “some day” and you must make the cobbler [fruit cobbler] to[o], will you alright?  You would not surprise me much if I were to wake & find you here some night as I often wake up & think am at home & reach over & feel for you & then. . . .

Mrs. Belisle surely has a tremendous big foot or bottom so you say.  I always thought she had a small foot so wore a small shoe. Anyway perhaps I haven’t got as large a foot as I’ve always thought I had for I think I am larger than she & don’t wear quite as large a shoe. . . .

The mass [of flowers at the farm] must be pretty. Those flowers you sent over fresh & nice yet.  Am glad you got that peach to eat.  Must have been nice from the size.  Do hope that apple will hang on until I get home as I want to see it. . . .

Wish I had a piece of a Bananna Musk to eat but when they get ripe, eat a piece for me.

Now, John, I’ll tell you exactly when & what day I’ll bid farewell to KS.  I start, o my darling boy, Thurs. Sept. 26th. . . .

Now for your second letter.  My Dearest boy, I know just how you felt when you got no letter but what can I say more than I am so sorry & when I think of you there all alone I can’t help but cry you no.  My darling boy, you do not deserve any such treatment as you are getting for the men are very few, very few, that would be this patient, ever bearing Husband you have been.  I hope you have got my letter by this time [referring to a previous letter she sent] & will send this so you will get it on the regular day.

Wed. morn. 4th.  Well I give Henry his Med. Yesterday & just before going to bed it had taken effect.  Gave 3 powders 3 hrs apart, then oil & a few drops of turpentine & has been 7 worms almost as large as a lead pencil & fully 10 inches long come from him. So I guess the Medicine was pretty good.

So you have burnt all of your old letters [apparently both to her and other former girlfriends].  Don’t you remember you told me I could read them but never found the time.  I burnt a good share of mine before we were married but I cared nothing for them and I believe there were some of yours at least that you thought a good deal of and ought to of kept them.  Any how I’ll keep those scraps for the sake of the letters you’ve written me on them & in the memory of others for you.  Will that do? . . .

I have read & read & reread your letters & will have to read them again before I put them away.  So you have me all pictured out how I’ll look? Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed & as to my having my teeth fixed, John, I was perfectly astonished, not that is unlike you to want them fixed, but thought I had been expense enough to you already this summer.  Nevertheless, I thank you many, many times for thinking of it and will go & see what will cost, but can’t promise whether I’ll have it done or not.  Am afraid twill take more than you think for [it].

Am so glad you bought that safe.  Have wanted one so long but would rather of had one of your own make.  Perhaps it is selfish of me to be so but I think more of anything you make than to buy it. It costs you lots of hard work I know to make anything of that hard wood, but it is made by your own dear hands. I would like to slip in there some Sunday & watch you awhile if I could, but am afraid if I got that near I couldn’t watch you long.

Does any of the neighbors ever call on you except when they want to borrow or eat watermelon?  Has Mrs. Patrick bought or sent that “Duke’s Secret” home? I read a book the last week called “Dick’s Sweetheart or the Duchess.”  Is something similar to the “Duke” but more of a sad story. Some parts made me think of you so much would have to quit reading. . . .

So my beloved I hope this will reach you by Sat. & give you ½ even as much pleasure as it does me to read yours & don’t work to[o] hard, John, for you know you aren’t able to stand so much hard work & where’s the benefit if you was yourself out at hard work as anything else as life is so short we ought to enjoy it a little as we go along & you could if you had agreed[able] helpmeet [helpmate, meaning herself]. Well, John, Good Bye for this time. I shall seal this with kisses from your Babies & Wife again.

Oh, John, Good By for a few days that seem months.

L. me