Rotary News for July 18, 2022
Peg Wunder presented a program about the life of an immigrant after she got to the United States showing how the government handled 200,00 immigrants who came to the United States in 1948 under a special law signed by President Truman. This is just one story about an immigrant who got to America and what she went through.
Religious groups nationwide signed up to be sponsors under the Act of 1948 signed by Truman to open emigration to 200,000 (later expanded) people. The first ship arrived on October 30, 1948 with these displaced persons. Each immigrant had to have a sponsor. My history here is sketchy as Louise never talked about getting to the U.S. and traveling by train to Lemmon, South Dakota.
Her sponsor was a minister from Bison and her son was sponsored by a rancher and his wife from south of Bison. At that point upon getting these people to their sponsors the government was no longer involved.
After several weeks, Mrs. Vetter, a neighbor next to the minister, expressed concern to my father that she had not seen Louise (her house was next door to the ministers, so my dad went to check on Louise. The Minister’s wife said that she had not come down from the attic for several days so my Dad went up and found Louise, in bed, covered in blankets with frost on the attic boards. She was suffering from the flu. My dad who was known for rescuing kittens that people dropped off in town, plus helping people in jail to get jobs guaranteeing them to work off their fines and working to make Bison a better little town. He knew someone had to do something, so he picked up Louise, blankets and all and brought her to our home. I had just gotten home from school for noon lunch when my father walked in carrying Louise and said to my mother “Look at what I found, Beth!”
That day Louise became part of the family. The minister’s house had a dining room where the family ate, and Louise stayed in the kitchen and got to eat the leftovers and her bedroom was in the unheated attic. And there was a language barrier! At our house we had a large kitchen and no dining room. All of us including Louise, ate at that table in the kitchen. When Mom brought Louise to the table that first night and had her sit down at that extra plate, Louise cried.
That began two years of Louise learning to speak English. What I remember is that during the school year, Louise took my older brother’s shoes every night, polished them and replaced him by his bed. He was the only high school kids who had polished shoes every day and it embarrassed him. The house had hard wood floors and I spent weeks looking for dust bunnies until I was told that Louise was dusting under our beds as we sleep. She sang to the chickens and in the morning as she left the house singing this huge flock of chicks would stampede toward her. When it came time to butcher the chickens, I got to hold them on the chopping block while my mother chopped their heads off. Louise would clean then but killing them was beyond her. We had an episode with a snake coiled up next to the screen door. I was outside and at age eight or so it seemed a good idea to yell “Mom”. When my mother inside the house saw the situation with the hoe out of reach, she told me to go to the garden and get Louise. I remember running and trying to figure out how I was going to tell Louise about the snake. I had no idea what the word for snake was. When she finally figured out what the problem was, she took off up the hill to the house screaming with the hoe held upright and when I got there, she had minced the snake into numerous pieces.
After several years Pete proposed to Louise and she married him. My dad didn’t want her to marry Pete saying that he was a hard man and making her promise to come back home to us if her marriage did not work out. Quietly she came into our lives and just as quietly she
left. Pete, the man she married, had racehorses and every day she had to haul buckets of water for the horses. He seldom let her come to town, so we didn’t get to see her. My mother said she suddenly had white streaks in her beautiful black hair the one time she saw her.
About this time her son fulfilled his time being sponsored and moved to an area in the east where people from the Baltics had settled. When he was going to get married, Louise begged Pete to let her go. Pete initially refused saying that if she left, she would not come back. Finally, he agreed, and she went to the wedding. As she had promised she came back. Several years later he son and his wife were going to have a baby and Louise asked Pete if she could go and he reasoned that she had come back the last time, so he let her go. She didn’t come back.
A number of years later Pete died and his two brothers asked that Dad go with them to court, and he refused. It seems that Pete had never divorced Louise so she inherited the racehorses, the ranch, everything.
We are a collection of our life’s experiences, and they form us and make us who we are. I am sure that a part of Louise is in me. As I watch what is happening in Ukraine I think of Louise and what it must have been like fleeing and then the long voyage across the Atlantic and after that the long train ride across the United States to South Dakota. I thought it might be a good idea provide some insight of what happens after the immigrants reach safe haven.