Continued from October 27, 2016
Rosa felt as though she’d aged 20 years. “I look like it, too,” she said to herself as she caught her reflection in a train station window.
But first things first. She needed to find Holy Cross Parish in northeast Minneapolis. “You’ll find that everyone there speaks Polish, including the priest,” a friend in Chicago had told her.
Stanislaw led her to the streetcar that would take her into into northeast Minneapolis. The ride wasn’t long enough for Rosa to sort out everything she’d been through since she left her small Polish village a little over a year ago. Was it really only a year ago that she was beheading chickens in the back yard and rolling dough on the wobbly wooden kitchen table? That world now seemed impossibly far away.
And here is where I lose so much first-hand knowledge of my grandmother’s story. I imagine her holding tightly to her carry-all and the old purse she’d found and getting off the street car that, from what I could find, ran down University Avenue in Minneapolis. If it did indeed go that far, its tracks would have gone past Holy Cross Church. She would have spoken with Father Ambrose Kryjewski. Was it he who directed her to any one of the number of duplexes in the area whose owners rented rooms?
The neighborhood was settled primarily by immigrants from eastern Europe. Corner grocers spoke Czech and Polish and carried foods Rosa would have been familiar with.
She also needed to find a job. Did she sew for the church? Probably; the priests’ cassocks would have needed mending, and altar cloths would need repair as a result of burns from candles held by careless altar boys.
So let’s say that Holy Cross finds her a room to rent and a job. It wouldn’t have paid much, but it would have been a start.
A few months later the Northeast Neighborhood House began operations. It was one of four settlement houses in the city. It offered classes in sewing, cooking, carpentry, and dancing. Within the first three years the NENH helped over 7,000 women find work. It’s easy for me to imagine that Rosa would have taken advantage of it, especially as her sewing skills were excellent. (The photo is of Rosa in the wedding dress she made for herself in 1916.) I doubt that she taught sewing there, but she probably made connections with women who eventually became her clients. And while she still spoke almost no English, neither did most of the N.E. residents at that time. Eastern European dialects were dominant.