Rosalia’s Story Part 13: Chicago


Continued from October 23, 2016

Hot, sweaty, tired, scared…Rosa wandered through the busy Chicago streets in search of the restaurant Jan had told her about. The map she’d been given at the train station was no help; she couldn’t decipher the English alphabet. She found no one who spoke Polish. Person after person shrugged and quickly went about their day. Tears once more welled up in her eyes. She reached for her shawl to wipe them away; there must have been something about the bright red roses woven onto the black background that made a gray-haired woman stop, turn to Rosa, and place her hands gently on the young woman’s shoulders and ask in a much-missed language, “Are you lost?”

And this is where I lose much of my grandmother’s story, at least in terms of what my own mother told me about her. Here’s what I imagine:

I know she took the train from New York to Chicago where she worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant and learned to make roux (a French sauce made from melted butter and flour, cooked in a shallow frying pan until golden brown. Serve it with fresh green beans; it’s great!)

Chicago had a rich settlement of emigres from Poland. In fact, many descendants of those brave people can still be found in Chicago, where traditions, like those in Northeast Minneapolis, are kept alive; changed a bit, but still celebrated.

I believe she met Stanislasz Koziol there. My mother told me there was no attraction, at least on Rosalia’s part, but he became the man she eventually married later in Minneapolis. But whether they acquaintance went anywhere beyond a polite nod and a handshake in Chicago I’ll never know.

So, imagine her in 1913 Chicago, a hectic, crowded city, trying to find her way among horse-drawn carts and, in the wealthier parts of town, Model T  Fords. And people…so many people. She looks for the restaurant where her cousin Jan (pronounced
“yawn”) had said she could find a job. 

Leave her there for a year, long enough to repay Jan for his loan. It becomes obvious that making sauces and washing dishes isn’t going to earn her a decent living.  So once more, put her on a train, this time for Minneapolis.

How did she find her way from Minneapolis’ Milwaukee Road Depot to Northeast Minneapolis? If she was anything like her daughter (my mother), by this time Rosa must have made friends within the heavily populated Polish communities in Chicago and Minneapolis. She would have learned of the heavy concentration of Poles in Northeast Minneapolis. I do know that she joined Holy Cross Parish, somehow acquired a sewing machine, and….

To be continued.


Author: Judy Westergard

Retired English teacher, self-taught painter, inveterate reader and still lovin' my Kindle!

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