After spending three years as a patient at the St. Peter Mental Hospital in St. Peter, Minnesota, Rose’s husband dies in a tragic accident. She sues for custody of her daughters and in 1928 she signs a Petition for Letters of Guardianship. Rose is granted U.S. citizenship in 1935 and dies in 1940 at the age of 48. Her daughters are 23 and 19. This is where her story continues…and where it ends.
“Ma! I’m home,” Helen called out. She pushed hard on the kitchen door; no matter how many times she tried to fix it, it always stuck in warm, humid weather. She was met again by the sweet odor of urine that surrounded her mother.
Helen’s days on a Durkee-Atwood assembly line were long and physically demanding.
“Oh Ma, I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t get over the tracks before the train came. It was a long wait.”
“Rozumiem,” Rose answered.
“I know you understand, Ma, but that doesn’t make it any better. Let’s tap your drain tube and get you cleaned up.”
Helen struggled yet again to help her steadily weakening mother to the bathroom. Remove wet underwear and nightgown. Go to the basement and retrieve the dry clothing from the clothesline. Carry them up the steep stone steps to the small room her mother used as a bedroom.
“Ready for your insulin injection?” she asked. Her mother’s thin, papery skin seemed so fragile in Helen’s hand.
“There is no need to thank me, Ma. But we need to get the doctor over here. You are not looking very good. Let me help you sit up. Then I’ll run next door to use the phone.”
Despite the pasty, anemic look on her mother’s face, Rose was still plump. Water retention? Her heavy limp body gave her daughter a lot to contend with. After a shared struggle…and a few shared giggles…Rose was finally propped up in the feather bed she used to share with Stanley.“Ah, dziękuję. That feels better.”
Helen walked out into the warm September afternoon, glad to be out of the house if only for a few minutes. She looked forward to chatting with “Mrs. Next Door” and her daughters.
She called the doctor and stayed to chat for a few minutes minutes.
A shiver ran through her. “I’d better get back,” she said anxiously.
Helen returned to find that her mother had died.
It’s here that Rosalia’s story ends. I started it in the hope that I would get to know the grandmother who died five years before I was born, a grandmother whose story I knew only through the disjointed storyline my mother passed on to me. And while I’ve come to admire and respect Rose’s strength and persistence, I still do not feel I know her.
Peace, Grandma. I tried.
A big cyber-hug and thank you to the folks below who graciously took time from their busy days to give me feedback.
Karen Kiefer, artist and writer: http://www.kieferart.com
Marty Levine, author and instructor
Island of Hope Island of Tears: The story of Ellis Island; film by Charles Guggenheim
Polish-American Folklore, Deborah Anders Silverman; University of Illinois Press
Minnesota History Center & Library, St. Paul, Minnesota
A Nation of Immigrants; John F. Kennedy