Let’s jump ahead to 1916. Rosa and Stanislas were married in 1906. My mother (her first-born) told me many times that it was a marriage of convenience. When I finally was old enough to ask her what that meant, she said that it was common for eastern European peasant women to agree to marry someone they liked but didn’t love, for the security of a home. “She” wanted security, “he” wanted someone to keep house (and, I suspect, to sleep with.)
Whatever the story—and it was a story I’d heard as a child many times—I believed it, given what I saw in the relationships between men and women in my neighborhood, a neighborhood that was filled with immigrants from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia.
Did Stanislas love Rosalia? Probably. From my mother’s stories, he apparently cared a great deal for her. If the word “progressive” had been used, it would have described him for he considerately positioned the bureau in such a way that Rosa could see the mirrored reflection of the wood-burning stove and know when she had to get up from her birthing bed to add more wood. It seems the women in the neighborhood were impressed; the men? Lots of criticism, according to tales Rosa told my mother.
Stanislas had emigrated to the U.S. in 1907. By the time he married Rosa in 1916, he had been working for some time as a carpenter for the local rail road. And in the custom of so many eastern European immigrants, he worked hard and saved money…enough to marry Rosa, buy a house two years later for $1700, and satisfy the mortgage two years later. By 1920 the immigrant couple was debt free. That was the house my mother was born in, the house in which the midwife tried to drown Rosa’s newborn daughter in the kitchen sink. (If Stanislas hadn’t positioned the bureau where he did, I would not have been born 38 years later.)