Rosalia’s Story Part 20: Baby Rosie is Born, Stanley is Killed

So…let’s recap the story thus far:

WWI has come and gone. If Rosalia had been able to write to the family she’d left in behind in Poland or they to her, there was no indication in my motreadle_catalogther’s “archives” (i.e., her memories of Rosalia).

Rosalia—now called Rose in her desire to be more American—has married. With her husband’s assistance she has purchased a Singer treadle sewing machine for $11, not inexpensive but certainly manageable with Stanley’s income as a carpenter for the railroad.  My mom often told me–with great pride–that among Rose’s clients were the wives of the men who ran General Mills and Pillsbury. (I’ve always questioimg_0473ned  how true that story was, but I treasure it nonetheless.) 

Rose doesn’t know it yet, but those sewing skills are what will allow her to support her two daughters after Stanley’s frightful death

She and Stanley bouht a red brick duplex on the corner of Lowry Avenue and Sixth Street in 1918, the same house I was raised in. It featured four rooms in the upper unit, four rooms below; a porch on each level; and a coal-burning heating system in a basement the floor of which was packed earth..not uncommon for houses of that time. The house was near the grain silos and railroad tracks that abounded in Northeast in a neighborhood that was (and still is) noted for industrial commerce.  

The house was about as far from downtown noise and traff
ic as one could get. “Your grandfather wanted me to grow up in fresh air,” my mother used to tell me. (A favored child? Indeed! It seems he bought the house for her.) 

Twenty four months later they satisfied the mortgage…an achievement of great pride for Stanley and Rose for whom debt, according to my mother, was a disgrace but for whom home ownership was something not to be dreamed of “in the old country.”

A second daughter, the woman whom years later I called Auntie Rosie, was born four years after my mother. The three babies who were born in the years between Helen (1917) and Rosie (1921) did not survive; stillborn infants were not unusual in those years.

Stanley was granted U.S. citizenship in 1921 at the age of 33. He worked as a carpenter for the Northern Pacific Railroad. One of the heavy wooden door
s of the railroad car he was repairing fell on him, resulting in what today we could call a traumatic brain injury. My mother would tell me how her father would “writhe on the kitchen floor, screaming in Polish, ‘Rose! Get the children outside!’” He knew he was about to become violent. Did he suspect that he might harm his girls? Or did he merely wish them not to see him this way? I’ve always suspected the former.

My mother also told me how close she and her father were (“I was his favorite” she’d say), and how, when he was transferred to the St. Peter Mental Hospital in St. Peter, Minnesota, she would become violently car sick on the way to visit him. So the neighbor who drove the small family to St. Peter suggested that they leave my mother—now 12 years old—at a local gas station until they returned. She never became car sick on the way back.

The next time my mother saw her father was at his funeral. He had wandered off the grounds at St. Peter’s and was struck by a delivery truck.

Move ahead to 1924 when Rosalia hired attorney Joseph Kozlak of 533 Metropolitan Bank Bldg., Mpls., to “diligently prosecute a claim for damages on account of the negligent injury of (Rose’s) husband…while in the service of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company.” She agreed to pay the attorney 50% of the damages awarded.

A few months later Rose signed a Petition for Letters of Guardianship of her two little girls.

She became a U.S. citizen on July of 1935. I never asked my mother if Rose spoke any English. Inasmuch as my own mother did not speak English until she completed kindergarten, I doubt it. I  wish I had asked. I wish I had asked so many other questions.


Author: Judy Westergard

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

3 thoughts on “Rosalia’s Story Part 20: Baby Rosie is Born, Stanley is Killed”

  1. We have need of an authenthic view of the immigration experience. We need to witness the humanity, emulate the backbone, conjure the will and discern the individuals. This labor of love and family generously invites us in.

    You’ve beautifully revealed Rosalia’s unbounded strength and resolve to follow through with an American dream that began with a wistful, coveted grasp of a steamship photo in the confines of her room in the old country. Her mother would’ve been very proud of her, I think, despite her initial reservations. We can imagine that, along side the mother’s natural desire to protect her child, there may have been a little jealousy, as is so often the case as a daughter finds her own way in life. The separation must’ve been emotionally intense for both of them.

    The overwhelming sadness of Stanley’s fate ironically propels Rosa to a new level of independence and responsibility. Your mother’s strong desire to relate Rosa’s success as a seamstress to you reinforces the high-profile strong female presence in your family, culminating with your voice. This story surprises, lives, breathes and leaves us aching to meet you and your daughter. Very nicely woven.


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