My grandmother’s family emigrated from the Netherlands in 1919, arriving in the United States on November 19. They settled on a farm near Boyden, Iowa. Grandmother immigrated at age 11 with her father, mother, two brothers and one sister because her father wanted to go to “mooce Amerika” the land of prosperity, where money was plentiful and there was always lots of food to eat. They also sought more freedoms, since the Netherlands government had many controls on farming operations after World War I. But how different they found life here.
Grandmother came aboard The New Amsterdam, traveling third class even though her family had purchased second-class passages. Each day Grandmother would walk over the decks of the ship with her father to get fresh air; they were the only family members who did not suffer seasickness. Grandmother ate many salted crackers, which were given to help against seasickness. She remembers eagerly watching to see the Statue of Liberty as their ship entered New York Harbor. After their family was processed through Ellis Island they went to a mainland hotel. Grandmother says it seemed as if the people were saying “yib yib yib,” as she did not understand English. When their immigrating group entered the hotel, one man fell against a window, breaking it. After much difficulty it was understood that they did not have to pay damages.
Grandmother traveled from New York to Chicago by train. Their family was detained in Chicago. They huddled together, lying against each other to rest on the train depot bench, with their few trunks of belongings at their feet. Grandmother remembers many people stopping to look at them and shaking their heads as they walked away. Her family continued by train to the farm community of Boyden, Iowa, where they lived with relatives. They were gladdened with the birth of a baby girl two months after they arrived.
Grandmother was placed several grades back in school to the third grade because she was unable to speak English. When she tried to say something the other students laughed. Grandmother became determined not to say another word until she learned the new language well. She sat in school without saying a word for one whole year.
In the spring of 1920 Grandmother’s family moved to their own rented 40-acre farm. One neighbor farm lady helped the family by baking all their bread from large sacks of flour they took her. It was Grandmother’s job to bring home fresh-baked loaves for her mother.
Grandmother often said, “Oh! Had we but stayed in the Netherlands.” Her family did not like the cold weather, deep snow and sticky mud in America. But Grandmother’s family made the best of it as their mother taught them to do. Grandmother continued in school until she could speak the new language well, which earned her the responsibility of helping her father with his farm business. Grandmother occasionally worked as a hired girl for $1 a day until marrying my grandfather in the summer of 1929. My grandparents farmed together through many hardships and shared each other’s happiness until Grandfather’s death in the summer of 1972. Grandmother, now 85, lives comfortably with her youngest son in her own home in Inwood, Iowa, living on the income from two quarter sections of farmland she owns. Their faith in God carried them through their many adversities in this new land.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.