Land of Opportunity: Marriage of Convenience Forces Grandfather to Leave

Abusive results from parents’ marriage of convenience lands teen with apprenticeship; after army service, grandfather wanders to land of opportunity.

| Good Old Days

Long before his family knew of the land of opportunity, my grandfather, August Maiwald, was born in a tiny hamlet in Silesia, then part of Germany. His parents each had children by previous marriages; the high mortality rate of the times led to many marriages of convenience. There were no jobs for women, and men were unsuited for caring for children. As the youngest of the lot, Grandfather was the target of abuse. He often said, "When my mother's kids weren't beating on me, my father's were."

Apprenticed to a miller at 13, August had to carry heavy sacks of grain up the narrow stairs to the mill tower hoppers, where it would feed down to the grindstones that reduced it to flour. He could take only short naps on a pile of grain sacks, because the hopper emptied every half hour. He finished his training in 1867, only to find that city mills, with their steam-powered steel rollers, were replacing the water-powered gristmills.

Fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – August was drafted into the Prussian cavalry as a hussar, a light horseman. He received three years of harsh training, then was sent to fight against the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. While scouting ahead of a supply train, he ran into an ambush, where it was kill or be killed. The iron ring in his cap kept the enemy's saber cut from splitting his skull, but he carried the scar to his grave. He was given a lead bullet to bite when his scalp was sewn up without anesthetic. While nearly biting the bullet in two, he made a pact with God, vowing that if he survived the war unharmed, no son of his would ever fight or die for the glory of the fatherland.

After the war, August was stung by the wanderlust bug. He hiked through the lovely Bavarian countryside, working sporadically, drifting ever onward, sleeping in haystacks and seeing new sights. It was then that he met a beautiful woman who regarded him as her knight in shining armor.

That was my grandmother, Rosina Bartnig. Her mother, widowed at 30 with three children, married an old skinflint who kept even raw potatoes and carrots locked up so his wife's brats could have only the miserable few he doled out. He often told his drinking buddies, "I' d buy the old woman some liverwurst, but she would only give it to her brats!" Rosina and August met while picking up potatoes in her stepfather's potato field. Realizing that the old curmudgeon would never let her go because she was such a good worker, the young lovers eloped that very night. Rosina kissed her sleeping mother and brothers good-bye, wrapped a few things in her Sunday dress, then the barefoot couple ran away in the night.

They were married by an Evangelical minister in 1878. August got a small hardscrabble farm in Silesia, but then the government helped him get a larger farm in Posen, now Posnan, Poland.

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