Land of Opportunity: Great-Grandmother Saves Pennies from Menial Labor

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By Capper's Staff | Mar 22, 2013

Great-Grandmother was born in Hanover, Germany. Her parents were poor people who had a hard time caring for their children. When she was very young, Grandmother’s parents hired her out to a well-to-do family. There she had the status of a lowly servant girl, doing all the household’s menial tasks for her keep. Her bed was in a cold corner of the dark attic, and board consisted of leftovers uneaten by the family. She got a few hand-me-downs for clothing. After working for several years she was paid wages a few cents per week. Once a month she could visit her family. The walk home was long, but along the way she gathered edible greens to contribute to the home folks’ meal.

She met and fell in love with John, an ambitious young man whose dream was to someday go to America. They had been married only a short time when John announced he had saved enough to buy passage to the United States. Grandmother would continue to work until he sent for her. After many long months, a letter came with a ticket for her ocean voyage.

Grandmother made a last visit to bid her parents good-bye. It was sad to realize she would probably never see them again.

Grandmother decided she would greet John in style. She sacrificed a few hard-earned pennies and bought a new hat. It was a beautiful creation of velvet, ribbon and plumes. She was so proud of it, and she hoped John would be proud of her.

The hat was the first thing John noticed. “Come, we will buy you a beautiful new hat- that one looks like the old country.” With that, he pulled out her hatpins and tossed her cherished bonnet into the harbor.

The next shock came when John said, “Now we will go and be married.” Grandmother protested, saying surely they were legally married in Germany.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “But now we are in this new country, and we will be married the American way.”

Years later, Grandmother’s marriage ended sadly when John abandoned her and the children and returned to the old country. Grandmother’s American roots were deep by then, and she stayed to raise her children and become a successful businesswoman.

A story came back from Germany after World War I that caused Grandmother much unhappiness. She learned that her own mother had died of starvation during the desperate times the German people endured. That was so hard for Grandmother to bear. She was one who always took delight in cooking good food for those she loved.

She was a loyal, hard-working woman. I will always be proud to claim her as my own great-grandmother.

Jean Kristiansen
Nashua, Iowa

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.

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