Census - 6 (my relatives)
I had the most interesting interview today that I couldn't wait to write to you about it. I went to this quite big corner house, and found out the owner was an elderly Polish widow, who although she wasn't very confident in English, wanted to sit in on the interview which I was having with her daughter. They declared the house was worth $8000. Now, I would never have thought that, as it looked run down and needed painting and had no grass or flowers and only one tree. That is more money than even the owners of stores and important railway people have claimed for their houses. But the old lady insisted that was correct so I felt I had to write it down. The inside of the house didn't have very special furniture either, or anything that would make me think of wealth. She had a daughter who was working at the discount store as a clerk, and earned $375 a year, and a son who drives a truck who earns $740. The only way I could see that they would have owned this big, supposedly expensive house, was if the husband had had a big career and left them lots of money.
Now we were told that we had to stick to the questions that are on the form, so I was disobeying this, but I was just so curious. Here is how part of the conversation went.
“How long have you been a widow, Mrs. Suchla?”
“Since 1924 – so that makes it over 15 years. He was murdered.”
“Really, was he killed for his money?”
“Yes, I suppose he was,” she said, adding, “The man took everything from his wallet when he shot him.”
“And did you get loads of money as compensation for your loss?” still trying to find out the mystery of this expensive property.
“No, we were skin broke when he died. We had no money. I had seven kids living, and three dead, one's dying caused by him, and nothing coming in, but we coped, didn't we Madeline?”
“I was only five at the time, but I knew we had it tough there for awhile, and then things got better,” put in the daughter.
“So did they catch the man who killed him?”
“No, they never did, but it seems to me they didn't try very hard. They just thought he was a waster and not worth anything so why bother finding who did it.”
“But I thought your husband was rich and was robbed for his money.”
“No, he was working on a threshing machine – and had just been paid, so maybe he had $30 at the most on him. We never saw any money from that week, but the week before he sent home $20.”
“Where was he when this happened? On a farm?”
“No, no. They slept in boxcars to save money – the threshers. They go from farm to farm with the equipment and do the job, get paid and move on to the next one. No time to go home or to a town big enough to have a hotel. Anyway they needed all the money they earned. Normally the farmer
they were threshing for would give them a big meal in the evening, and probably a sandwich or two with a cup of coffee for lunch.”
“Pardon me for my curiosity, but you say you turned it around after you were left destitute. How did you manage that?”
“Well you make do with what you've got, and what we had was a recipe that served us well,” said the old lady, with obvious satisfaction.
“Moma, I think you shouldn't take up the lady's time with your stories. We need to get on,” said Madeline, obviously very keen that the story should not be told.
“They tried to get us for it, but they couldn't make it stick,” said the old woman, ominously.
“Moma, that's enough. The lady wants to know how much schooling you had and where you were born, I expect.”
“Yes, I do need to know those things.”
“I was born in Sielkowitz, that's in Poland really but its belonged to the Germans for centuries. In Selesia.”
“How old were you when you emigrated?”
“Old enough to get caught up with those damned Suchlas – murderers all of them.”
“Now I'm sorry, but I think you had better go, Mrs. - what did you say your name was?”
“Elder,” I said, but I could see that my likelihood of getting any more information was drawing to a close. I'd already filled out the form sufficiently for me to do the rest on my own.
So I was quickly offered my coat and ushered to the door, but the old lady whispered to me, when Madeline went for my coat, “Come back again when she's out and I'll tell you about them murderers. You wouldn't believe what they got away with. Come at 10 on a Friday. That's when she goes to the store.”
It turned out that another couple lived in the upstairs of the house, paying a rent of $15 a month, and they both worked at the Gladstone Hotel. She had a baby, so took the evening shift, when her husband was home to babysit.
There was also a couple
living in a small house at the back of the house, also paying $15 a month, and it turned out it was Mrs. Suchla's 21 year old son with his new wife, also 21. He was the first one that I had oon my list who worked on a government funded park project, getting $275 a year. ( I wonder if it is the College Stadium that Mrs. Kroeze was telling me about. That was under the CWA work scheme.) His wife worked as a maid at the hotel too but only 7 hours a week. And these kids sublet some of their rooms to lodgers, one a shoe repair salesman making $1100 and the other an Englishman who went first to California five years ago, and he is an electrical engineer making, $1040 a month.
I have a good mind, once all this enumerating job is over, to go back and chat with that Polish lady. I'll put her address in my notebook and see if I can talk one of the women who does this work with me, to come along. I think that story has the makings of a book – if nobody has written it up already.