Paulina Kauz Darsey
“Mother was only seventeen years of age when she decided to come to America. The reason for her coming was that she wanted to see America; and her family was so poor that they could hardly make the ends meet.
She had to travel steerage class because she did not have enough money to travel in the higher classes.
On the boat the steerage passengers had very few privileges. They were not allowed to go on any other deck except the one that was given to them; they had to be in their cabins by the time the ten o’clock bells rang.
There were four bunks in a cabin. If young women traveled by themselves they were placed in a cabin with other young women. These cabins were small and stuffy.
The food given them was not of the best kind. The steerage passengers had to eat what was given to them because they had not paid the price where they could get what they wanted.
The only entertainment that these passengers had was made by themselves. In the evening they would gather around out on deck and sing songs, play instruments, those that had them, play games, or do what ever they could to amuse them.
The passengers that paid for higher class traveling could find enjoyment with the ships games.
The boat, liner, or ship, or whatever you call it, in the day that mother came over was much different from the fine modern ones of today.
The boats in the day when mother came over had none of the fine and fancy fixtures and comfort as those of today.
When mother came over the weather was calm and the sun was shining; still, some of the passengers became sea sick. It took the boat five days to cross the ocean. Now days the trip across the ocean only takes two and a half or three days.”
March 6, 1936
(all punctuation & spelling kept as she had written it, she was in 7th grade)
When I picture my Grandmother she is a young woman, early twenties, soft features, with a rich gleam in her eye. A social butterfly, she is involved in every sport from hockey, ice skating, golf, & tennis. Her time is spent going to dances & “cruising” the street for handsome service men. World War II has brought unity and purpose to the men & women of America. And, while it is a scary time, it is also a time to feel fully alive!
“I have no regrets,” was a common phrase used by Paulina Kauz Darsey. I never heard her utter a truly negative word. She did not look at her life with regret or fear or uncertainty. She looked on it with a fondness and richness that she brought to the retelling of it. Grandma never complained or sought to bad mouth other people. When she shared stories of her life it was never the down and out stories, but those of adventure, fun, and bravery. Grandma was a strong willed German woman who was settled and grounded in who she was.
If you ever asked my Grandma how her & Grandpa met she would say, “I picked him up off the street!” This would utterly embarrass Grandpa. But, in fact, it was true. On one of those fateful “cruising” nights she spied Grandpa. She asked if he wanted a ride, and as they say, the rest is history.
My Grandmother grew up in St. Louis, MO where her Father owned a bakery. I loved the stories that arose from those early years. Her Father & she did not see eye to eye, but they had a mutual respect & love for one another. For example, he felt she needed to ice cakes one way, and she would ‘calmly’ tell him that he had his way of icing cakes & she had hers.
During the depression her Father would sale a loaf of bread for a penny, I believe it was, and the butcher would give the school kids ham for a similar price. The school children would sit out in front of the bakery & enjoy sandwiches.
But, my favorite story by far is the “turkeys” story. Grandma said that her Father, because they had such a large open oven in the bakery, allowed customers to pay him to roast their Thanksgiving turkeys. When the day of roasting would begin her brother Willie & their Father would go watch the ball game in town, leaving her Mother and her with the turkeys. The way Grandma told this story was hilarious. You could still hear the frustration & aggravation in her voice. She always said it made her Mother so angry. But, in the end they did it and allowed the men their fun.
I knew her as a delightful round lady who wore her white hair in a tight bun secured with ribbon & combs. Her voice always carried a German lilt. She wore simple country dresses of various colors and patterns accompanied with white socks and black shoes.
There was nothing off limits at her & Grandpa’s farm. I grew up among ponies, cows (including a blind one), chickens, & cats. There was usually a nursery for baby kittens in the living room. We would wrap them in blankets & rock them to sleep in our arms like babies.
There was also fire. Yes, I said fire. We would melt candles down to the ground, lighting sticks & burning the wax off of them. This might sound irresponsible. But, for me, it was my first taste of adventure. There was a trust and security that Grandma was there if something got out of control and a great thrill at the thought that we were doing something our parents would never allow us to do. I look back on it now as one of the rarest sweetest forms of freedom I could have been given; a space of risk for a real adventure. It was wonderfully glorious.
I am so thankful that I had the privilege of knowing this incredible woman. She lived her life the way I hope to live mine. When I was preparing to move into her home we had a lot of cleaning out to do. She kept everything. However, the memories, things known & unknown began to bubble up.
Growing up I would write scripts and my sisters and I would put on plays for the family. As I was going through her old things I found two scripts Grandma had written. She likely had a bit of a whirlwind spirit such as myself. While, her feet were securely planted on the Earth, I feel her heart longed for wild lands and vast horizons. And, as she has slipped from this world to the next I see her once again, young and beautiful, with a fire in her eyes and longing for and adventure.