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Broken Promises-Chapter 2

Broken Promises, Bold Dreams

Dennis Gaub

©2013 Dennis Gaub


May 16, 1914, 7 a.m.



Anna Weiss called out to her husband. She raised her voice to speak above the steady pounding of the engines of the SS Teutonic. She and the rest of her extended family were settling into their four-berth, steerage class rooms in the stern of the Dominion Line ship that would carry them to a new life in America.

“Friedrich,” Anna repeated. “The baby is still hungry. What shall we do?”

Anna, a slender, auburn-haired woman who had recently turned 23, continued gently rocking 1-1/2-year-old Ines – her and Friedrich’s first and only child. Anna had finished breast-feeding the infant, but still she fussed. Their Spartan travel arrangements, starting with their departure a week earlier from the Black Sea port of Odessa, had made it almost impossible to bring along fresh fruit or vegetable that Anna might mash to satiate the baby’s growing appetite.

Friedrich, two years older than Anna, found himself in a dilemma that went beyond being a relatively new father coping with a still-hungry child. A stocky man with thick brown hair, he tried to rely on common sense in coping with a flood of new, previously unimagined experiences. He could draw on little or nothing that had learned as a boy, helping his father farm the fertile plains near their South Russian hometown of Gluckstal, surrounded by fourth- or fifth-generation descendants of people who had heeded Catherine the Great’s manifesto inviting Germans to settle in the region.

But common sense wasn’t working now, not the kind he had learned as a boy growing up among farmers tilling fertile plains that surrounded his South Russian hometown of Gluckstal. Instructions from the ship captain, translated from English to a variety of languages, including German, clearly stated that steerage passengers were not permitted to move freely throughout the Teutonic. They were directed to stay below deck, awaiting departure on the 2,500-mile, 12-day voyage to the Canadian port of Quebec City, or face immediate removal from the ship.

A steerage pantry did provide basic items such as hot water, but it didn’t supply vegetables – the boiled potatoes and carrots that Anna could mash and feed Ines. To satisfy his baby, Friedrich would have to muster the courage to approach a ship crew member. Then, he’d have to use the handful of English words he knew and ask for help in getting food from the pantry in the second-class passenger section.

Friedrich stepped into the hall outside his family’s room. Minutes later, a crew member rounded the corner and strode towards him. Mustering all the courage he had, Friedrich stuttered, “Mister. Potato. Please. For my baby.”

The gruff-appearing man stopped, pondering the request for a minute and turned on his heel without a speaking. A discouraged Friedrich returned to his waiting family.

“Anna, Maria, I do not know how we will quiet the baby. She is hungry. We have no food she can eat.”

Just then there was a knock on the door. Opening it, Friedrich saw the same crew member he had approached early. “Here,” the man said. “I couldn’t find any potatoes in the pantry but was bread.” He handed Friedrich a dry piece of bread left over from a previous meal.

“Danke schoen,” Friedrich exclaimed. “You’re welcome,” the man replied. “I sprechen sie Duetsch. … a little.” He explained that he was Irish, from County Cork, and during more than a dozen cross-Atlantic passages aboard the Teutonic, he had come in contact with enough German immigrants to acquire a working knowledge of their language.


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Jamie Larson