As long as I can remember I have had CGS (curious girl syndrome). Meeting new people, reading a book, learning , trying differnent foods and in general just wanting to know about my surroundings is part of my nature. Living in a coal mining town like Rocks Springs, Wyoming gave one plenty to discover. Naitonalities from all over the world came to this small place to work in the mines. Charlie , the Indian, believe he was Shoshone, was just one of many interesting neighbors.
There were some Chinese in the area, but they were not very friendly to me , which was so strange, because for some reason everyone liked me and was always inviting me into their house. I asked my mom one day about the Chinese, she said they kept to themselves because of what happened. Ok, so tell me what happened. That she would not do, she just repeated, “Thats just the way they are and you can’t change it. They live on the other side and some of them live underground, so you probably won’t see too many anyway. Just go play.” It was not until many years later that I got my answer. You may never have heard of Rock Springs, Wyoming, but the city holds a place in American history as the home of one of America’s first and worst race riots.
The railroad in the late 1800’s had brought to the town many Chinese laborers, typical of corporate America, they were trying to find a way of building the railroad as cheaply as possible and did not want to pay the local people their worth. The railroad it seems also had ownership in the coal mines and the Chinese began working in the mines. The railroad paid them less than the white workers that had been living in the area. This angered the white workers and it also caused the railroads to tend to hire the Chinese at the lower wage than the American worker.Greed is a MOTHER. This conflict eventually led to rage and one day the white workers attacked the Chinese and burnt their living quarters down. It was atrocious, and horrible. The death toll is recorded between 25 and 40 Chinese. They were beaten, burned alive and some tortured. The Governor of the state had to notify Washington, to send in federal troops to stop the riot. The Chinese to their honor did eventually rebuild and start over. However, from what I understand, when they did, they built their homes with basements, which is very common in Wyoming, but their basements were a little different. Some had been transformed into underground living quarters and my understanding is that they even had catacombs connecting some. I guess that is where mom got the idea, that they lived “underground”.
There was a Black family a few blocks away, but they did not have any children my age so I never got to know them. There was a very beautiful lady “on the hill”, I say that because her house set up higher than others, it was larger and she always wore such pretty dresses. She did not have children, so maybe that is why she took to me. Often she would invite me in for cookies and tea. One day she had the most beautiful white linen hankerchief, we called them hankies. This was waaay before Kleenex tissues, so we all had cotton hankies of some sort. However, hers were beautiful and had edging and some were even round. She gave me my first job!!! Yes at five I was officially , the hanky ironer. She said she would pay me a nickel for every hanky and so I came by once a week and ironed… She would wash them and dip them in this starchy stuff, dry them and leave them for me. Loved it,especially when I ironed them in fan or triangle shapes. To this day ironing is one of my favorite things, something we do not do much of with all the polyester and wash and wear, which is great, but there is something to say for an ironed hanky.
One of my very favorite places to visit was Mrs. Radosevich (hope I am spelling it right). She had emmigrated here from Poland. She was always cooking, she always had smells in her home and that is a good thing. Personally, you can have an immaculate home, all decorated and “untouchable”, great to look at, but so what?? Without cooking smells a house is not a home. That was not the case here at Mrs. R’s. She taught my mother how to make helupkah, which is stuffed cabbage, potica bread a wonderful yeast bread that is rolled and filled with ground walnuts, cinnamon and butter. Her family also made the very best Kielbasa sausage and fried dough cookies. Later on in life, mom would bake several dozen potica loaves at Christmas, she would give them to the neighbors and of course we would eat as many as we could.
One day , while visiting her we finished our snack and she said “Linda, I want to show you something, but you can’t tell anyone about it, it will have to be our little secret. Is that ok?”… are you kidding me curious girl was up to the challenge..”I will not tell anyone, not even Johnny (my best friend).” After that we headed to the basement, which to my surprise was beautiful. It had a big dark red print rug on the floor and paneled walls, with lights everywhere. But what caught my attention and stopped me in my steps were the paintings on the wall. There were three that I remember, one quite large and square, the other two much smaller . But they were vibrant oil paintings and I had never seen anything like them before. She told me that they had to leave their country in the night and all they took was their clothes, their jewelry and these paintings.
“Sometimes I come down here and just sit and look and remember my parents and my country.. It was so beautiful and such good memories, until they came.” “Who came,?” I asked. “Oh my. don’t worry your pretty head about that, I should be silent and it is time to go, remember, this is our secret.”
I did not betray my secret, but when I came home I asked my mother why Mrs, R had to leave her country. She told me that there were some bad people n Germany that tried to hurt them and so they came to America. Where are those bad people and what if they come here? “Don’t worry , they can not come here.” and why not I wanted to know.. “Because in the War your dad and men from America and all over the world went to Germany to stop them and that will never happen again.”
I wanted to know more about this war from my dad , but mom was adamant: “Your dad doesn’t talk about what happened so do not ask him anything.”… Ok, I did not ask him and decided one day I would know more, but in the meantime, something did not make sense to me anyway. If these people were stopped and this thing that happened, could never happen again, then why did Mrs. R. hide the paintings in the basement? ..