In June, 1875, the morning air felt crisp and clean to homesteaders Andrew and Mary Etta Storer. In the night sky the evening before, the stars had shone like diamonds. This was one of the bonuses of living on the plains…the glory of the stars. It reminded them of God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars. Would they receive the same God-given gift?
Today the morning air brought its own set of promises. The promise of light and air in which to move the sheep to another pasture…the promise of air to dry the clothes on the line…the promise of air to sweetness the inside of the house…the promise of air to fill the children’s lungs as they helped with chores and played in the sun. These were just some of the promises of the new day.
Since coming to Osborne County, Kansas, four years ago, the Storer family had experienced several terrifying ordeals brought through the air. Several times, the family had to hurry to the storm cellar for shelter when cyclones would soon bear down on them. Thankfully, all the family had remained safe. The year before, grasshoppers has invaded the air so thickly that the skies appeared black. The hoppers had destroyed property, crops, and even curtains at the windows. They soon learned that the air could bring blessings, or it could bring damnation.
In June, 1875, the air was filled with the newness of the day. It was filled with breakfast chatter as family members set out to work. The air was filled with the clucking of Mary Etta’s hens and chicks. The air was filled with the bleating of Andrew’s sheep. The air was filled with familial love and strength.
Andrew and Mary Etta Storer are my second great grandparents. They were the parents of nine children who would all live to adulthood, marry, and parent their own children. So, yes, God’s promise to Abraham reflected His promise to them.
As soon as it touched his lips, he knew he had never before felt as if he were on fire. It burned going down his esophagus…it burned his nostrils…it was potent and intoxicating. The after effects were brain numbing, and he could forget his worries. He heard the beat of a different drummer from the rest of the men in his family. He was not quite settled. He did not yearn to follow farming. Hunting and fishing were the fires in his soul. In some ways, he felt trapped…the fire of the whiskey stoked his fears and insecurities.
As time went by, he became a functioning alcoholic making a living and supporting his family by being a carpenter and storekeeper. Did his family feel the backdraft of that fire? His business was a success although it was his wife and children who handled most of the duties at the store. From time to time, he would leave for hunting trips to Idaho and Wyoming. Packed with his gear was a bottle to quench the fire within. Somehow, he managed to keep his hands steady and his aim true during the day, but around the campfire at night…
From the time he started drinking, he had to find sources for the whiskey as his county was dry. Bottles and money changed hands. Identities of the distillers were secret and names not to be repeated. Local law noticed his frequent intoxication…where was he getting the firewater? The sheriff questioned him to find out his suppliers. With his feet to the fire, he caved in and revealed a few names. When authorities started to watch these men, the accused took notice. To teach the informant a lesson, they set his house on fire. They had waited purposely for the accuser to leave the homestead with his family so no one would be home. This would teach him to keep his mouth shut! Later, he recanted his story to the police and denied everything. But small towns harbor gossip and insinuations.
In time, the house was rebuilt. As a carpenter, he was able to build a better design…make it cosier for his wife who loved to care for her flowers and gardens. He cut back on the amount of alcohol that stoked his inner fires. He spent more time at his favorite fishing holes. Maybe, at last the fires had burned out and left his soul at peace.
The man in the story is my great grandfather whom I never met…he died the day after I was born. My mother shared this story with me. May his sweet soul rest and be at peace.
The vastness of it did not terrify her. The majesty of it did overwhelm her. She and the other orphan girls from her village would stand at the rail and pay homage to it for hours each day. She, the girl Anna, shared that the only water she remembered was the stream in the woods near her home. How cool the water seemed as it touched her ankles! How she enjoyed splashing her brother! Now each day she and her girlfriends were surrounded by passels of strangers and the ocean water.
Anna and her friends talked each day about the lady they would see once they reached land in this new America. The lady had been described to them: tall, stately, welcoming. Was she as beautiful as the statue of the Madonna in their village church? How would they know it was she? The lady would be standing in the harbor with a light. She would signal to them that their journey across the water would end. They would make their ways across a gangplank over the water…a new home…a baptism of freedom.
Fourteen year old orphan Anna Mroz made her journey across the water from Poland via Trieste, Italy. It was May, 1906. She was listed on the ship’s manifest as 16 years old. Why the deception? She had $9 in her possession, and her brother Jan would be meeting her at Ellis Island. She would be working as a domestic. The water had brought her to a new life.
Anna Mroz is my paternal grandmother. She died two years before I was born. Oh, how I would have enjoyed her stories about crossing the great water!