If you’ve ever been young and in love, this post will take you back to those heady days.
Unlike today, where instant communication is the norm, in 1910, Josef would have to wait a month to get her response. Would she commit to make the frightening voyage alone to meet him in Chicago? The anxiety in his letter is palpable.
Josef’s letter is clearly in response to a missive he’d received from Lisi, which I have not found in my collection. But I’ve found something else that I now know she sent along with that letter.
This photo on the left of Lisi (center) with Josef’s sister, Katarina Gärtz, and his cousin, Sarah Reisenauer, has been in our family collection for as long as I can remember. On the back my grandmother wrote the date: May 15, 1911. Katarina and Sarah wear traditional clothing from Neppendorf. My grandmother is dressed in the costume of her home town, Grosspold.
In a recent post, Spilling Secrets, I told you how my brothers and I discovered a copy of this iconic photo, 5,000 miles from our home, at the back of my grandfather’s church in a small museum devoted to Neppendorf (Josef’s home town) life.
The photo shows up again–this time referred to in my grandfather’s 5/25/1911 letter to Lisi. In all the years I’ve seen this picture, it was just a cool old photo. But the letter imbues it with special significance. Lisi had sent it to Josef from Transylvania when he was already in the USA, prompting the following letter he undoubtedly wrote right after receiving it. He had let nothing stand in his way to make it to America. That same single-mindedness fueled his determination to get his gal. (Sometime between sending the Easter post card on April 1, postmarked in Cleveland, and the date of this letter, Josef had moved to Chicago).
Chicago, May 25, 1911
Dearest Love, Precious Sweetheart, Darling Lisi,
I’m letting you know that I received your wonderful, love-filled letter with the greatest thanks. The photographs which you included made me as happy as if I had received the most valuable jewel.
Dear Lisi, I gather from your letter that you were hurt because you believed that I would leave you. How could I do such a thing? After all, didn’t I swear to be faithful? Do you still doubt me? Or has someone written something about me to you, and you believed it?
So don’t make me so crazy any more.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I received the photograph [you sent] and saw my darling Lisi – with her hand reaching for my sister. What great joy I felt! Please trust me. Otherwise you bring me such sorrow. If you had seen me when I opened the photo, you would have certainly said I was a fool. [My] true, true Love, I swear to you with heart and hand until I die, [all that] I am.
Dear Lisi, I’ll tell you that I am in Chicago and also now have a better job. I am in a bakery and always have work and a better salary, and it is not so difficult. Naturally the first year it didn’t go the best in America, but it will come eventually. As I’ve written, I just trust in God.
My mother has written [to me] that I should make money and [then] come home. That is certainly nonsense. It is the thinking of an old woman. I can certainly say that she saw me for the last time Christmas Eve night.
Why should I go from the good to the bad again? Unless I become dissatisfied with what I have undertaken, I am not coming home. Anyone who looks with open eyes sees that whoever goes home, comes back here again. Here it is certainly a very different life. The men work little and the women not at all.
Therefore, dear Lisi, I think it’s better if you, and even my mother and sister, come here. You all would see that it is a different life [in America]. No one over there should wait for me, because it is my conviction that I’m not coming back. If you love me, I hope that you also will come here.
I would greet you with greatest joy and thankfulness, and take you in my arms. You certainly have no idea of the [difference] between the [economic] conditions in America and Europe. Oh, sweet Lisi, please understand me. I have to know where I stand. I really hope that you won’t be doubtful.
If you love me, then you’ll certainly come, even if as many devils as there are tiles on a roof stood in your way. If you come here, you don’t have to work any more. [This prediction was certainly wishful thinking. Both were driven workers throughout their lives.] I know that you can work very hard, but you will see for yourself.
There is no point in writing letters because we should be ready [to make a decision]. We are no longer so young and are of an age ready to marry–like ripe fruit. It can no longer go on like this.
If I would say I would come back [to Transylvania ] in three years, certainly you wouldn’t wait that long. Then someone would come along and my Lisi would change her mind [wouldn’t keep her promise] even though I have always been faithful. Now I hope and expect the sweet word “Yes!” I write [hoping for] only such an answer.
If you don’t want to come, then I also know that you don’t love me. Because if you loved me, then you wouldn’t do anything other than come here, just like Eva Koeber [Beer/Baer] from Neppendorf who is now here and leads a fine life with her darling. [This must be the Frau Beer/Baer who also wrote to Lisi in Josef’s January 29th letter, encouraging her to join Josef in America. See her glowing praise of Josef in the post, Love Finds a Way.)
She was only twenty years old, and he was eighteen when they married, and they are very happy. She has no regrets about [leaving] Neppendorf. Also your sister and brother-in-law—how often have they asked me, when I went over there for a bite to eat, [when he still lived in Cleveland, Ohio] whether or not you would soon be coming here? I avoid going there so as not to have to answer their questions. [Lisi’s stepsister, Maria Schuster, had gone to America before Josef and helped him settle in. Maria ended up staying in Cleveland her whole life].
And now I end my writing with best [wishes] and hope for an answer soon. With heartfelt greetings and loving kisses, I remain your faithful treasure. [Schatz=treasure; also used as “Darling or Sweetheart”]
1723 North Orchard St.
Please leave comments below. Thanks so much.
You know how much I’ve been reading about their entire courtship. This letter is so powerful. You can almost feel the anguish.
It’s always great to have you drop by and I’m especially heartened that you, too, are enjoying these letters! More to come.
Can’t wait to hear more! It’s getting exciting.
Thanks Lynn, So great to have you following this story!