Sophia’s Sunday


It was January 21, a Sunday, and Sophia did not have to work today.  But then it had been 10 days since she last worked, and the prospects were grim.  She arose at 5:30 that morning, just like she had every morning.  Her sister, Elizabeth, was snoring lightly in the bed next to her.  Elizabeth was 10 years younger and had just started working.  On a mattress next to her were her brothers Januz, Frank, and Thaduez.  They ranged in age from 11, Januz, and 12, Frank, to 17 Thaduez.  On a third mattress to himself was Walter, a strapping young man of 20.  As the eldest child it had fallen to Sophia to rouse her brothers each morning and prepare breakfast for them.  This was a tradition they had brought with them from when they had lived in Przybyslawice Poland, a village not far from Krakow.  They had left Poland in 1906 when Sophia’s mother and father had feared their sons would be conscripted into the Czar’s army.

Sophia’s parents had saved as much as they could, and when they felt they had to leave, they sold their farm to an aunt and uncle who said they wanted to move from the city of Katowice to get away from the constant noise and unhealthy air of the city.  Sophia suspected they had bought the farm for far less than it was worth preying on her father’s need for cash to buy passage to America.  They arrived at the port of Boston with slightly less than $100, and claimed to the immigration official that they would be living with her father’s brother.  That was curious as her father was the only boy in a family of seven children, but they were related to the man, though distantly, and reasoned that it was God’s will they use this falsehood to gain admission.  Her parents had not known that giving any name and address would have sufficed.  The port officials knew these immigrants would help fill positions, extremely low and ill-paying, that drove the American economy.

Sunday meant church.   The Polish community was trying to set up its own ethnic church in the city, but until it did they all attended mass at the Italian Catholic church just down the street.  When Sophia question the necessity of building a Polish church when a perfectly good Italian church was only a block away, her mother chastised her and instructed her as to the necessity of retaining their culture in this alien nation.

Sunday also meant they would have meat in their meal that day, probably pork shoulder, along with turnip and cabbage.  It took the combined pay of everyone who worked to ensure that meal but Sophia knew this day would be meatless.  No one had worked the last ten days which meant meat was a luxury they could not afford.  Sophia wondered what the big meal of the day would be, or even if it would be.  She had overheard her father speaking to her mother the evening before saying he would have trouble meeting rent, let alone buy food.  She had heard such desperate words before, but always before at least one of them was still working.  That simply was not the case this Sunday.

As Sophia attempted to survey the room around her in the near darkness surrounding them, she wondered what they day truly held.  It was at that same moment she noticed how cold her nose felt and she wondered what the temperature outside was.  They had been suffering through a particularly cold spell.  The windows of their small apartment did little to keep the drafts at bay.  In Poland they had always had a good supply of wood to keep the fireplace burning high even on the coldest of nights.  They also had a good supply of down quilts with which to keep warm when the winds blew strong.  But then they seemed to have some control over their living conditions, something they no longer had.  Each day the younger of her brothers were tasked with finding errant coal at the coal bins around the city, and particularly at the rail yards.  Their task was a tough one as they competed with other children on the same mission, each hoping to find what another had not.  Mostly it was futile and they would scavenge scraps of wood.

Sophia hated getting up on mornings such as this.  The cold cut through to her bones.  The routine of washing up quickly and dressing went more quickly in the cold of such mornings.  The small coal stove in the kitchen would take its time heating just the kitchen, let alone any of the other rooms.  While her mother tended to her younger siblings, Sophia was charged with getting the stove going.

As she lay their, Sophia wondered what other girls her age did on Sunday mornings.  Not the girls of the city, like herself, but the girls who lived in the more affluent towns surrounding her city.  Did they have to rise early too?  She reminded herself that on Sunday she could get up an hour later than her usual 5:30.  That always felt a bit luxurious.  But were other girls required to take care of their siblings as she was?  She wondered how many of their siblings had to share a bed and a bedroom.  Then her mind wandered  back to wondering why they had ever left Poland.  She had never known anyone who had been conscripted into the Czar’s army.  Maybe it was all just a rumor, she thought, and if they had waited a little longer as her father had implored her mother the troubling news would have passed without adverse affect.

Once out of bed she turned on the single overhead light and attempted to rouse her brothers from their sleep.  This was always a difficult task as they always resisted her attempts, particularly on Sundays when their presence at the mill was not necessary.  Her attempts on this particular Sunday proved to be particularly futile and Sophia gave up quickly.  Her mind was elsewhere, though she could not seem to nail it down to any particularly place, she felt no motivation to continue her morning task.  She looked out the dirty window of her second story bedroom at the apartment directly next to them.  She could see into their bedroom when the shades were pulled, which they usually were not.  The family in that apartment was the Andreottis who, she thought, were louder than her own loud family but fun and extremely friendly.

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2 thoughts on “Sophia’s Sunday

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