Sophia’s Sunday — Part 4

Sophia’s morning ended with a small lunch.  Her mother had boiled potatoes but there was no pork as was tradition.  Her father said they simply did not have the money, and the butcher was not taking any more credit.  The small meal, much less than usual, was not satisfying, leaving Sophia to wonder if they would truly run out of food entirely and starve to death.  The combination of cold and hunger did things to the mind.  When you went out after a meal not feeling sated, when the cold New England wind bit into your ill-clad body, the who world seemed a little more gloomy, and the times a little more desperate.  That feeling of desperation dominated much of the gossip among the out-of-work mill operatives.

The afternoon promised nothing.  Sophia had promised some friends, who she also worked with, that she would join them in a strike march at one of the mills.  The mill was not the one she worked in but was one of the more than half-dozen mills where the textile operatives had walked out.  A baby-faced Italian leader of the IWW had spoken the day before on the necessity to act as one, it “class warfare” even though, as he implored, they remain peaceful.  The thought of the march both excited and troubled Sophia.  As a part of the larger group she felt a certain safety and sense of kinship with people of so many varied ethnic background.  But she feared both the militia, local police, and private police, the Pinkerton men, who were little more than hired thugs who had been called in to break heads, literally, and stir up trouble.  She had more than once witnessed a policeman using his nightstick mercilessly on one of the strikers.  Women in particular seemed to be targets as they were the least likely to resist or take up the physical fight.  Such actions invariably happened at every such gathering she had ever attended, and she feared that one of this hot-headed Irish policemen would see her only as a “dirty Pollock,” as they frequently called her, and take their aggressions out on her.

The strikers started their march of the main street of the city only to be immediately confronted by a large contingent of the state militia that had become encamped their.  Those at the head of the march divided into two columns and swarmed around and past the militia fronting them but being extraordinarily careful not to directly confront them.  Though many epithets were tossed back and forth, neither side descended into violence and the march continued peacefully.

As they got to the middle of the business district they march turned left, southward towards the mill that was the object of the day’s protests.  All was quiet, and a little too peaceful in Sophia’s mind.  Things seemed to be going a little too well, but then, she thought, maybe the city fathers had finally realized that the strikers had no intentions of rioting, ever, has had been feared.  After all, she thought, it was 10 days into this strike already and there had not been a single riot, or anything close to one.  Maybe, thank God, things would remain peace.  Still, she positioned herself as close to the middle of the crowd of strikers as she could to protect herself for the endless line of police and militia who followed them on their sides.

One block down they turned left again as the reached the desired mill.  There was, a news reporter retold then next day, probably 2000 strikers out that day in the march.  But just as the last of the strikers turned the corner something entirely unexpected happened.  Men stationed on top of the mill in question turned on fire hoses and soaked the strikers.  The below freezing cold of the day coupled with the water had its desired effect of dispersing a large portion of the strikers.  But Sophia found herself caught between two groups, one trying to flee the situation, and another, mostly young men and boys, who were scrambling for chunks of ice to hurl at those men who had aim their hoses upon them.  It seemed suddenly to her that this would certainly turn into the riot she so feared.

As Sophia turned to tell her friend Anna that they should flee, she found that they had become separated and she could no longer find her friend in the frenzied crowd.  She was immediately gripped with fear and then suddenly jostled to the ground when she was stepped upon several times by people trying to flee.  As she got to her feet she was astounded to find that she was now at the front of the crowd but there was no longer water being sprayed down upon them.  Instead, she saw a combination of nightstick wielding policemen and armed militia bearing down upon her.  As she turned her back to flee she felt a sharp pain at the rear of her head.  The blow sent her to her knees and nearly unconscious.  The pain, however, only reinforced her fear and then her determination to flee.  She crawled several feet before getting back to her feet and this time, without fear of courtesy, she pushed herself through the remains of the crowd towards safety.

A minute later Sophia found herself back on the main business street heading home.  Her head still split with pain and as she took stock of herself, she felt the sharp coldness of the day racing through the soaking wetness of her clothing.  She also noticed the heavy scent of horse manure on her body somewhere from when she had fallen.  At other times such a condition would have greatly bothered her, but now her mind was focused entirely upon getting home as quickly and safely as she could manage.

As she burst through the door to the family apartment she almost ran headlong into her mother.  At the sight of her, her mother burst out in a series of questions about where she had been, what had happened, and what trouble she had gotten into.  The trouble portion concerned her mother almost as much as her daughter’s physical condition as all immigrants did their utmost to avoid trouble, to keep the police from their door, to stay out of jail, although such things sometimes proved fruitless even when a person as most careful.  The common $5 fine for loitering, causing a public nuicance, and other charged meeted out at the city’s police court, represented a price higher than most immigrants could afford.  A week’s stay in jail for such infractions was not uncommon.

Sophia quickly comforted her mother with multiple assurances that no police officer had taken any particular notice of her and that she had acted  as a proper woman the entire time.  It was only then her mother noticed Sophia’s bloody scalp and once again lapsed into a long series of question about how her daughter could possibly have come by such a wound, although the reality was she knew exactly how it had happen, it was still extremely difficult to accept that any child of hers would be involved in such disreputable activities.

Sophia had not seen this coming from her mother but she should have.  Both her parents were of the belief that good Catholics, particularly Polish Catholics, always carried themselves in such a way as not to go astray of the law.  Even more, pronouncements made from the pulpit, even the Italian Catholic pulpit, represented the wishes of God and that going against them was always some sort of sin.  Of that they were always certain, even though they usually did not understand such directives.  In this case the clergy had admonished their parishioners from joining in an IWW activities.  The IWW, the contended, was a subversive socialist group that was both anti-God and anti-Catholic in particular.  The Polish community was quick to point out how the IWW was led by “those Jews” and how could one trust such people.

Sophia listened quietly to her mother’s admonishment as she fully understand that to stand up to her would not only be fruitless, but would have some sort of lasting consequences.  Strangely, as she sat there, cold and in pain, Sophia felt a sort of victory within herself.  She had come to be in a violent situation, and her head wound not withstanding, she had come out all right.  She deafened herself to her mother’s continued tirade by considering how it might just be a good thing what she had done.  Maybe, she thought, it was something in which she should become even more active.  But then what, she wondered.  How would that play out.


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