Immigrant Soldier: The American Journey of Albert J. Heim

Memories of Albert Heim (Part 4)

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The beginning of World War I and the changes it wrought in my life | Growing into manhood

The beginning of World War I and the changes it wrought in my life:

As always, time rolls by and I made very good progress in the machine shop.  On several occasions my uncle and I went out together.  Perhaps it was a good idea for us not to live together for we seemed to get along so much better by being apart.  I remember well, we went on a boat – excursion from New Brunswick to Coney Island.  This was a very nice sail, down the Raritan River, across the New York Bay.  This trip took about two to three hours, then we spent the entire day, enjoying the fun at Luna Park and some other places and then the moon light return trip back to New Brunswick.  Due to the fact that we arrived past midnight, we had to walk home to Milltown because there was no transportation at that late hour.  It might have been fun during the day but the going home part was indeed very tiresome and not funny at all.  On another occasion we went on an overnight trip by auto to the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania.  This was indeed a beautiful trip.  Of course the year 1913, this had to be an overnight trip, roads and automobiles were not as modern as now.  A few times we went to New York together to see a show or visit a museum and all in all we got along very nicely.  I doubt very much if this would have been the case, had I lived with him, because he was always praising the French and naturally I still had a very strong feeling for Austrians and Germans.  In the spring of 1914, all sorts of rumors came from Europe, that war among some of the nations might be a possibility.  Of course my uncle  and I would discuss different items we read in the news papers, and never could we agree, because he would uphold his beautiful France and as always I just did not agree with him.  Then one day, the terrible news came, Germany and France were at war.  This was indeed something to worry about even though I was many miles away from the conflict.  I thought of my loved ones at home, because Austria was also involved, in fact that is where World War 1 started.  My uncle and I were wondering, would my aunt and the baby, who were still visiting my grandparents in Austria have enough time to get to France?  By her marriage to my uncle she was a subject of France.  The news papers here were full of war accounts and the conversations between my uncle and I were naturally never too smooth, even though we both loved the same people.
I distinctly remember, it was in the month of June 1914 that my uncle came to see me in the machine shop at the factory.  My foreman, who was also a Frenchman was with him.  I was working at a drill pres at the time when I saw the two of them coming towards me.  I knew at once, that it had to be something real important.  My foreman asked me to come to the office for they wanted to talk to me.  While in the office, my uncle handed me a telegram, which he received from the French consulate in New York City, ordering him within a certain date to report for military service.  - - - This was quite a shock.  I never dreamed that the war would affect him, especially so soon.  All I could do at this moment was to reach for his hand and we just looked at one another and neither of us spoke a word.  I am certain that he knew that I was really concerned regardless of how we argued in the past.  My foreman also received a like notice and so did many of the Frenchmen, who worked in the plant.  Within a month, many of the Frenchmen and even some of their families left Milltown for their country and many of them I never saw again.  I shall never forget the day before my uncle left Milltown. He and I went to the local barber shop to get a haircut.  Of course the conversation of the customers in these times was always about the war in Europe.  The people that frequented this particular shop were a mixture of many different nationalities.  The barber himself was an Austro-Hungarian.  Of course the conversation was in English and for some reason or other someone made a remark, that the Germans would give the French an awful hard time.  Well, that is all my uncle had to hear.  With great gusto he declared that he did not agree and then he really got his French temper  up and I can hear him yet as he replied:  When this war is over and I will return again to Milltown, I will have the Kaiser’s mustache to show you fellows as a souvenir.  That certainly was an uncalled for and ridiculous statement to make especially before a group of this kind.  However no one said another word until we left and I can imagine what was said after we left.  I felt rather relieved to get out of the barber shop, because a situation  of this kind could become quite serious.  On our way home, I asked him, why he made such a statement in the barber shop?  And still being angry he replied, that the French can lick the Germans singled handed and it will not take too long either.  Of course I just had to tell him that I thought he was pretty sure of himself and I too did not agree with him and in a joking manner I said well, being that you are my uncle, when the time arrives and you fellows over there will need some help, just let me know, and I’ll come over there and give you a hand.  - - - Of course this made him laugh, at least he got over his anger. - - - -  Many words that are spoken in a jest, quite often come true and little did I realize, that soon in the future, both my uncle and I would indeed recall the time, when I in a joking manner offered to help him. - - - -
Only too soon the time arrived, when I had to say farewell to my uncle again.  I wished him God speed and asked him to let me know, if my aunt and the baby were safe in France,  for we did not know whether they left Austria in time.  I certainly was concerned about my uncle, to think, that he had to go to war at his age and not knowing whether his wife and baby were safe in France.  I was indeed very fond of my aunt and little Mariechen.  I never realized that this war would affect us in this manner and so soon.  It has now been almost four months since I received mail from my parents or any of my relatives or friends in Europe.  Then one day, several letters which I mailed to my parents were returned to me with a note from the U.S. Postal Department informing me, that all mail service from Germany and Austria would cease.  This meant that it was impossible to communicate with my loved ones until God knows when. -  - - -           

Growing into manhood

As the weeks and months passed I just had to get used to this situation but I hoped and prayed, that this war would soon come to an end.  I made very good progress at my work in the machine shop and I very seldom missed my night school classes in New Brunswick.  It made me feel very proud and happy, for I already had my grammar school diploma and I could hardly wait to finish my high school course.  Night school really kept me very busy for four nights during the week.  I would let nothing interfere with my going to night school, because it was helping me tremendously and it gave me a feeling as though I lived here all my life.  Of course every now and then I would have some difficulty in pronouncing the Vs and Ws.  And no doubt I broke many a rule in English grammar.  Folks around me did not seem to notice this too much and as for my friends they did not notice it at all.  I guess, that hearing it from me all the time they sort of got used to it.  Even at present my grandchildren are very amused and love to see me go down a “walley” instead of “valley” or have me climb to a high “elewation” instead of elevation.  To be frank, I enjoy to hear their happy laughter and I wonder some times, perhaps it is good not to lose ones mother tongue all together for it reminds one of a home far away.
I shall always cherish my teenage years in Milltown.  Of course it would have been perfect to have my parents and brother living with me, but this was not to be.  I was always fortunate to board and live with good people, who always made me feel as though I was one of their family.  I had many young friends my age and with them I enjoyed so many happy hours at parties in their homes.  I really can’t recall when I found out, that parties were always nice, because young ladies were present - - - we fellows were like the knights of old, when the party was at an end, how thrilling it was to escort a certain young lady home.  Needless to say, a fellow had to be gallant, one had to be a gentleman and it was one’s duty to make certain that the young lady got home safe and sound, even though we took the longer way around to her home.  - - - And is it not amazing, the many ways one can say good night ? ? ?  Yes - - - they were pleasant memories indeed.  We were indeed then growing up and thank God, I was growing up always with a nice group of boys and girls.
All these memories of my youth will be kept in my heart, because they were the treasures of my youth and they were good and clean.  Should therefore anyone be disappointed because they are not an open book, well so sorry, for it is good practice to keep ones treasures under lock and key. - - - -
I am glad that I always had the good habit of taking advice from older people, who I knew were interested in  me.   I was told to always pick company as good as or better, never go below one’s standard.  And the one important habit of attending mass on Sundays and holidays was an obligation I never missed.  At this particular time, Milltown  was only a mission of the Sacred Heart Church in New Brunswick.  A few French families under the leadership of a certain Mr. De Souch approached Father Divine of the Sacred Heart Church in New Brunswick suggesting that if it were possible to have mass offered on Sundays at the French school in Milltown.  Of course he reminded the people in Milltown, that he would first have to see the bishop in Trenton about this.  After a short time this permission was forthcoming and the first mass was held with about 12 families in attendance and I had the honor to be the altar boy at this first mass.  As time went by, more and more would come to the little mission and before long the French school was getting too small and the Red Man’s Hall in Milltown was being used.  More and more people found it very convenient to attend mass at our mission and once again we moved and this time to the very large Michelin Community House.  The responsibility of setting up the portable altar, arranging the seats in the hall and have everything in readiness for the priest to say mass was divided between a very devout Irishman by the name of Mr. McQuinn, Peter Richard, a fellow my age, and myself.  And the three of us never failed to have everything all set up for the priest each Sunday.  Just this little effort made me feel quite responsible and made me realize that Sunday morning was indeed very important.
The next memorable event in my life happened during the summer of 1914.  It was a rather hot summer and like all youngsters we would go swimming; no matter where as long as it was water.  Of course we were never very careful about our swimming holes and the clay pits, which were quite numerous around Milltown were the only places that we frequented .  One Sunday afternoon coming home from one of our swimming session I felt very strange.  I told my boarding mistress that I had no desire to eat supper and that was indeed very strange.  I began to feel very sick, complaining of a headache and stomach ache.  I went to my room and reclined on the bed, thinking that perhaps it would make me feel better.   In fact I became worse and my temperature rose higher and higher and my land lady thought it better to call the doctor.  The doctor arrived in very short time and in one hour, I was taken to St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick, down with typhoid fever.  I remember the nurse putting me to bed but from  then until 21 days later I can not remember a single thing that happened.  The good sisters at the hospital informed me that I was a very sick boy and came very close to death.  I was indeed shocked when I gained consciousness and the nurse showed me the calendar.  Twenty-one days since my last swim, and when I looked in the mirror, boy what a sight.  I lost 50 lbs.  in weight.   I certainly learned one good lesson and I really learned it the hard way, NEVER GO SWIMMING IN STAGNANT WATER - - - For two months I had to stay in the hospital and I had to spend another month at home to gain my strength back.  The good sisters and nurses at St. Peter’s were certainly nice to me and it was their wonderful care that made me recuperate so quickly.  At a time like this, one really finds out how many true friends one has.  Practically every one was kind to me and especially good old doctor Riva.  I asked him so many times about my doctor bill and he would always say, Albert, you haven’t got enough money to pay me any how, so what are you worrying about?  And I never did find out what my doctor bill was.  -  At the present time, all these good people have gone to their eternal reward.  How can any one forget kind folks like that, for they helped me when I really needed help.
As I look back in the past, I can’t help but recall an incident that happened while I was laying unconscious in the hospital.  My fellow workers in the machine shop at the plant were of course anxious to find out how I was getting along.  So, one of them called the hospital and inquired about my condition.  It seemed that the nurse or whoever answered the phone told him that I was dying.  Of course the poor fellow thought that he heard that I was dead.  He lost no time in telling the men at the shop that I passed away. Naturally, they were all quite shocked and as was the custom, they took up a collection and had the florist sent a wreath with a black ribbon, stating in gold letters, “From your fellow workers.”  The wreath of course came to my boarding mistress’s home and it just about scared the daylights out of her.  Of course it did not take her very long to find out, that it was a mistake so she took off the ribbon and presented me with same at the hospital.  Thank God, we were really able to have a very good laugh and I still can hear the sisters and nurses, they were talking about this for days. Of course I never did see the flowers but I kept the ribbon for a long time.  At least I found out, how much my fellow workers thought of me. - - -  It is not every one, that can see and read his own epitaph.  - - - It was indeed amusing, when I came back to work.  All those who contributed towards my wreath wanted their money back  and one of the fellows thought that he should have a piece of the ribbon, for he told me that he was being cheated. Quite a gang, I must say - - -
As I mentioned before, my social activities with my young friends were just perfect.  We had wonderful times together.  Periodically my wages increased and of course this made it a lot easier to take care of my obligations such as board, clothing and a little extra money for some pleasures.  About a year after my uncle left Milltown to go to war I changed my boarding house.  The Richard family was very kind to me but it also was a very large family and conditions were rather crowded.  I had to share the room with their son.  I knew that he was not very satisfied sharing a room with someone else and both of us were growing up and both of us, naturally, wanted a room of our own. So, to remedy the situation, I asked the Shephards, who lived across the street if they would have me as a border.  They accepted me and indeed gave me a good home.  Mrs. Shephard was like a second mother to me.  She was an excellent cook and very clean and above all strict.  I certainly was very fortunate, for I always had the good luck of meeting nice and respectable people.  Mrs. Shephard always cautioned me, Albert, while you live with us, always keep in good company.  Her husband, Mr. Shephard was also my foreman in the machine shop.  How ever this did not mean that I could get away with things or have things made easy for me.  On the contrary, I used to get “The old Harry” more than the others, just because I lived with them and no one could say that favoritism was shown to me by my foreman. But never the less, this situation was good for me, for Mr. Shephard would always say to me, you are going to do as you’re told and I’ll make a good mechanic out of you yet and he sure did tell me. – One day  Mrs. Shephard told me that I should start a savings account in the bank.  In fact she insisted, because all the money I saved I kept in a little metal box which I used to put under my clothing in the drawer.  She impressed upon me that this was the old country way and it was not safe.  So to the bank I went, deposited my money and gave the bank book to her to hold.  As though that wasn’t enough, she suggested that I put aside one day’s wages each payday. Well, that was a little rough I thought, but it certainly paid off because the numbers in my bank book kept gradually getting larger and larger and it was indeed a very good feeling to be able to get what you wanted when you wanted it.

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