Hyla Essays - "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"

Many Hyla students participated in an essay contest centered around the One Book One Community selection, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  The essays were judged by the library staff members.  Thank you to all the Hyla students for their excellent essays!

Hyla Essay Question

While Henry and Keiko’s families illustrate different aspects of the American immigrant experience, both faced significant struggles.  What struggles did your own ancestors have as immigrants to America, and to what extent did they incorporate aspects of their cultural heritage into their new identities as Americans?  Your essay can be fact, fiction, or a little of both.

First Prize

No Longer Norwegian, The Story Of My Great-Great Grandfather, Ole Nelsen Beim

by Emma S., Hyla 8th Grade

New York 188o

Tall buildings rising up towards the sky. Tears leaked down my cheeks, I had made it to America, all the way from Norway. In the tradition of Haflso, where I was born, the farm was passed on to my eldest brother and I was forced to work as an indentured servant on the farm I had grown up on. I remembered my mother and her words to me, the night before my departure, "Take these potatoes to Bergen. Sell them at the best price and take the money and get on a boat to America. You're too smart to be a farmboy for your brother. Start a new life in America, be your own man."

Looking back I find it amazing that in New York, without a single word of English I located Marcus, another emigrant from Hafslo. Two Norwegion farm boys here, in this vast city, found each other! Without Marcus I fear I would have had to sleep on the streets that night, but he loaned me a ticket and secured a job for me in Minnesota. I boarded the train that night, the distance stretching farther and farther between all ties to Norway and myself as I headed to the Midwest. Already I had changed my name from Ole Nilsson Beheim to Ole Nelsen Beim, thinking it made me sound more American. This was important. I was from Norway but I was now an American. I would learn their language, farm their soil and live the American way. I was no longer Norwegian.

I worked five years on the farm, and eventually married the farmer's daughter, Rose, a beautiful young woman. Together we started our own farm in South Dakota and had two children, Fred and Nellie. My dear Rose died during childbirth. But I continued farming, needing to support myself and our children. But it was difficult, poor rocky soil. I find it ironic that the farmland I had left in Hafslo was as bad as the soil here. But at least it belonged to me.

Life did take a turn for the better when my children and I moved to Illinois. There I met Sarah, whom I married and had three more children with. I made a decision to rent the land to a tenant and go to work in the general store. This turned out to be a good decision as the store owner gave the store to me when he became too old to run it. Throughout the following years I continued to make a buck doing whatever I could, whether it be buying up land to sell to the railroad company or selling trees in a nursery. In the later 188os we moved to Des Moines where the children grew up. I continued to do different jobs here and there; dealing with real estate, continuing the tree business and selling insurance. I was able to afford to send my daughter Mildred through three universities during a time when less than ten percent of women graduated from high school and less than one percent of men even attended college.

I saw an opportunity when the Klondike gold strike hit. I left my family to seek my fortune. However no gold was found and I returned empty handed, having suffered scurvy and a three hundred mile trek through the snow to return to Nome. To pay off my debt I worked as a carpenter until the ship came back and I could return to my beloved family.

In my life I learned these lessons, don't be afraid of change, hard work and brains will see you through but accept help from others when offered, and last of all, don't look back. When I left Norway I was no longer Norwegian, I was an American.

2nd Prize

Four Days

by Jemma B., Hyla 7th Grade

Mama gave me a plate with two thick slices of freshly-buttered pumpernickel for Papa. I lingered in the kitchen for a moment breathing in the aromatic scent of bread oven. "Weiter " she scolded in German, the language we only use at home, as she shooed me up the stairs. I opened the door to Papa's workroom expecting to hear the rhythmic heartbeat of the sewing machine at work, but there was only a disturbing silence. I peeked my head in and saw Papa lying on the floor a gun cradled in his hand. The pressure in the room was tremendous, air rushed out of my lungs in an ear‑piercing scream. Mama and Jack ran up the stairs at the sound of my cry. When Mama saw Papa, her soul seemed to float away from her. She stood still, saying nothing, looking at papa's still body and the small pool of blood forming beside his head, a shocking red in a sea of pale light.

We all knew why this had happened; it was because of my brother Frank. Frank had gone to war enlisting in the U.S Army a year ago. My brother was an American. My father, a German immigrant, believed in the American dream and the opportunities that came with it but in his heart he was still German. Papa was overwhelmed with grief when Frank went to fight Germany; to my father it was as if Frank were fighting his family, his heritage. The war took a toll on our whole family; our German roots made us the enemy. It was the worst for Papa. The fact that his son might be killing family, friends, and neighbors ate away at him. It is what drove him to this moment, because with death there would be no more grief.

Four days after Papa left us a letter came from Frank. Mama read us the letter. It bore news that we would normally have rejoiced over but now it felt like a punch in the gut. Frank was working as a medic; he had not and would not kill any Germans. This news might have kept my father alive. Four days separated life from death, four days.

There was no room for sadness in the days to follow, we were poor and with my father gone we had no way to get money but the little money that mama earned as a midwife. My mama was not making enough money, she sat Jack and I down at the table. Her eyes revealed that we were going to talk about something that was causing her great sadness. I must go live with my sister Kate in Seattle, while Mama and Jack went to live with my aunt. Four days had split our family apart, but the war had lost our father to grief and changed our lives forever.

3rd Prize

To Come To America

Avery D., Hyla student

Can you imagine the pains your ancestors went through to get to America? Get here they did, in one way or another. One of my ancestors was shipwrecked in the largest storm ever off of the coast of New England, in 1635. He was too afraid to get his wife and daughters from England, and they were too afraid to come. He was a weaver by the name of John Bailey.

But even though John had a very hard time getting here, it seems unlikely that he struggled to fit in with a culture that was set. He came at a time when America was brand new, at a time when the culture was being formed, at a time where America wouldn't even be an independent country for another 150 years. As America aged, its culture grew and set. So if you came to America three hundred years later, you would have to struggle against more than making a living for yourself. You'd have to struggle to be a part of a country that has already developed a culture, struggle to understand the way the people think here.

My great great grandparent's names were Jacob Maki and Sauna Lisa Kivela, and they were married in Minnesota in 1899. They came to America from Finland just before they were married. They had 13 children, of whom only the youngest, my great grandmother Hazel, is still alive. They lived on a relatively small farm and homesteaded the land. This was difficult-to farm in general, to try and tame the land while never being fully in control of nature- and in Minnesota's very cold climate. It takes a really strong character to be so out of the way, and to survive. They lost two infant sons, Jalmer Einer in 1904 and Arne Arvid in 1917, and were very sad- but just had to move on. If they survived they had to work, and work hard. Their children also had to work hard- my great grandmother had to get a job at the age of thirteen or fourteen working at-a dairy farm during the Great Depression, and quit school after eighth grade. Most of her siblings quit school as well- it was a common thing- they had to help support their family.

To make it they not only had to learn English, but learn the American culture- but luckily for them this was not as big of a problem as it was in some places- the big cities, for example. They settled in places that, although rural, were filled with other Finns. 75 percent of the Finnish people in Minnesota- which is over 10 percent Finnish people- live in the county that my great great grandparents settled in, so they had other people who were struggling to bear the burden of surviving on a homestead as well. And friends do help- people who struggle the same as you, and who can- help you keep your own identity and sense of self even when the work becomes too much to bear.

No Longer Norwegian
No Longer Norwegian