The story of my husband’s grandfather is nothing short of remarkable. He was definitely made of the right stuff and what he overcame to thrive in America would crumble people in any other generation. He is now gone but I will always remember the story of how he came to our great country to make a new life.
Grandpa Dino was born and raised in Switzerland. He grew up milking cows and bringing them down from the mountains every day to be fed and milked. He was also a scholar. He was fluent in four languages by the time he graduated from high school. He then went on to college and earned a number of degrees.
After college he studied for the postmaster’s exam. He was sure he could pass it with flying colors.
“There was only one other person taking the test,” Grandpa told me. “He was the banker’s son and I had gone through high school with him. He barely passed enough classes to graduate from high school.”
So the day of the test came and Grandpa was very confident he had made a good grade. When the results came back, indeed he had made an almost perfect score, but they gave the position to the banker’s son anyway.
An Immigrant’s Story
“I was so upset,” said Grandpa. “I decided to go to America. The day before I was to sail on the ship I got very drunk. I was sick for a full week on that ship.”
Grandpa arrived in San Francisco and his brother who lived there picked him up and took him home. Grandpa tried his best to find a job, a condition of him being able to stay in the country. The trouble was, even though he spoke four languages, one of them was not English! After a few months his brother got tired of keeping him. He told him to pack his bags and he took him into the countryside and dumped him on a dairy farm.
“Most of the people who worked there were also immigrants,” said Grandpa. “The owners treated us like slaves. We had no transportation so we worked seven days a week and nearly around the clock. Once a month they took us into town and we cashed our checks and got a haircut.”
Slowly Grandpa said he began to understand English. The first words he learned were cuss words. He said he was called everything in the book. He would have given up but the cook for the dairy was also from Switzerland. She was just a year older than he was and she set her sights on him right away. She’d sneak him a larger portion of food and before long the couple was making plans to get married.
Both of them saved every dime they could but still could not afford a farm of their own. Eventually the owners learned to appreciate their hard work and when they decided to sell their farm they found work for the young couple on a nearby ranch.
Hard Work Pays Off
Ultimately they wound up in the small town of Galt where people were much nicer and the owners soon depended on the couple for their comprehensive knowledge about running a dairy farm. When the owners retired, they gave Grandpa and his wife Annetta nearly all their furniture and household goods. Both of them began “working off” the price of the dairy herd and when they finally had enough to buy their own place, they had a good herd to milk.
They had their work cut out for them. Their new place was very run down but with an amazing amount of hard work they made that place shine.
In the middle of the renovations, Granny found out she was pregnant. That didn’t stop her from working for one minute. On the way to a sale to buy more cows she went into premature labor. All that was in the area was a clinic with a single doctor. She gave birth to triplets but they only lived for a few hours.
A few years later they were blessed with a daughter they named Dina. She was my husband’s mother and apple of her daddy’s eye. At a very young age she worked right along side her daddy; milking cows by hand and carrying the five gallon milk cans away to the cold storage.
Through hard work grandpa and granny bought another piece of land for their dry stock. Dry stock are cows that need to be bred so they aren’t milked again until they give birth.
When they were ready to retire, they sold that second piece of land for an enormous amount of money. Grandpa was generous with what he had and when Ron and I wanted to live out in the country, Grandpa bought us our own little ranchette.
While I believe with all my heart that Grandpa and Granny were remarkable people, they were not unique to their fellow immigrants. The stories of family members that overcame huge obstacles to thrive here in America should inspire us all not to be whiners but to make the most of what our lives have to offer.