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Chapter 2: The Dream is Over

It was backbreaking work but to my father it was "good enough for food enough."

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Chicago, 1837. The arrival of the first wave of Poles after the disastrous November uprising against the Russian occupation of Poland. Captain Napieralski’s men, my father and pregnant mother among them, had little more than their lives in tow and mostly depleted bundles of provisions when they moved into the city with wide-eyed optimism. Here they would carve out their niche in the bedrock of progress…or so they thought.

My father quickly found employment working among the Irish who were set to digging a canal that would connect Lake Michigan to the Mississippi river and further establish Chicago as an epicenter of trade. It was backbreaking work but to my father it was “good enough for food enough.” He worked long hours, leaving my mother alone to tend to her newborn son, my older brother Dawid. Enter the month of May and what would be dubbed the Panic of ’37. Businesses closed, unemployment swept the nation, the price of cotton had plummeted while the price of wheat went through the roof. My family fared better than most due to the state banks having laid out funding for canal construction in advance. My father kept his job but his wage was stretched thin. He toiled on through the next few years, breaking his body for a future that would never come. In ’42, the state banks failed and the bottom finally fell out, taking with it my father’s employment.

This was the year of my birth. My father died soon after. Driven to nurse his physical and mental pains, he lost his life in the bottom of a bottle, leaving my mother and older brother the breadwinners in a time when bread was scarce. Soon enough, I would join them in the great American rat race, shattering my mother’s dream of a better life once and for all.

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