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Mrs. Frank Benes

AIR #91
June 23, 1968

Entonie Benes had never in her life seen such hills as she saw from the window of the train approaching Glendive - and she had seen a lot of country on both sides of the Atlantic. Then she saw Indians on their ponies and became really alarmed. She had started out for a homestead some place in eastern Montana, but from the looks of the country and the Indians, she wondered if she was being taken to some Indian reservation instead.

Only a year before Entonie had come to the United States from her native Czechoslovakia. Many immigrants from Europe came to America in the hope of bettering their economic position, but that had little to do with Entonie's decision to come. Her family, while not wealthy, was comfortably situated, but, as Mrs. Benes explained, "Young people get big ideas. You hear what others do and think you can do the same things." Then she added, "You forget you don't talk the language." That language business proved to be quite an obstacle.

When Entonie first arrived in New York, she almost wondered if the people in America belonged to a different species. Did they - fantastic thought, but did they - have two stomachs? What else could explain why so many people, on the train, the street, everywhere, were working their mouths when they obviously were not eating? She finally expressed her bewilderment to the guide responsible for taking them from their ship to the proper train to take them to the address where they wanted to go. The guide was amused and explained that the people were chewing gum; that you chew the same stick all day. She gave Entonie a sample so Entonie chewed it until the sweetness was gone, then disposed of it. When her guide asked her what she had done with it, she frankly told her she threw it away. Maybe other people could chew a stick all day, but after the flavor was gone she was ready to get rid of it.

Mrs. Entonie Benes remembers with gratitude the woman with her broken leg for whom she worked soon after reaching the United States, but her memories of the woman's husband are less pleasant. He was a heavy drinker and, though life would go along smoothly for five days, weekends were hectic. After one particularly hair-raising weekend, Tony decided she would have to leave. 'Mr.' planned to go fishing, but when it was time to collect his equipment to go, he couldn't find the new fishing line he had just bought. He hunted and Tony hunted (his wife couldn't because her broken leg immobilized her), but the line was not found. Suddenly from the bedroom 'Mrs.' called, "Tony, Tony, come!" so she hurried to the room and found him with his revolver pointed at the helpless woman and threatening, "If she doesn't tell where the line is, I will shoot her." (He, of course, was the only one who had had his hands on the line.)

'Mrs.' jerked Tony in front of her, but he warned, "I'll shoot her, too!" And Tony, terrified, thought, "I came to America just to get shot!" She didn't, though. He consented to another search and Tony, with sudden inspiration, thought of his smoking table. She found it there, and saved more than just 'the day', evidently, as he growled, "You are lucky. You can still walk."

He was gone five days on his fishing trip and returned with three small fish, already stinking. He ordered her to prepare it for his supper, but 'Mrs.' circumvented him that time. She sent Tony out to buy a fresh fish to prepare. Said he when the fish was served, "If I had known the fish would be that good I would have brought more."

Tony was sorry to leave the woman who had been so kind to her, helping her learn English and showing her every consideration, but her nerves were so jumpy she couldn't stay there any longer.

One of Mrs. Entonie Benes's most unforgettable experiences on the homestead came when they were ready to start harvesting grain the first harvest season she was in Montana. Her husband hitched four broncs to the binder, then handed her the lines with, "You hold the lines, and I will hurry and get on the seat." He hurried, but the horses reared and plunged. Before she could give the lines to him all four horses were piled on the binder platform! He had to use a knife and cut them loose to get them off the platform, then he riveted and patched the harness and tried again.

In May, 1932, Mr. and Mrs. Benes lost everything in a hailstorm, even their house. They were away from home when the storm struck, and the hail knocked the chimney down. That caused a fire to start in the attic so the house and everything in it burned to the ground. Their chickens and geese were killed by the hail; one cow, driven by the storm, fell into an old well; and even some of the horses were cut by the hailstones. The catastrophe was of major proportions, surely enough to cause all but the stoutest hearts to give up, but Mr. and Mrs. Benes started over and built up their place again. Two years later a granary full of oats burned to the ground when it was struck by lightning, but they just kept on 'keeping on'.

Three children, two boys and a girl, were born to the Beneses. The parents talked Czech in their home so the children did not learn to speak English until they started school. Some of the neighbors thought this an injustice to the children (one Czech friend told Mrs. Benes, "I would be ashamed to send them to school when they couldn't talk American"), but Mrs. Benes had her reasons. She was well aware that her own English was very broken, and she reasoned that if they spoke English in the home, the children would talk just the way the parents did. If they waited and learned in school, then they would learn to speak correctly. When so many well-meaning friends insisted she should teach them English at home, she consulted the schoolteacher about her problem, and the teacher agreed that they should wait and learn at school. Mrs. Benes noted, "They learned good American in one year at school. Otherwise they would talk just like me."

 

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