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
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
'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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