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Saturday, July 4, 2015
Family History and Brazil, Indiana.Posted Sunday, September 26, 2010, at 11:24 AM
I was not born a Hoosier. Rather, it has been my great fortune to have adopted Indiana as my home. Likewise, I am very fortunate to have adopted Brazil as my hometown. I was born in Lancaster, Penn., and moved to Indiana in 1970. My mom and her family are from New Orleans, La. My father is from Newark, N.J. My father's mother came here as an infant from Italy in 1912 and lived in "Little Italy," lower Manhattan. My father's father was born in 1910 in uptown Manhattan.
As a youngster, I loved to listen to the stories told by my grandparents. Anyone who wants to know what life was like in New York at the turn of the 20th Century should read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Parts of that book correlate almost one to one with the stories of my paternal grandparents who were born only a few years after the main character in the book. The stories in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" correlate closely with the stories of the Old South told by my maternal grandparents. (For those who have not read it, Uncle Tom was virtually a Christian martyr and far from being worthy of contempt.)
One of my favorite stories was my paternal grandfather's trip across America in 1929 when he was 19 years old. The stock market had crashed, he and four friends were out of work, young, single, and adventurous.
The five of them were able to scrounge for money and between them were able to pool together $400, which bought them a used Model-T Ford.
My grandfather left his parent's home to make his way in the world at age 15. At that point, his father was charging him enough rent that he could live on his own for the same or less. My Grandfather and his friends decided to go to California. "Go west, young man" was ringing in their youthful ears. How many stories had they heard about people who went west looking for opportunities? "The Grapes of Wrath" offers accurate stories of people displaced by the Great Depression who looked to the Golden State, California, for new opportunities.
The only road to span the country was the National Road that runs through downtown Brazil. In 1929, paved roads were intermittent at best once you left the greater New York City area. From New Jersey, the roads were primarily dirt or mud until you came into a town or city.
How clearly I remember standing in front of a mural along U.S. 40 in Indianapolis depicting the "Cross Roads of America" and Grandpa pointing out that he took the National Road across Indiana. He must have come through Brazil.
Back then, cars weren't what they are today. It wasn't unusual to have to take the engine apart to reseat a valve, replace a broken piston rod or warn out bearing, or conduct any number of other repairs. The wheels were made of wood and one of them cracked while crossing Pennsylvania. They had to keep the wheel wet so the wood would swell against the metal band encompassing it keeping the wheel from falling apart. I will leave it to your imagination how they kept the wheel wet when a body of water was not readily found.
In Kansas, the rear axle broke. Four of them resolved to push the car into the ditch and hop an East bound freight train. But the fellow who actually owned the car absolutely refused to abandon it. They started walking down the road. Amazingly, 300 yards ahead, in the ditch on the opposite side of the road, was an abandoned, burned out, Model T. They salvaged the rear axle and other useful parts and eventually were back on their way. Farmers, who often left their tractors in the field at night, would from time to time contribute oil and gasoline - unknowingly.
They crossed the Painted Desert at night. To cross in the day would have been suicide. They stopped in the Petrified Forrest, before it was a National Park, and kept as a souvenir a small piece of petrified wood. In those days, coming to a mountain meant difficult choices. They had to either go around or go over. If they had to go over, it was usually in reverse as reverse was a lower gear ratio than first and gave the car a better chance of carrying itself up and over. Eventually, the five of them made it and waded into the Pacific Ocean.
None of them stayed in California. They returned to their families and familiar environs. The Model-T made it all of the way in both directions and was later sold. Grandpa often regretted selling that car. No doubt it was all but warn-out by the trip, but what memories it carried!
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