New Horizons Writers’ Group

Feet on New Soil

Bob Hirt

His wife had died less than a year earlier and the war in Europe was about to start. Shockingly, she and her baby both passed during childbirth of the fourth child. The man, my grandfather, still very much in grief, and with three little ones already under a housekeeper’s care, made the decision right then for the family to leave Germany, their homeland. Aboard the ship to America, sickness stayed with them for much of the journey but they managed to arrive with reasonable comfort, first in New York Harbor and Ellis Island and then, via the Hudson River, at the Port of Albany.

Grandfather was, at the time, in charge of tolls and passports at the border between Germany and Switzerland. It was tough to leave a position that helped put food on the table, and travel to an unknown land, with no job prospects whatsoever. At the dock he talked to a man who knew two German brothers. They were farmers who were looking for help in the upcoming harvest season. Jumping at the chance, Grandpa found transportation to the farm, a bare six miles from the dock. At that very point, a NEW LIFE in America began for them. It was a great start—rather humbling—but great! Grandpa, as well as his housekeeper, and the three little ones were able to live in the smaller half of the sparsely furnished farmhouse; the two brothers, Arthur and Max Myer, lived in the other half. Grandpa and his two young boys worked side-by-side with the brothers, harvesting the crops of corn, oats and potatoes.

Within less than a year Grandpa heard about a farm owned by a man known as “Captain” George Miller, being up for sale. (The property was, many years earlier, known as a stopping place for escaped Southern slaves.) The Hirt family desperately had to find a place to call home, a place big enough to hold a growing family. This was a chance for them to purchase a property with acreage, a large old farmhouse, for very little money, and with room to expand. He went ahead, with a gamble, to take possession.

Starting out with a few purchased cows and a small flock of laying hens to feed the family, Grandfather Lukas scrimped and toiled and saved virtually every dollar to make ends meet. My dad, Albert, and his brother, Emil, worked well together and the farm expanded nicely over the next several years. A few years later Grandpa married a German “lass” and soon my dad had two younger brothers—half-brothers, really.

Then, interestingly enough, my father learned about, and quickly developed an interest in honey bees. He loved the idea of having “his own job,” both as a hobby and as a way of making extra money. That hobby stayed with him his entire adult life. Then, at age 34, my Dad married. Ultimately, over the next 14 years, six children would grace the kitchen table: three boys and three girls. I was the fourth of six. In rural America with agriculture being one of the more dominant industries, having a large family to do the work was a definite advantage. In more ways than one this was one very busy family!

I’ll never forget the hard work that needed to be done on our farm back then, as a family, but also the satisfaction that came with our daily accomplishments. It made me realize the great value of growing up under rather austere conditions along with disciplined guidance. As I approach “the finish-line” I still feel so very blessed for so many things; Blessed AND Thankful.