One Lonely Boy

It was cold in Chicago, about 40 degrees. Still, It would get warmer later in the day said Jacobus, Hendrik’s uncle. It was late April, and all nine of the Schoonvelds were on their way to start a new life. They left their small hometown of ‘t Zandt in Holland after the rich farmers had lowered the wages of poor Reformed Church laborers like Abel, Hendrik’s father. The wealthy farmers took advantage of Abel simply because they were associated with the Reformed Church, when the majority of Dutch citizens were Calvinist.

Now, they were in a rented wagon, heading for their new home in a town called Summit on the borderline of Chicago. As they passed the tall maple trees lining the streets of Brighton Park, Hendrik looked around at the children gathered at street corners and following them on the sidewalks. They were pointing and laughing at the poor family, huddled in a rickety wooden cart. Hendrik couldn’t understand what the children were yelling, because he did not speak English. He was then told that the children were making fun of his clothes, his wooden shoes, and the way he looked. He looked up at his father, who patted him on the head and said “Don’t worry Hendrik, you should be proud of who you are.”

After the family had moved into the small, one story house, the children were sent off to different schools to learn English.

Hendrik was sitting in his chair, about a week after they had come to Chicago. He was dreaming about his life back in Holland, the family they had left behind, the friends he had left behind. A sharp voice woke Hendrik from his reverie. “HENRY! Pay attention!” Shouted the furious schoolteacher, coming down the aisle. Hendrik sighed, and focused his gaze on the English book. He hated this school and what it had done to him. The teachers, frustrated with his distinctly Dutch name, had changed it to Henry Schoonvelt, a name he would just have to get used to.  He was consistently taunted by children every day, constantly separated from his siblings, and was growing tired of his life of study. One day a few years later, fed up with his teacher, his snickering classmates, and his English lessons, Hendrik left the school through a window, and never came back.

Henry got a job in downtown Chicago, on Market Street for a while sorting fruits and vegetables for $26.00 per week and free food. This was a considerable amount for a poor laborer like Henry, and it helped support the family, so his father had no quarrel with him when Henry left school. He also held jobs in various food stores, and was soon able to move into his own home on Archer Avenue, where he tended his own vegetable garden in his back yard, and had parties in his side yard after church each Sunday.

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