WORTHINGTON — I talked with Vic Fleace when he was 87 years old. September 1984.
By that time, Vic had lived on his farm south of Okabena for 64 years. Vic Fleace was widely known. He was respected by all. As we talked, Vic told me a story of how he delivered a baby for a Mexican woman. This was about 1928.
“I had Mexicans here working sugar beets then,” Vic recalled. “I sent one of the Mexicans to get the doctor, but they couldn’t get here in time.
“I delivered the baby. Cut the cord. She weighed eleven pounds. Fat as a butterball.
“I rolled her up in a blanket. When the doctor came, he examined the baby. Everything was fine. He said he would get me a job in a hospital.”
Mexican people, Hispanic people were a part of life through our area during those years. 1928, ’29, ’30. ’31. Lately, I came on an article from 1930. The speaker for Worthington’s Kiwanis Club on Constitution Day was Marie Luiz Cabrera, a “social worker who worked for the past two years among the Mexican laborers in Nobles County beet plots.”
Cabrera told the Kiwanians, “Generally they are a hardworking, thrifty race and as a rule aim to pay their way and meet their just obligations.” She said the problem, all around, was “language barrier.” By this date, Cabrera’s comments recall Paul Newman’s line from, “Cool Hand Luke.”
“What we got here is a failure to communicate …”
There was another interview. November 1984. I was talking with John and Lyda Schaap at Leota. John had a sharp memory of Chandler from one other time when language was a problem:
“In 1908, when Dad moved to Chandler, he would take us to town sometimes.
“You could still tell a Swede by the clothes he wore in them days. You could tell a Hollander by the clothes he wore.
“On one corner there would be a bunch of Swedes talking. You could understand nothing what they were saying.
“On the next corner there would be a bunch of Norwegians. You could understand nothing what they were saying. Then the next corner some Dutch. The bank, the post office and the store were the only place where the American language was spoken. But still they all became friends.”
Both John and Lyda Schaap grew up speaking Dutch. They were children of Dutch immigrants. “We were married in Dutch,” John Schaap told me.
John and Lyda had six boys. Lyda said, “Our oldest children learned Dutch. They were learning from us. Our first boy went to school. He said Dutch words to the teacher. I said, ‘That’s our fault.’
“We quit talking Dutch in our house at that time. The boys had to learn the English language.”
John then offered a tribute to his father, John Schaap Sr., born in Holland in 1867. He came to the United States in 1891. John Jr. explained, “They still used Dutch in church until the first part of the 1940s.
“There was quite a commotion at first, but they went to English. I give my dad credit for that. He favored the English.
“‘You had your Dutch all these years,’ he told the others. ‘Why not give our children the language they need?’ Lyda said, “That was so hard for some of those kids. They never had Dutch. They had to go to those sermons and they couldn’t understand them.”
“I can speak Dutch,” John continued. “I’m the oldest in our family. I could read Dutch fluently, but that got away from me.” “We learned all our catechism in Dutch,” Lyda Schaap said.
John believed, “That kind of hurt us now. We know it in Dutch. We don’t really know it in English. It is hard to learn all that again in another language — you can learn that easier when you are small.
“I can remember some Dutch songs. They come back to me. It is still easy to sing them in Dutch.”
John and Lyda wrestled with the Dutch-to-English transitions. There was never question of their devotion to America. John and Lyda’s eldest son, Marion J. Schaap, the boy who spoke Dutch, was lost at sea when the Japanese sank the cruiser Indianapolis in the final month of World War II in the Pacific.