When you know a word in the other fellow's language

Knowing a word or two and being able to communicate in the other fellow's language makes for great satisfaction - Otto Stewich always says that when he tells about his coming to ''Amerika.'' Otto originated in what is now the German Democratic Ha-Ha, but he remembers little of the undivided Germany of his youth. He was recruited early to come to our State of Maine to give his talents to the purposes of the Worumbo Woolen Mill. So he arrived by steamship at Hoboken, N.J. , speaking only his native German and depending that somebody from the Worumbo Mill would meet him at the pier.

Worumbo was a sachem of the Abenaki Indians, known to our earlier settlers as Chief Worumbo of the Sabattus. His name is sometimes given as Arambie, but he's the same man. At first he was friendly and would often appear with goodies if a settler were in need. Then, if Worumbo was hungry, he would move in and eat off the settler until reciprocity was attained. But afterwards, in the Indian uprisings, Worumbo went on the warpath and became a fearful enemy of the palefaces. By a ruse, the settlers confused Worumbo one night, and in the darkness his war canoe was swept over the falls of the Androscoggin at Little River.

That was the end of Worumbo as such, and somewhat the end of local hostilities, but the chief became a legend. It was appropriate, when the waterpower was harnessed and a woolen mill constructed, to remember Worumbo and give his name to the factory and to its products. Worumbo fabrics were the finest, and tailors cut them for gentlemen of distinction as long as Maine was competitive in the business.

Now, Worumbo quality derived almost entirely from a Herr Gutmann, who had arrived from Germany at the right time to become superintendent of the Worumbo Mill. He had both a managerial flair for operation and a fervent insistence on quality. It was his practice, when he needed talent, to recruit from Germany, and in his time he brought perhaps a hundred woolen experts until the community gained a Teutonic flavor. There was even a German Club, at which staid Yankee neighbors looked askance because of its oom-pah music for dances - for one thing. Our Otto Stewich was to become the last officer of that club, and it was his duty to declare it defunct - by that time the German community had been assimilated.

But we left Otto on the pier at Hoboken, newly arrived and eager. The steamship people of those days handled immigrants casually, and took no interest once the individual was shoved down the gangplank. Otto was on his own. It was a bright morning, and, although the New World is not clearly visible in its entirety from a Hoboken pier, Otto could see that a fine future was shining all around. He had, he likes to recall, no great idea of what was ahead - Maine to him was no particular place and he didn't know if it were near or far. But he would soon find out, because Herr Gutmann had written in excellent German that everything was in readiness for Otto's arrival, and he would be met at the pier and escorted to his new home and his new position in the Worumbo Mill. Otto looked about.

Evening descended, darkness accrued, and street lamps came on. Otto still looked about. There had been nobody to meet. All day he stood there, looking up and looking down, shuffling back and forth but not daring to move too far from the appointment spot. He grew hungry. His efforts to accost somebody and ask for help didn't happen to reach anybody who knew any German. A lifetime later, Otto's description of his abject despair inspires deep pity. This, certainly, was no happy arrival. Night was well along when he walked off the pier and embraced necessity. People were on the streets, but the pier had been deserted.

Now Otto applied his knowledge of the other fellow's language. As he walked, he kept shouting, ''Worumbo! Worumbo!'' It was the only English word he knew. And in but a minute or so a man grabbed his arm and said, ''Herr Stewich?'' It was his interceptor, delayed by a train wreck, and now trying to find Otto in Hoboken. Which proves the wisdom of bilingualism.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to When you know a word in the other fellow's language
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today