Location: Houghton, Michigan
We were among the first settlers in the Houghton area who, along with a few Jewish and Italian immigrants, formed the groundwork for business and family life there. In the early 20s, stories percolated around the small town of Mushkarah, Lebanon, about the lucrative possibilities of coming to the Copper Country in Upper Michigan, where the copper boom was reaching its zenith. Get to NY, it was said, take a train to Chicago, then another train that headed north. Get off when it reaches its end. So my wife and I, along with our 3 sons & daughter (and other relatives in this close family extension) did as suggested - we left our home, where we'd worked feeding mulberry leaves to silk worms and tanned leather tanning experiences behind and headed for what was supposed to be the dream of our lives. It was, but only after the kind of hardships that befell immigrants from halfway around the world, who knew no other language but Arabic and for whom America lured with promises of a better life. The boat trip across the Atlantic in steerage was expectedly dismal, but we were prepared with food my wife had made and, crammed together we endured boredom and a lack of comforting space with the rewards we expected. After a stop at Ellis Island, we followed directions given to us back home: take a train from New York to Chicago, switch over to any train heading North, and get off when it reaches the end of its run. We finally arrived at a depot in Houghton, lifted off our bags of clothing and a few sentimental things, and stepped into what was to become a life's experience. I found a home for us in the western part of the town, where other immigrants had come to settle before us. As soon as we settled in, I searched out shops where I could purchase a variety of things to peddle - stockings and other clothing, mainly - which filled four large bags, to be divided among myself and my sons, who were in their mid to late teens at the time. Our peddling destination was outside the town's limits, down dirt roads dotted with farmhouses. We brought necessary things to them, and we soon prospered well enough to buy a horse and drey. That meant more items for sale and more profits. But we gained in more ways than just in money. Most of the farms were owned by Finns - kind people who took us in, fed us, and even bedded us down, on the floor or in the barn. We learned Finnish even before we learned English; it was a rewarding experience that made us proud to be part of the rural communities. Our roots grew well. The oldest son, married to a distant relative, heard the call of another part of the United States, left for Sunnyvale, California, raised a family there, went into the retail business, and settled happily in a climate more reminiscent of the "old country." The other two sons and I bought a building and with plenty of space, enlarged our business to become increasingly successful selling clothing of all kinds. When a grocer next door tried to cheat us, we retaliated by buying crates of eggs and selling them far below what the grocer did - still, made money - so we divided the store in half, with one side as a clothing shop, the other as a grocery store. Clothing business turned into furniture business, growing so well that it moved upstairs while the main floor became all groceries - and, eventually, the furniture business grew into a full time job, with the older of my two sons running it, while the youngest one settled for the food store. The daughter and sons, now married and beginning families of their own, gradually became part of the great melting pot for generations of new Americans.
Contributed by: Joe Kirkish, Houghton, MI