Sunday 24 July 2011

The TB Test

If it weren't for an x-ray technician botching a TB test, my husband Rob may never have been born.  Rob's Tante Doris (Aunt Doris) and her husband Onkel Ernst were born and raised in Germany.  After World War II they lived for a few years in Belgium and then planned to immigrate to the west, specifically Brazil.  As part of their preparation for the trip, they underwent chest x-rays to prove that they did not suffer from Tuberculosis.  Doris' x-ray passed inspection; however, Ernst's x-ray was rejected since it was considered too small.  So the couple waited for another x-ray to be taken.

In the meantime, the immigration ship sailed to Brazil without them.  They agreed that they would take the next available ship to the New World, regardless of where it was headed.  The next boat was bound for Canada and, with an appropriately sized x-ray this time, Ernst boarded with Doris and their young daughter Ursula.

The German-born couple settled in Hamilton, Ontario in 1952.  One of Ursula's first memories involved a train overturning near Ferguson Avenue, an exciting event for a little girl.  Ernst looked for work at Stelco but was turned down every time.  Discouraged, he was ready to give up when his life took a dramatic turn.

Doris suggested one day that they go house hunting.  Although Onkel Ernst was not in the mood, he went along reluctantly.  On Liberty Street, they discovered a house for sale that Doris fell in love with.  Striking up a conversation with the owner, the couple discovered that he was on his way back to Scotland.  The new immigrants explained Ernst's job search.  The Scottish man said that he was a Stelco employee; he recommended that Onkel Ernst show up on Monday morning at the steel plant and he would put in the good word for him.  Sure enough, Monday arrived and Onkel Ernst was hired; the couple bought the house on Liberty Street.

Back in Germany, Doris' sister Elfriede was considering defecting from the East to the West.  Onkel Ernst wrote Elfriede a letter (in code) in late 1953 stating that he and his wife would act as sponsors for her and her children to come to Canada.  Elfriede took him up on the offer, and although it took over a year and a half, she arrived with her kids in 1955 (see my June 2 post "Bon Voyage").  The threesome settled on Liberty Street with Ernst and Doris. 

On the day that Hurricane Hazel hit Southern Ontario, another German family was moving on to Liberty Street.  Karl-Heinz Jonasson, his wife, his daughter and brother, Albert, had just arrived a few months before in Hamilton.  Albert took a trip down to Lake Ontario and was amazed at the large rocks that Hazel had blown up on to the beach.

Within a short time, the Jonasson's met other families on the street including Ernst and Doris and their niece Irmgard and nephew Manfred.  Albert and Irmgard started dating and were married in 1957 at the German Lutheran Church.  Relatives joined the couple at the Germania Club for the reception. 

Ten years later, Irmgard gave birth to a bouncing baby boy named Robert Frederick at Henderson Hospital in Hamilton, the same hospital where I was born.  If not for the botched TB test, Rob may never have been born.  Some mistakes turn out to be blessings.

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