MARY SEEWALD Interview TRANSCRIPT

 

CUT 1: 00:00:00:00

[Cuts into discussion of photos on display boards]

MAD:…And who’s this?

JS: That’s already in Central Park. We were visiting with one of my aunts, so here we are sitting on some sort of, you know, one of those fountains. And that’s me. [MAD: Okay.] That’s my cousin Nick, and they lived on Liberty Street…And sister Helen, and sister Julia.

MAD: Now this is the graduation from PS 29?

MS: (over MAD) That’s…Yes.

MAD: And what year was that Mary?

MS: Um, God!…

MAD: You can tell us later.

MS: See a lot of these things, the dates are not registered anymore. I have to look up on my record. But ‘53…

MAD: Which one are you? [MS: Right here] In the middle!

MS: Yeah. Fifty-three is when I graduated high school so going back…Cause I pretty much, from PS29, if we were there a year, and I was, you know, pushed ahead and sent to high school without knowing too much English believe it or not. So they must have had hope for me! (Laughs)

MAD: They must have indeed!…And okay, and this is in the neighborhood you say?

MS: That was, yeah, my…father’s sister. And my father lived with her until we came, and they lived on Liberty Street, Liberty and, what is it? Greenwich? Not West, Washington, and then Greenwich I think, yeah. So it’s Liberty and Greenwich, where the Twin Towers were built.

MAD: And what was her name?

MS: Christina Simak (spells it).

ER: And you maiden name was…?

MS: Hlinka (Spells it).

MAD: Okay, so this is auntie…

MS: Aunt Christina. That’s her son, Nick, yeah. That’s Helen, Julia and Mary…[MAD: you’re on the end this time…]

ER: Two sisters and a brother?

MS: Just sisters.

MAD: This is a cousin…[MS: Yeah…] …And this was when you graduated…?

MS: This? I was honored, being…pretty or whatever. (Laugh) {MAD: Not a graduation? Okay.] No! This is one of those Miss, you know…We went to church on 10th Street in Lower East Side…It’s St. Nicholas Church. It’s Orthodox, or at that time, I mean, you know, when we came from Europe we were Greek Catholic. And when we came here my father, you know, they went to church where they spoke the language, so that was one of the churches that, uh…and it still is – It’s very energetic.

MAD: And that’s on 10th Street?

MS: Tenth Street and Avenue A.

MAD: And is that a particular ethnic Orthodox church or just orthodox church?

MS: It’s Russion, or…They call it Russian because…although we’re not Russian, but it’s the Eastern part of…Eastern Rite, what they would call.

MAD: Okay, so this was a church function?

MS: This? Yeah it was! It was youth – The Carpatho-Russian Youth. (laugh)

MAD: DO you remember how old you were then?

MS: Um…Someplace I have the writeup, a little thing that was, you know, published…’53? ’54?…I don’t know. I’m not sure. But I could, you know, I could find out from my records…

ER: Now I didn’t get a recording of this first bunch that you were describing…

MS: Yeah. This is [mic. gets closer] my maternal grandmother. Her name was Maria, and that’s me! I must’ve been about a year old. And that’s my mother and me. I was part of a picture, but I just sort of took it in. And that’s my mother, and the three of us, and that’s the little wooden house that we were born in and raised, [Paper crinkle] and we lived with our paternal grandparents for about, uh, ten years. Before we came, the war broke, and it was not possible to, you know, get us over, so…

MAD: And your father was already here by then?

MS: Yes. My father left 1937. But first he went to Canada because he had a brother there. And he spent, I don’t know, about a year or two there. And then, he had, what, three sisters in New York, and Christina was one of them. So then he came down from Canada to New York and that’s…

MAD: Did you want to show us the next…(turns to next panel)

MS: (off mic) It’s a little life story…

ER: Are you going to hang these somewhere…?

MS: Yeah. Yeah. I have so many and I get most emotional seeing…

MAD: Oh sure. Of course! (pause MAD takes pictures)

MS: So that’s my, my husband. And we started dating. That’s him.

MAD: What was his first name?

MS: Richard.

MAD: And how did the two of you meet?

MS: At a dance…Well, it was Upper East Side. That used to be very, um, a lot of Czechs and Slovaks lived like in the 60s, 70s, then further up was German, Italian, you know, the whole kinda…[ER says something]…Yeah. There were, you know, sections where people just…um…

MAD: Was that your wedding?

MS: That was our wedding, yes. [MAD: Wow! How pretty!]

ER: Are you sisters…?

MS: Yes. That’s uh, where’s Helen? Helen is here, and Julie is there. That’s one of my best friends, and that’s…I met her in high school and she was also Slovak descent, so we became very good friends naturally, you know, speaking the same language! And that’s how I got to go to the dance uptown instead of 10th Street and stuff, and that’s how I met my husband because he lived in that neighborhood. And even though – He was born in New York, but when he first went to school he didn’t know any English, because at home they only spoke Slovak.

MAD: So he was Slovak and how do you define your ethnicity?

MS: I’m also Slovak. It’s just the religion that’s…I don’t know how they, the Orthodox, you know, puts us into that Russian, Carpatho-Russian, uh, group.

MAD: Oh, okay, yeah…And where was this?

MS: It was at a dance on 10th Street. (laughs) They had a hall, and well they still do, under the church, and they had a lot of dances. So then I brought him down to my side of the street! (Laughs).

MAD: And what’s this?

MS: I became a gymnast! (laughs) [MAD: Wow!] After I married Richard, he was a gymnast with Sokol, and that was on the Upper East Side, like 73rd. I still go to a gym, once a week – TJ Sokol Hall on 71st Street between York and 1st Avenue. So once a week I go – A little stretching, and a little minor…

MAD: And where is it again did you say? Is it in the same location as it was then?

MS: This was different. There were quite a few. There were quite a few halls. Naturally they came down, because they built all those skyscrapers down there.

MAD: And where were you?

MS: Right, I’m right here…(pause)

ER: You’re having to hold that pose! (Laughter)

MAD: And is this Richard?

MS: That’s Richard, yeah.

 

CUT 2: 00:11:50:02

MAD: And this was…

MS: That was my shower party…[MAD: Your bridal shower. Wow!]…Bridal shower, yes.

MAD: Was that held on the Lower West Side by any chance?

MS: This was held where he lived on, you know, 70th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. And they had a – It still exists – There’s a Chinese restaurant. They had a hall. And his parents were the supers in that building then.

MAD: And this is the (?)?

MS: That’s us – Honeymoon.(laughs) Two kids! We were both (the) same age. As a matter of fact, he was born on the 23rd of February, which is tomorrow, and I was born, same year. I was born in April on the 23rd. So we were – I was always teasing, “Oh, you and old, you know…bag!” (laughs) “Too much, older than me!”

MAD: And how old were you when you got married?

MS: Twenty-one. Legal age, but (laughs)…

ER: Where did you honeymoon?

MS: Florida. Just…you know, it was nice. So that’s…Our next, next was…(picking up next photo panel)

CUT 3: 00:13:37:11

MS: (Mary Ann takes pictures) That’s just, you know, first giving baths to my first one, Richard, that’s my second one, Michael, and, you know, little pictures of them.

MAD: That’s cute…Now was that here?

MS: Yeah! Right on the front step. Yeah. Right.

ER: How long have you lived in this building?

MS: Since about ’51. Yeah we…It has changes a lot. You know.

MAD: Was there a Slovak population around here?

MS: Uh, well there’s a Bohemian Hall only a couple of blocks on the other side of the highway and there were some Czechs and Slovaks, but I think the way we wound up in Astoria is my parents worked for JP Morgan, cleaning, and whoever they worked with lived in Astoria. And I guess, you know, they talked about moving from Downtown, which, you know, we had to at some point, or they wanted to. Because we only had downtown – Well, we had a living room, kitchen, and one little bedroom maybe. Just the bed fit in there, and so, you know, and they wanted to move somewhere to have a little more room and…

MAD: What was your address? Did you have just one address on the Lower West Side or did you…[MS: Lower East Side?]…Lower West Side?

MS: Oh, West Side! Yeah. Yeah. It’s 135 Washington, corner of Albany. It’s still there. It has not been built on that lot, or at least the last time I, we went there. It’s still empty.

ER: Right. That’s where DeutcheBank was.

MS: See, I mean they, you know, after we left and the old buildings were torn down they did build something else, and I don’t have good, you know, I don’t remember what it was.

ER: I think it was DeutcheBank…Yeah.

MS: And then they tore it down.

ER: Yeah it was DeutcheBank, because 130 is across the street. 130 is still there. [MS: Yeah] It’s next to the, um, 90 West Street is 130 Washington, and so…

MS: Yeah, it’s right – corner Albany, and across…[ER: Liberty…] Well Liberty is further up, 2 blocks, or at least it was then.

ER: Yeah. Okay. Or it might be where the W is now.

MS: No. Well, isn’t W on the, uh…

ER: W is between Albany and Cedar…[More irrelevant talk]

MS: It’s from Albany going North, not South. It’s Albany going north, towards the fountains now. [More talk about location]…Yeah…That I don’t remember…It is empty. I know that.

ER:…And you went from there to here.

MS: To here. That’s it. [MAD takes pictures]…And now we’re the little guys. Everything else is going up…So that’s…and the last one (referring to the last photo panel) is pretty much now.

CUT 4: 00:18:45:02

MAD: Oh that’s a beautiful picture…

MS: This?…Oh that one…That’s my granddaughter.

MAD: So that’s you Mary, in the middle…

MS: Yes, and that’s how we look now. That’s Helen, Mary, and Jullia.

MAD: And where do Helen and Julia live?

MS: Farmingdale.

MAD: Do you get to see them often?

MS: Uh, you know, not too often. I don’t drive anymore, so I’m sort of tied, but we, you know, we used to go there often enough when my husband was alive.

MAD: What’s your granddaughter’s name again?

MS: Angelina and Amelia.

MAD: Oh, there are 2 little girls?…Oh…

MS: Two of them. Yeah! Oh yeah!

MAD: So who’d this over here?

MS: This? I think that’s Amelia. That’s this little one. (laugh)

MAD: And that’s Angelina?

MS: And that’s Angelina. And that’s my younger son, Michael.

ER: And are both of your sons overseas?

MS: No. Michael is here. So he pretty much has the headache of watching (me). (laughter)…And that’s my son Richard, and Angelina.

ER: How is it that he wound up back over…?

MS: After Michael graduated college, I don’t know why, he thought, that was when the Berlin Wall that was coming down. And he thought that might be an interesting place to be fore, whatever, experience. So, he, after he graduated he went overseas, and spent a couple of years there, believe it or not. He tried even developing some business, but it was not easy because the laws were not, you know. It was still under the Communist regime, sort of, even though they already were being freed, but the laws were not there for you to, you know, really settle down and feel comfortable. It was still not, uh…And while he was there he wound up in Prague, again, continuing his trip. And Richard, who was still going to school here, he was going to law school, he went to visit him. How…he connected with some English law firm over there, and they hired him for the summer, and that’s it. He worked for them once he graduated, and that’s where his life…And then Michael come back.

MAD: So tell me again who’s in this picture.

MS: Here?…That’s my son Richard, my daughter-in-law Michaela, like Michael but with an A at the end “Michai-el-ah,” and that’s Amelia, and Angelina…

MAD: Does Michael have children?

MS: No. He’s not married…

MAD: And tell me about these two pictures.

MS: These?…That’s the gymnastics group and these are the senior women that’s part of my group. So we get together once a week and we do gymnastics, or you know, at this point it’s stretching and a little, you know, lift. But we also learned to dance. And then we performed at the exhibition that they have every year for the little kids and you know, the old ladies with dance.

MAD: And they have that at the gym? [MS: Yeah]

ER: Is it a folk dance?

MS: Folk dance. Yeah. Yeah. And I love that. I really am, you know…If you weren’t here I usually tune in to my computer. The modern music just does not do anything for me, okay? So it’s mostly the old-fashioned music – the music that maybe I grew up with, or you know.

MAD: SO where do you find it on YouTube?

MS: Yeah YouTube! Oh so many! Yeah. And in our language! A lot. Yeah, there’s so much there that it’s…

MAD: And the bottom picture?

MS: Well, this…I get dressed every year. We have a Slovak festival down in, it used to be I don’t know if they will continue, but it’s, like, for many, many years already – 30 some odd years – down in Holmdale, New Jersey. There’s a…What is that? The CN, kinda bank, and they have, you know, grounds where festivals like fairs and…So that’s where I get dressed. I was totally in my costume. [MAD: That’s great!] Yeah. And you know, other people from – My mother’s sister here, and you know, friends.

MAD: Now these costumes that folks wear today to the festivals are they very similar or very different from what your mother and your grandmother wore?

MS: They’re pretty much the same. I think, you know, my mother – They only wore these costumes on Sunday, special occasions. Work, during the week, it was, you know, similar, but not colorful. It was more, you know, sort of navy blue with little flowers or some kind of, you know, much simpler. And, you know, naturally, that was good. People didn’t, you know, women didn’t wear (whispers) bras, so the vest was a good, you know, (laugh) thing to keep yourself together. (Laughs) [MAD takes pictures] So that’s my life story…

ER: Not quite! We have a lot to talk about…(laughter)

CUT 5: 00:26:33:10

MS: (cuts in the middle)…I worked for the American Stock Exchange. I have a picture where I was posting some of the prices on this big board. Um, where else? I worked for this insurance company on William Street – Liverpool, Royal Liverpool. Yeah. I don’t think it’s…I don’t know if it still exists. Oh! And then I also worked for Dupont! For almost 10 years!

MAD: Where were they?

MS: And they were located Empire State Building. Yeah. Fourth. And it was the textiles, you know.

MAD: Mary do we have your verbal permission to use this interview in our archive for the public and possibly for the radio?

MS: Uh, well I..I mean, unless it would cause any kind of uh…

ER: We would get your approval…

MS: Yeah. I would like, you know, I would want to see what it was before I would say, “Oh definitely.” You know, in today’s times, I don’t know.

ER: But. Okay. But we would need your verbal permission just to have the interview as an archive. Can we…[MS: Okay]…So can we have your permission to have this in our archive?

MS: Alright.

ER; Alright so, if you could phrase it yourself, that, “I give you permission…” so that we have this as our legal way of…

<S: Yes. Okay. I agree to give you permission to use this interview with me for the archive, whatever…oral history of my life.

ER: Okay. Now. And in the future, let’s say we might do a book, or a radio thing, or even a documentary, we will then revisit you to get permission.

MS: Definitely. I would definitely want to see what was being written or what was being shown, you know. Yeah.

ER: …And we’ll send you the transcript when we’re done.

MS: Oh. Okay.

CUT 6: 00:29:42:23

MAD: And where was your family originally from Mary?

MS: At that time it was Czechoslovakia. Now it’s, you know, they split, so now it is Slovakia.

ER: We jumped ahead, so just for the record can we have your name and can you spell it, and if you’re willing, your age and your profession again…?

MS: Okay. My name is Mary Seewald…(spells last name)…My maiden name was Hlinka (spells it), uh…Oh eighty years. I’m going to be 81 soon, in April.

ER: You profession again?

MS: Um, Secretary, then I took even shorthand. There weren’t too many towards the end of the, uh, when I worked the new secretaries came in without any shorthand, so I sometimes had to go from officer – they didn’t want to use the computers so I would travel from one office to the other taking shorthand. Pittman! (?)…

CUT 7: 00:31:22:20

MAD: Where in Czechoslovakia did you come…?

MS: …The name of the little town is Litmanova (spells it).

ER: And you were there till what age?

MS: Twelve.

ER: So what happened? You father first came? Do you want to tell us how everyone came over to the United States?

MS: Well, it’s a very beautiful area of Slovakia, but it’s mountainous. There wasn’t much land, you know, they had so much land that they can use to grow crops. And…my grandfather had 9 children. So the children had to move because there was not enough for them to feed them. So once you got married, even before they got married, they left. And if they knew someone in the United States that was the place to go. Everyone wanted to go. You know. So my father naturally, had to also move because he, you know, we were…he was raising a family and there was really not much there for him to stay. Although my grandfather was very disappointed because the son, you know, that they usually leave the land to was not coming back. He always thought that he would come back after, and…

ER: Did he have other siblings that stayed…?

MS: Oh yes. All the boys left. All the, you know, but he had three sisters that stayed in the town.

MAD: And what was your father’s first name Mary?

MS: His original name was Vasil (Spells it). But when he came here, changed it to Charles. Why? Don’t ask me. I think, must’ve been where other Vasils that came here prior to that maybe had a hard time with, you know, with the name. People didn’t…was not familiar, so they changed it to Charles.

MAD: And you mother was Julia? [MS: Julia] And what was her maiden name?

MS: (Spells it) Dzadik. There’s a lot of consonants in a lot of those names.

CUT 8: 00:34:15:23

MAD: So when did your father come here?

MS: 1937.

MAD: And was anybody here that he knew at that time?

MS: Well he originally went to Canada – Toronto. And her had a brother there. And he, he stayed with him – His brother had, what do they call? You know, people that do grass cutting, you know, and all the…

ER: Landscaping.

MS: Landscaping. Yeah. He had landscaping. So he was up there helping him with that. But then I suppose they must have communicated with the sisters down here. Yeah. “Come on down. There’s jobs.”

ER: So when did he come to the city?

MS: To New York? Um, ’37, ’38, ’39 maybe? Maybe.

ER: And where was it that he wound up living when he came here?

MS: With his sister, on Albany. Not Albany, Liberty.

ER: Do you know the address?

MS: Um, I…Maybe 127?…It was, you know, between, off Greenwich. And there were quite a few people living in that area.

MAD: So did the sisters go down to the Lower West Side because there were other Slovaks living there?

MS: Yes. Yes. Definitely. Yeah.

ER: And the family he was joining, how long had they been living there before that? Do you know?

MS: His sister Christina, um…Gosh. My mother, 1935, she got married in 1934. Maybe since about 1933? Because my mother and his sister Christina were the best of friends. And when Christina left – his sister – then my father went to marry my mother (laugh). Yeah. But it’s a small town. Yeah.

MAD: And then you and your sisters and your mother came in what year?

CUT 9: 00:37:03:08

MS: ’48. February 9th.

ER: Did you not see your father for about 10 years?

MS: Yeah. He was a complete stranger. I felt sorry – I’m thinking now, I felt sorry for him. Suddenly he’s three girls. Yeah. (Laughs) Yeah. And it was hard for my mother, that’s, you know, when I think of it.

ER: So let’s start now with your father when he went to New York. What did he find himself doing…?

MS: Uh, Cleaning. Porters. Porter.

ER: And in what type of establishment, do you know?…

MS: Well, at the end it was JP Morgan. That’s when I wound up there too, because of a good, you know, medical care and whatnot. So, but I don’t know. He had, he had part time jobs too besides working as a porter. They, you know, he worked cleaning, I don’t know, I know dentist’s office…He…Same thing with my mother. My mother had a couple of jobs.

ER: Usually in the same neighborhood?…

MS: Yes, yes! Yeah. And I think that’s why they, they kept in that area because it was easy for them. They could go to work, come home to eat, lunch or whatever, and then go back again. You know, it was close enough that they were able to manage that. They didn’t make enough to, you know, go out dining, that’s for sure. So whatever was at home was…

MAD: And they didn’t have to worry about the cost of transportation either.

MS: That’s, that’s another. Yes.

CUT 10: 00:39:18:03

MAD: So your family lived at 135 Washington Street once you father came over…[MS: Correct.]…? And that was your only address on the Lower East Side?

MS: That’s the only one. [MAD: And that was a rental I imagine?] A rental.

MAD: Okay. Do you remember how much the rent was at any point? [MS: No.]

ER: Can you actually say that in a sentence…’cause she’s prompting you…?

MS: Okay. Uh…When we came here in February of 1948, my father rented an apartment at 135 Washington Street, which was close to Albany, [the] corner, and we lived there for I guess, 2 or 3 years before we moved to Astoria.

ER: So now, why don’t you tell us about when you first came? First of all, could you speak any English? [MS: No.] Was it overwhelming? Tell me about your feelings were when you first came.

CUT 11: 00:40:19:18

MS: Uh, If I can remember, and I get, uh…We wanted so much to come, uh, that when we came we only knew how to count to ten. And I don’t know who taught us to count to ten, but that was the extent of our English. Luckily, you know, being that there were a lot of our people living, the Slovak people, living in that neighborhood, that there was no problem of communication with, you know, even the children at school. And they were always very helpful. I mean, we went in there and if we didn’t understand they would try to, you know, translate whatever. So that was a comfort, the fact that, you know, there were people speaking our language.

The school system – I mean, it was terrific that, you know, we would be, the teacher would be teaching in English, and she would assign whatever they were studying and then while they were doing whatever she assigned she would take us to the back of the room and was working with us learning English.

ER: How old were you again?

MS: Twelve.

MAD: And how long were you in PS 29?

MS: I assume that from February to the end of the year, and next year. So it was like a year and a half.

ER: I’m gonna make you say that in a whole sentence again.

MS: Okay. We came here in February of 1948. So then, you know, we immediately went to school. So that was the, to the end of the, that year, school year, which is what? Usually June, May-June, and then the full year, following year when I graduated.

ER: And so you started mid-semester, and you had to sort of…jump right in?

MS: Yeah. Well, yeah. Yeah.

MAD: Were there children of other nationalities in your class…?

MS: Oh yes! Yes. There were Greek, there were Syrian, there were Irish, Italian. There were other, yeah, uh, Chinese. Yeah. A Chinese laundry was right on the bottom of our building.

ER: I think we met the owners at one of our reunions…

MS: Did you?

MAD comment unintelligible…”Was that Yung?”.

MS: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yeah.

ER: I might even have a picture of the son.

MS: Uh, huh. Oh and Gummy Yung (?), Gummy Yung graduated with me. (laughs) And they actually lived in the uh, in that, the laundry. Yeah. In the back of the laundry. The front was laundry, you know, where the reception, and the back was their apartment.

ER: Now I gonna have you talk about the school. I want you to tell me the name of the school and where it was.

MS: It was PS 29. [ER: Say “My school…”] My first school in America was PS 29 . It was located on Washington Street, corner of Albany and West Street. It was not very large compared to what schools are today. It was, you know, a not too large school. We had the usual, you know, assignments, and once a week we had, uh…Oh, what are they called? Where we would get in the auditorium, carrying flags and getting dressed in a certain, you know, like white shirts or uh…What do they call…?

ER & MAD: …Assembly?

MS: Assembly. Yes! Yes. And that was pretty interesting, because we didn’t do that in Europe, so that was, you know, Pledge of Allegiance, you know, God Bless America. And so that was…And I’m still, uh… You know, I still think the Pledge of Allegiance is such an important thing in our, for our society and we seem to be uh, you know, going away or doing…Because it makes you feel like you belong to something. Okay? It makes you feel that, you know, it’s something that you want to be part of. So…And God Bless America, always. That’s how I feel.

I, uh, you know, like I said, my grandfather was not very happy that my father did not return. But I always say, “Oh, thank God they didn’t.” Because, I mean, people live everyplace. But I’m not sure that, you know, we would have had what we – Not that we’re rich, you know. We’re not. You know. My parents worked hard as cleaning and porter. I mean, they worked hard, but in general I think they raised decent human beings and then we raised decent families for ourselves.

ER: You had quality of life.

MS: Yeah. Yeah. I say that in today’s times I’m so glad that I grew up when I grew up, because I think we had so much more. Not in what we had. Because we didn’t have much, but just the atmosphere, just the connection that we had with other people, just, uh, you know.

Always, my father, you know, having three girls – what do you think our first gift was? A sewing machine! (laughs)

MAD: And you learned to sew Mary?

MS: and we…Oh yes! Oh! I mean, uh, yes. The three of us. So most of our, you know, when we were teenagers and stuff most of our clothes, or at least the dresses were homemade. Even for my mother. I sewed a lot. I sewed a lot.

ER: Not anymore?

MS: No. My machines are in the back. They’re sitting.

CUT 12: 00:48:01:08

MS: I uh…My hands, you know, are beginning to wear. If I try to do it starts crimping up and IO can’t sew. You know. Yeah.

MAD: If we can go back to 135 Washington Street for a minute. Can you describe the building? What kind of a building was it?

MS: It was a walk-up. We were…Let’s see, first, second, third, four flights, uh, four flights. So we were on the third floor. The roof was used for laund…for hanging clothes and you know, my mother washed the clothes in the room, you know, in the apartment. It was…She didn’t…I don’t even know if            there were…laundry, uh, you know, machines anywhere then. But they would…

MAD: Did the building have a stoop?

MS: Uh, no. There was no stoop. There was just right off the, yeah a walk in. Yeah.

MAD: Did you have your own private bathrooms in each apartment?

MS: No. It was one bathroom for the front two apartments. It was just the seat, you know, and then another for the two back. There were two front apartments and two in the back.

ER: So what was the size of the apartment?

MS: The living room, uh…If I remember. Maybe not as wide as this, but, you know, that was the living room, the front, and then a kitchen. In the kitchen we had the bathtub which was also like the table, because it had one of those uh, covers. Yeah. And then we had a stove that you had to warm up water if you wanted to take a bath, and – Wooden burning – wood-burning stove. Uh, what else?

ER: There was no hot water.

MS: No

ER: And the bedroom?

MS: There was one bedroom towards the back, but it was like, practically just the bed fit in there and you walk in and, you know, there was really not much room there at all.

ER: So the kids slept in the living room probably?

MS: Yeah. We had one of those sofas that, sort of opened up. So the three of us…But that was no problem, because when, where we came from we slept together! (laughs)…And…

MAD: Did you ever see your grandparents?

MS: Back? Uh, my grandmother passed away and we did not, I did not see her, but we did see, after I was married we, my husband and I went back and my grandfather was still alive.

MAD: That was your father’s…?

MS: My father’s father, yeah, And even my mother’s father was still alive. We have a large family there. You know people had, people had lots of children. So, you know, the family is still there and uh, I go, you know, whenever I go there it’s like a memory lane. I walk, when I can I walk up and down the street. I mean there’s just two, two, one main street and there’s uh, you know, little side streets. But, you know, it gets to the point where now you don’t recognize too many people. The older people even that you should recognize we’ve gotten older so we’ve gotten old, so we…But I would just walk up and down that uh, and I would say to them, “Could you tell me your name? Who are you? You know. I’m so and so and I’m here on a visit. I’m…(laughs)

ER: When were you there last?

MS: Uh. Three years? Yeah…So it was, you know, young people, I would say, “At least tell me which family you belong to.” You know, because in a small town there were a lot of Hlinkas. Like, and there were a lot of other names that were duplicates because they stayed there. So they would, in order to identify which family, they had another name. And usually it was like, maybe, uh, original grandfather, like mine, was “Noufray” (?), which was, you know, somebody was named “Noufray” going back I don’t know how long. So if you say, “I’m Hlinka Noufrayova (?) – because that’s the ending in the Slovak –they know exactly where you came from. The house, it’s there. (laugh)

ER: And more than likely if you ask…they might be related…

MS: Most people are related in a small town. After a while, you know. And those, you know, the early years, people didn’t travel outside of the town so they married in the town. Now it’s quite different, you know. Young people are being educated and travelling and moving around, so it’s no longer just, you know, the towns. You have relatives all over the place.

CUT 13: 00:54:31:20          

MAD: Mary I wonder if you could speak to two points. One being, how you and the other young people of various ethnicities got along in the Lower West Side, and what was the general response of Americans to your ethnicity?

MS: Because the majority of the children we of the Slovak, you know, there were, you know, others, and we, I mean, we got along fine. There was absolutely no, you know, I’m just thinking. My gosh! There was no problem with, with playing on the street. We used to play ball against the school. It was like, a little ledge, and hit the ball and run around. You know, it was no problem, absolutely no problem.

MAD: What about when you went out the get a job or in other situations outside the neighborhood. Did you encounter any prejudice or…?

MS: I mean sometimes kids, you know, kids will be kids. They would call you greenhorns because those were the, that was the word that was for people who came to this country – “Greenhorns” – and I used to say “I’ll show you!” You know! (laughs) So, you know, I just tried so hard to, you know, when I finally went to high school, I went to Washington Irving High School, and they had double sessions. So, naturally I still didn’t know English. And I would go into classrooms and sometimes wasn’t sure exactly, you know, what was being taught. So I would ask, I would ask them if I could repeat the other session. I could come back and sit in the classroom just to repeat the uh, and of course they were delighted (laughs). They thought, “Oh boy!” (laughs)

ER: Studious!

MS: So I spent a lot of time in school. You know, it was like, all day.

ER: That must have been very challenging for you.

MS: Well it’s because I wanted to I wanted to learn! We wanted so badly to become part of, to be American. That was the thing. Be American. We wanted to leave the other, you know, part of our life and join the Americans. So uh, that’s all of us, you know, my sisters too. We uh, you know, we did well. In studying, in Washington Irving it was, I was on the Arista, which is the honorary. So once I learned enough English I was competing.

ER: You were on the rise.

MS: Yeah. Yeah. And I uh, one time in the English speech class. There were, you know, kids and we would naturally be learning the sounds of the English language, which the European – the “rrrruh!” (rolled r sound) – is that rolling whereas the American it’s the – “Ruh.” You know. Or double-u. There was no double-u. It was “Vuh!” So you had to learn how to “wuh” – the blowing, that kind. But, you know, there were kids that were born in New York in that classroom, and I couldn’t understand how is it possible to be born in New York and not know proper English or proper sounds.

ER: Did your parents pick up on English very well or did they struggle with it?

MS: Well my father, being that he was here already 10 years, so he understood. But they never learned, you know. My mother learned from us, you know. Because when we, uh…Down in PS 29 they told us, ”Now you go home, and you speak English. And you speak English to your mother too.” And we would say, “Oh, but my mother doesn’t…” And they said, “She, you know, you will learn faster and your mother will learn.” And it’s true. So my mother learned English from us. And when my mother worked, naturally she learned what was necessary from, you know, people that she worked with. And she was such a pleasant lady, my mother.

My father was a little tough, you know. When we came, the three of us, we didn’t have too many shoes over there, so now we come here and we have, you know, shoes for Sunday and shoes for everyday to go to school. And, you know, girls, I guess we were to, you know, quick to leave the house and we would sort of leave the shoes all over. Well, he had us (laughs) cleaning up putting the shoes in the closet, and (Laughs)…

ER: A disciplinarian.

MS: Yeah! Yeah.

CUT 14: 01:00:46:18

MAD: Mary, what are some

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

02:09:09:04: END of INTERVIEW