My father, when he was a kid in Peregrimka, was a shepherd boy. Each family had a herd of sheep that they kept out on pasture and somebody had to stay with them so they didn't run off or get swallowed up by wild pigs. The shepherd boys had rifles for the pigs. Once when he was guarding the sheep, he tried to shoot a bee. In order to better follow the flying bee with the heavy rifle he held the muzzle with his left hand and he accidentally shot off the tip of his finger up to the first knuckle. Somebody took him to a hospital. I don't know where the hospital was, but it was some place run by nuns. I remember my father making the remark that it was such a clean place. Now, that's the kind of thing my father often said. He often talked about cleanliness. His finger healed up nicely.
He told us that they slept on the stove when he lived in Peregrimka. We thought that was very funny because we imagined a stove like we had - a coal-burning cast iron stove, very ornate. A whole family stacked up on top of a stove like ours was a funny thought. Sleep on the stove! So hot! They'd get cooked! But he said his stove was different. The stove in his home was big, maybe a quarter of the whole room, I guess. Part of the stove was what you cooked on but the rest was just a big flat thing made of clay or bricks. The flue from the stove part where you did the cooking went back and forth around inside the flat part and warmed it up in the winter. They lay on that flat part all wrapped up in perinnas (bags of feathers) and slept there. He said it was nice to sleep on that warm stove when it was cold. In the fall they dried mushrooms and stuff on it.
He had just turned 19 when he left Peregrimka. He took the train to Antwerp to board ship. He told me that he peeled potatoes during the crossing. His ticket was paid for, so I don't know why he had to peel potatoes. Maybe he did it in exchange for food. I think a dime was all the money he had with him. I remember him saying that a big storm came up and the waves went up over the ship. The ship was covered with a tarpaulin and stayed that way until the storm subsided. They did get tossed around a lot.
Tato (Dad) was a wonderful father. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for us. He had only a few years of schooling there in Peregrimka. He told me that when he went to school, children that misbehaved had to kneel down on hard dried peas on the floor and that was very painful. He could read, but not out loud. He wasn't very good a writing.
He was pretty gentle with us. When we kids were hitting one another, or some darn thing - making a lot of noise, he'd sometimes yell at us and tell us to go lie down in the field and listen to the grass grow. I remember him telling us that several times. The first time I heard him say that I did go out and listen to the grass but I didn't hear anything.
I always called him Tato. Once I called him Papa. That was something I learned at school, but he didn't like being called "Papa." Papa meant "the Pope" in Russian and he didn't want to be called the Pope. Later on some of my younger brothers and sisters started to call him "Pop." He didn't like that at first 'cause he thought that "Pop" was pretty close to "Papa." But they kept on calling him "Pop" so I guess he thought "Pop" was different enough from "Papa" or else he got used to it. I never did call him "Pop." I stuck with the Russian.
Tato didn't have much contact with his relatives in Europe. At the moment I can only remember him getting one or two letters from them. I think he got one when my uncle died, his brother. That must have been in 1924 when his brother Pawel died. Pawel was shot while crossing a river in the army. He had another brother, Johannes, that was killed, too, in the first world war - hung along with two others because they were caught singing Ukrainian songs on the way back from the war in 1914. They were both younger than my father, but my father had an older brother, too, Andrej. Andrej was first one to come to America and he was the one that paid for my father to come. Andrew died of the Spanish Flu in 1917. But my father's parents and his two sisters, Maria and Justina, were still alive at that time.
I can remember him getting a letter in '27 or '28, sometime in the late '20's when his father or mother, I think it was his father, when his father died. He cried and cried. Yes, I remember that. Few people had much contact with their relatives back in Europe in those days. They weren't very good at writing. Even the people that could read weren't very good at writing. So there were people who made extra money writing letters for people. I remember somebody saying that they had a letter-writer, a man that charged fifty cents for writing a letter. I don't know if postage was included in that fifty cents or not. I don't know what it cost to send a letter to Europe in those days. Another reason why people didn't write was that they didn't know how to address the envelopes. That's my opinion, at least. My father was a poor writer, even in Russian. I remember how happy he was when he became a citizen of the United States. He had signed all the papers himself. He had learned to sign his name with the English letters and he was real glad that he was able to write his name down.
He got good enough with the letters that he had some opinions about English spelling. I remember... We had some relatives in Pittsburgh and they were quite close relatives, too, but now I don't remember just how. As far as I know, they are just about the only relatives we have in America... Well, anyway, they lived in Pittsburgh and they came to visit us a couple times and they spelled their name Pawlik, that's P-A-W-L-I-K and my father thought they spelled the name improperly, but they said their way was the right way.
One of my father's best friends was John Kulenich. Kulenich worked in the mines, too. They were good buddies. I think my father knew him from back in Europe as a kid, in Peregrimka, before he came to America. Kulenich was married to someone named Mary Rock and they lived down in Irishtown. My father would spend a lot of time down there. Kulenich and my father would occasionally go to the bar together on Saturday nights and my father would sometimes stay overnight at Kulenich's house. But that came to an end pretty early, the Kuleniches had such a small place and it filled up with kids and they couldn't have him stay over anymore.
My father once told us a few stories from the old country. I remember that. We thought they were fun and we wanted him to tell us a lot more, but he didn't know any more, he said. Now, I've forgotten every one that he told us. I've tried to remember what they were, his stories, but I can't remember any more. I think one of his stories was about a werewolf. I think I remember something like that. I don't remember anymore. I don't think my brother Steve can remember them either. I guess it's too late.
Tato shaved with a straight razor. John still has it. He had a cup and a brush for the foam. There was soap on the bottom of the cup. He'd put water in it, swish the brush around awhile and get foam. The soap in the cup would last years and years. The razor he sharpened on a belt, a leather belt about three inches wide, about eighteen inches long and a hook on the end. He'd take it up and whip the razor back and forth on it a few times. He shaved every third or fourth day. He didn't have a heavy beard. Nobody in our family had a heavy beard. I think it was only Deedo that could grow a mustash.
I never saw Deedo smoke. But my father did. He rolled his own cigarettes. He bought Penn Tobacco in one-pound paper bundles. Yes, he did. Penn Tobacco... They've gone out of business, now. He bought Penn Tobacco in one-pound paper bags and when he went to work or something, he'd take some of that shredded tobacco with him in a pouch, something like those Bull Durham bags they used to have - a little cloth bag you closed with a string - a bag like that. He'd put some of that shredded tobacco in a cigarette paper and rolled it up. It didn't seem to be too hard to do. It was a little lumpy and it didn't look like what you get today out of a pack, but it was smokable. Sometimes, he smoked Camels, too. That's the only ready-mades I know that he smoked - Camels. He smoked roll-your-owns and Camels.
My father was strictly a worker. In those days that meant that you worked - all the time. Except when they were on strike, he was down at the mine six days a week. I'm not exactly sure what he did down in the mine, drilled the holes in the rock for the dynamite and did the blasting, as far as I know. He was down there six days a week. He didn't have time to do things like they do now, hobbies or interests or stuff like that, no, not at all. No, he didn't have any outside things to do. He was too busy making a living. But when he made things out of wood, he did enjoy that kind of work, I know. He made ax handles, pick handles out of hickory for working the mines. He was good at that. And he made some benches to sit on - and some kind of chairs - stuff like that. In the cellar there was a little place to work and a workbench, but he only had a hammer, a saw and a wood chisel for inside work. For outside work he had an ax and some real big wood saws. He didn't have the tools for doing finer things but he liked carpentry work.
There was a time that my father would stop off for a drink at Telep's saloon after work and chat with the men. That's the kind of place it was - the men came in after work to have a drink and they talked with each other. He didn't go there too often, once in a while, once in a while. Then he stopped going there because it was costing too much.
I remember him making wine. He had a barrel and he filled it with the mashed grapes from our vines. We had grape vines that grew from the garden down to the road. That barrel smelled just awful. It stank. My mother saw him pouring sugar into that mess and she told him, "We have so little sugar and you're putting it into that?" I have no idea what that stuff tasted like.
My mother was strict. The way she had learned to do things that was the way they were to be done, and it was no good to do things any other way. She just wasn't very tolerant. She was very European, I guess. She never really became modern in her thinking. We always called her, "Mom," in English, nothing else, just "Mom."
"I never keep a wooden spoon very long!" - I remember my Mom saying that. My mother used wooden spoons in the kitchen that were made out of some soft wood, some wood that was easy to carve. If we kids started to squabble about something, she came around, thonk you one on the head and a lot of times the handles would crack... the spoon would split down the middle. Ah... ah... now, I remember that day exactly! We kids were sitting at the table. I guess we were doing homework. We were squabbling about something and she came and gave us a whack on the heads and the spoon split and that's when she said, "I never have a wooden spoon very long because I break it over your heads!" Yes, that's a remark my mother did make. And when she got angry at us, we ran.
Sometimes she would threaten us - she'd say, "If you're bad, you go back with the gypsies next time they come around." That was better than the spoon.
I don't know for sure how my father met my mother. A lot of people say that the marriage was fixed by my grandmother. That was common then.
My parents never wore their wedding rings. No, they didn't, and this is a real story! After they got married they put their wedding rings on a ribbon that was tied so the rings were on the ribbon. I guess they didn't want to loose them or else they were afraid that the gold would wear away from hard work. Just after we moved up to Bald Mountain I was playing with that ribbon with the rings on it in the kitchen and somehow it disappeared. We couldn't find the rings anywhere, never could find them. Then sometime during the forties, my brothers were helping to remodel the kitchen and they tore up the Congoleum on the kitchen floor to put new stuff in and under that Congoleum was a trap-door that led down to a crawl-space under the kitchen. Steve went down there and was digging around and he found the rings! They'd been there for fifteen, twenty years or whatever it was! I guess the rings must have fallen into a gap along the edge of the trap-door then when someone lifted it up to look down there they must have fallen in. Then they put that Congoleum down on the kitchen floor over the trap-door shortly after and you couldn't get at it all that time. So my parents didn't wear their wedding rings, that's true, that's true.
My parents talked in Russian to each other all the time, as long as they lived. I guess you could say that for me, Helen and Steve, and maybe John, Russian was our first language, too. My grandmother told me that I spoke Russian real good. But we kids must have been the first to really start with English in the family. Down in Irishtown it had been mostly Russian, but from 1925 to 1930 you suddenly had one, two, three, four kids going to school, speaking English in school and speaking it among ourselves. So by around maybe 1930 we kids were speaking mostly English. By then my father knew English good enough to use it with us, too, most of the time. So it was about then that English really got a foothold in our house - late 20's, 1930. The kids that were born after that they just learned to understand Russian, not speak it much - it was a second language to them. My parents still talked Russian to us, but mostly English. My father talked Russian to us more than my mother did. She did just sometimes.
We always had to speak Russian to Baba and Deedo though 'cause they never learned any English. The Stetzes always spoke Russian, too. I don't know if they spoke English at all - at least I never heard them do it. Della's parents were Polish, they spoke Polish. They never learned any English either so we had to speak Russian to them, too. That was OK 'cause Russian and Polish are pretty close. So most everybody spoke English when I was little - except my grandparents and the Stetzes and the Kenzakoski's and a few others. The young people all spoke English. But people used a lot of Russian words even in English 'cause in those days there were a lot of things didn't have English names. And most of the adults that spoke English went over to Russian when they were talking about a private or, well, an emotional sort of thing. My mother had gone to the public school and to the Russian School, too. So she was pretty good in both languages. The Russian school was in Irishtown and was run by the church. None of the others in our family went to the Russian school. It was four miles away and it didn't let out until 6 o'clock so it would have been hard to get home.
So none of us learned to read or write Russian. My mother did try to teach us the alphabet a few times, though, I do remember that. Ah, beh, veh... that's about all I remember now. Maybe a little more. But you can't get a good grasp of the alphabet just for hearing it. You have to use it to write. And the only thing I ever wrote in Russian is my name. My mother taught me to write my name. That's the only thing I ever wrote in Russian, my name. But I guess my mother did try. She did try to teach us.
John is the only one that kept up any Russian later in life. He stayed on the Mountain and kept it up a bit, I guess, talking with my mother. She always went over to Russian if she got worked-up about something.
There were water pipes in the house when we came there, when we came there to the mountain and we got water from a spring behind the house. So we had running water, but the pipes froze once when it was cold and my father said it wasn't a good idea to dig it all up. We had no idea then that there was such a thing as insulation that could keep the pipes from freezing. After that it sometimes it still worked, but never for drinking water. So we had to carry the water from the spring that the pipes were attached to. But that spring periodically went dry in the summer. When it did that, we had to go elsewhere for water. Then we had to go to the spring behind the stone wall there. In the front, you know, where I told you I'd like my ashes to be buried there, by the stone wall. So we had two springs. Well, we used to go down there to the other spring when the one behind the house went dry. We took the water home in a bucket, a galvanized pail. One pail-full or two, one in each hand, whatever was needed. If the weather was too dry, both wells went dry. Both wells did go dry once or twice and then we had to go up to the neighbors, Kenzakoski's, to get water.
We kept our drinking water in a galvanized pail - a galvanized ten-quart pail. That's what we used. We kept the pail with drinking water either in the kitchen or in that old summer kitchen that used to be there on the backside, next to the regular kitchen. If we wanted water we used a cup to scoop it out. Or if we were cooking we'd pour it out direct from the pail into the cooking pot.
There was a round metal tub that we bathed in. We all took baths at the same time, one after another. We went after age, the youngest first. We brought in water from the well and heated it up. It doesn't take too many pails full to get a metal tub full of water. We heated it in the boiler then carried it over to the tub in pails. The boiler was something you put on top of the stove to boil clothes in. But we used it just to heat water, too, when we took a bath. It was an oval copper tub that covered two burners. My mother used it to boil clothes 'cause they boiled the whites to be white. Sheets and stuff. The coloreds my mother washed in the tub with a washboard.
We had a wash day but it wasn't any special day like Saturdays, or something, no, no. Wash day was any time we didn't have any clothes left. When there wasn't anything left that could be worn, we had wash day. Doing the laundry, oh, my gosh, that was a day job - just about - for two people. Carrying the pails of water up from the well and that kind of stuff, I mean, it was practically a day job. There are a few times that I can remember that Walter Gruver's sister Jodie came over to help my mother with the washing. Jodie was a deaf-mute and she used her hands, you know, to talk, and we knew what she wanted. She couldn't talk and had long straight hair and she dressed in a funny way so we thought she was mysterious, a little scary. My mother never paid her enough so Jodie wasn't too anxious to come but she did come over a few times to help with the washing when I was real little. When I got older I helped my mother do the washing. I'd do the dirtiest part, rubbing the clothes on the washboard, and then my mother would make sure that it was clean, clean, clean. She'd do the second wash. Things had to be pretty clean before they went into the boiler.
Jodie had a brother named Walter. Walter Gruver was the one that taught us a little ditty...
"The roaches and the bedbugs
Ha-ha-ha. Did you ever hear that? He taught us that - Walter Gruver did. I don't know if that's exactly right but I'm sure that there must be somebody that remembers better. Walter was a neighbor of ours. He was a World War I veteran. He lived with his parents up the mountain road near the Kowalskis. He taught that to us kids once when we were up there. His mom smoked a pipe, Walter Gruver's mom did. My mother's baby sister, Annie, she was only seven years older than I was and when she was little she used to go up there to the Gruvers just to see Mrs. Gruver smoke that pipe, see her put it in her mouth and smoke it. But it was Walter's sister Jodie that sometimes helped out with the washing.
In those days when you washed clothes by hand laundry soap came in bars, like hand soap does now. We used Octagon soap, Colgate Octagon. It was brown and had eight sides to it and it came with coupons that you could get things for. We always had a big stack of Octagon soap. We used that for the laundry and everything else, too, 'cause it was an all-purpose soap. All the stuff my mother washed she carried out and hung on the clothes line to dry. Sometimes she carried the clothes out to the line in a basket on her head. You can see that on TV nowadays - women in foreign countries walking along with bundles on their heads.
We had two clotheslines, I guess. I think the posts had... well, you know the posts were T's and two lines came from the corners of the T's. We never had copper wire for the clotheslines. We had some other kind of heavy wire and it tarnished. So sometimes before my mother hung the clothes I had to take a rag and run up and down the clothes line and wipe off the tarnish so it wouldn't leave marks. You didn't have the clasp clothespins then that I know of. We had just the stick kind of clothes pin.
If my mother was going to do any ironing, she had to fire up the stove first. We had irons that you heated up on the stovetop, on top of the stove. There were several irons, the bottom parts, and one handle. All the irons you heated up on the stove. When one cooled down too much to use, you put it back on the stove and you put the handle on another one, and you ironed like that.
That tub, the one that I just told you about, the tub that we used as a bathtub and washed clothes in, that was the tub we used when we made bread - we only had one tub. My mother used the tub 'cause she made a lot of bread - fifteen or twenty loaves at one time. She would make the dough and put it in the tub to raise. When the dough gets pretty big there is sort of like a skin on it. You can nip that skin with your fingers and pull it up and snip it off with a scissors or a knife or something. If you fry that piece of soft dough in oil, in fat, that's punchki. If you're lucky enough to have any sugar in the house you can sprinkle it on top. Then the punchick tastes like a doughnut and is very good. You can't do that too much, make too many punchki, just the skin on top of the dough or else you wouldn't have enough dough left to make the bread if you make too many punchki. Even fifteen or twenty loaves of bread didn't last long in our house. We never ate toasted bread, though, there wasn't any such thing in those days.
My mother baked most of her own bread. She made noodles, too. She was good at noodles. She made them out of flour and eggs right on the kitchen table. She made all the food on the kitchen table. She rolled out the dough, floured it, and cut it up into strips, boiled it, and made noodles. First, she rolled it out real thin, then she cut it in half, then she floured it, rolled up each half and cut thin slices off the end of the rolls. She was fast at that! We always ate the noodles fresh. We ate all the noodles that was... that she made that night. We never dried the noodles to use at another meal, no, no, never. Sometimes, though, if you were not as good at making noodles as my mother was, then you have to let the dough dry a bit after you've rolled it out real thin. You can hang the sheets over the railing on the porch, or something, and let them dry a bit before you cut them. You can put a towel over the railing and then let the dough hang awhile and get a little more solid. Then there's less chance that they'll stick together when you slice them.
Pirohy. That was another thing she made. That's like little pockets of dough with some kind of filling inside. Mostly the filling was mashed potatoes mixed with some sharp cheese, like Cheddar cheese. Or else she used another kind of filling that was a kind of cheese we had then that was like dry cottage cheese. Sometimes she used a filling made from fruit or prunes. My mother would roll out a big circle of dough, same dough she used for noodles, I guess, cut it into a whole bunch of squares, spooned out the filling, fold the square over to make a triangle with the filling inside, then squeeze the edges shut. Then she boiled them, poured melted butter with sauteed onions over them and then they were ready to eat. She was able to do all that real fast. It didn't take her very long to make a whole bunch. (a pirohi recipe) (a second perohi recipe)
My mother was an expert at making haluski, too. The haluski is a little ball type of noodle, what they call dumpling in English. Campbell's Soups in the Can makes something they call Chicken Soup and Dumpling. The dumpling is like haluski. She made all the noodles for chicken noodle soup and all the haluski for Lima bean soup. She bought a rolling pin that she used a while to roll out the noodles but the handles fell out all the time so my father carved her one out and she had that as long as I had ever known. I didn't see him make it but they say that he made it out of a table leg from an old table. It's big and round as a regular store rolling pin. It's still around. My brother John has it. My mother rolled a lot of dough in her life.
When we bought flour for the bread and noodles and stuff, we bought big bags of it, fifty or hundred pound sacks. Fifty, hundred pounds of flour didn't last long in our house. You make pirohy, you make noodles, punchki, bread... I don't know how long a hundred pounds of flour lasted. From payday to payday, I guess. The brand of flour we used was called King Midas. The words 'King Midas Flour' was printed on the sides of the sacks. When we brought the sacks home my mother dumped the flour into a big metal container to protect it from mice or whatever. Then you had those big sacks left over. These sacks were sewn together and if you found the right thread and untangled a bit at the end, then you could pull it right out and you'd have a big piece of strong cloth. During the depression that cloth was more than a bonus, it one of the main reasons for getting the flour. My mother would boil that cloth in the boiler with Octagon soap to get the printing out and then it would be a nice piece of cloth. I remember she made aprons out of that cloth. She made shopping bags out of it, too, 'cause in those days the stores didn't give out bags to put your stuff in. Sew up a bag out of the King Midas cloth, put a handle on it, and that was a shopping bag. Helen and I had a lot of pants that came from King Midas, too. Gotchi, not pants... Underwear.
There was another kind of cloth that we used, too. My mother would get cloth from my grandmother. Some of the seed that Deedo planted came in big sacks that was made of a cloth that was good for dish towels and my mother made towels out of that.
My mother made a lot of stuff. She had a Singer sewing machine. It was, gees, did you ever see and old sewing machine? It folded down and you could lift the machine out of the case and then you lifted up some leaves or flaps and you made kind of like a table with them. You had a pedal underneath, an iron, a wrought iron, pedal. You put your feet on it and pumped it or rocked it back and forth. That's the way you could get the needle to move. My mother made rectangles of flannel cloth. We didn't have any sanitary napkins and that's what we used for that. My mother made clothes, dresses, for us girls, too. She never made clothes for the boys, though, just dresses for the girls.
It was oldest kids that were the first to get new clothes. Then they went right down the line. If they didn't fit one, the next one got them. Hand-me-downs, everybody got hand-me-downs.
When my brother John was three, four, five or something, he sometimes had to wear hand-me-downs from Helen 'cause she was next older, her old dresses, you know. Sometimes my mother'd pin the hem of the dress up under him to make them like pants, like there were pants' legs. Sometimes she wouldn't. Once he was out there in the yard wearing Helen's old dress and the rooster came up under the dress and bit him, grabbed him by the putzka and was pulling - thought it was a nightwalker or something. He was screaming and my mother came running and I think that that was the last time John had to wear hand-me-downs from Helen.