Interview with Elizabeth Hladik
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Elizabeth Hladik
Interviewed by: Anna Caganek
Date of interview: 27 February 1978
Elizabeth: I am Elizabeth Hladik, born in 1910 of immigrant parents Frank and Mary Konecny. They came here from Gbely, Czechoslovakia, in 1904, to Ellis Island in America, bought a home on Berlin Street in the First Ward and lived there, let’s see, all their lives, they bought it for $2400 in 1912. And I lived there most of my life, ah, married, had two children and two grandchildren. My father at 15 years was an apprentice to a shoe cobbler, and lived in Vienna two years so he naturally went to Endicott-Johnson area here to find work after trying out in the coal mines in Lansford, PA. He decided he wouldn't spend his life underground even if his life, even if the pay was higher, he was content with making shoes and raising a family of six children. Yeah. He inspired me to do domestic work for good families, which he claimed would be more rewarding than to take a homemaking course in high school. I never went to school higher than the 8th grade, and I was quite content, but at times frustrated. The pay wasn't ideal at the time. At least I got around and got an insight of how people of worth live. So at least I got around.
At 15 ½ I started as a domestic with Mrs. Murray, 206 Main Street in Binghamton. She was the widow of an Admiral, and she entertained elegantly, having a Swedish cook, and I learned a lot early in life. Also worked for the Chamberlains of Lathrop Avenue—he was an editor of Binghamton Press—and the Gails—butter and egg people, and meat. Then a Mr. Clement Bowers, dad who was an inventor, lived on Main Street—I worked for them. Mrs. Daniel Dickinson of South Mountain—her husband was an ambassador of United States to Turkey. Then for a while I worked for a Mrs Frank Harris, he was in the extract business and also the 5-cent doughnut shop on Court Street. And the Edwin Link family, the inventor. And also for a time did restaurant work: the G & H Diner, helping with many chores, the dishes, counter work, and the diet kitchen in the old Broome County Infirmary on Front Street, and Vail-Ballou book bindery. Then I worked in E.J.’s in the very early years in the Jigger Factory on Willow Street making tennis shoes, and also in Dunn McCarthy Factory as fancy stitcher.
Then for a time I went to New York, worked on 5th Avenue and Park Avenue. I didn’t like the cockroaches, even in wealthy homes the bugs appeared now and then in old buildings. I had 75 dollars a month pay and room and board. That was in 1939, about. I always liked Binghamton—I think it’s nice to travel around, but here is where I like to hang my coat. Especially (laughing) I’ll always remember our great neighbors. Minnie and John Murphy of 3 Berlin Street, who helped mold my childhood. Actually, Mrs. Murphy, who had no children, was a great help to my mother. She taught my mother the American way of life and came over to show her how to make pumpkin pie, custard puddings, and beef vegetable style, and corned beef and cabbage, and doughnuts. She had been a cook in the Waterfleet New York Hotel in her days, and she was quite a cook. And of course my mother exchanged apple strudel and kolachky for some of her cooking. She used to bring over, to us kids when we came home at lunchtime, some hot meals. Not many people do that today to help out. She was a great neighbor.
My mother worked in the cigar factory, couldn't be home to get our lunches. Mrs. Murphy brought over many times, how I remember. Baked potatoes, especially, and creamed cod fish—I loved that.
Anna: What did your mother do in the cigar factory?
Elizabeth: She was a bunch maker, and she rolled cigars—that’s what she did, and sometimes she made more than my father did in the shoe factory (laugh). And Mrs. Murphy made real molasses cookies, and mince pie with beef in it, and she inspired my parents to go to night school, and both my parents learned to read. Mrs. Murphy was not a habitual churchgoer, but she was a respected individual and will always live in the hearts of all who knew her, because to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die, and God will always bless America as long as there are people like the Murphys and the Konecnys that can help each other and set a good example for generations to come. And in the face of the high cost of living today, a good word and a helping hand will create the necessary boost we need to encourage us to go on, no matter what life holds.
Anna: Did you ever, what did you do for amusement?
Elizabeth: Oh, well, when I was very young I used to go out to pick berries up in Ely Park, that was our favorite pastime—when we were kids, that is. And, ah, after I grew up to be a teenager, I did a little dancing in the Pavilion, and met—and saw some of the great band leaders and all.
Anna: What were some of the—could you remember some of the band leaders?
Elizabeth: Well, of course Benny Goodman, and all those. I didn’t I go too much but I saw some of the greats: Johnny, Johnny Greene, and his band, and—oh dear, who is it? Now that I can’t think.
Anna: Did you ever go to the Woodrow Willson alumni—
Elizabeth: Yes, I went to the Woodrow Wilson School here in Binghamton, up to the 8th grade, and we had wonderful teachers there as I remember. Miss, ah—Miss, ah…she taught us English—oh dear, she’s dead now. Mrs., Miss Stone was the principal, of course.
Anna: Miss Berzel?
Elizabeth: No, Miss Merzel was in Jarvis Street School. I went part-time to Jarvis Street School too. And Woodrow was very nice but we had to come home from school every lunchtime. It took us an hour, I mean, to get back home and eat and do the dishes up and then go back to school. We had an hour to walk all that distance and then go back again. Snow, raining, or shine, no buses, no cafeterias, but we made out (laughs) because as I say, Mrs. Murphy always gave us a lift there—she had no children. Her husband was a blacksmith here on Hawley Street where the old police station used to be—yes. He was one of the last of the, ah, last of the blacksmiths in town, and he died in 1930. So he was a great man. He also bought an old Ford, old Tin Lizzie (laughs). He never had electricity in his house, he didn't believe in it—they used kerosene oil. Although we had electricity in our house next door to him. And, ah, our childhood was much different than today, yes it was, and we did more chores around the house than kids think of today. We had all the chores to do because our parents worked—we had to scrub clothes on a washboard, and I remember standing on a little stool just so I could reach the washboard and do my stuff, because my older sister did housework outside. And I had to carry on and do the cooking at 12—I was quite a cook—so I learned, because our parents were both working. That’s how it is today too, both parents are working, but the children, I guess, do not do much cooking. aside from (laughs) hamburgers they can get around the corner, and potato chips and Coca-Cola. I was raised up on different type of food and I'm glad I have that to remember, and I try to keep up as much as I can. Maybe that’s what keeps people young in their outlook on life, and what they've had in the past makes up for a good life.
You have to eat good sensible food in order to live a long life and be healthy—and do your share of work, it’s all fun in the long run. But it can’t be all play in life, you can’t expect to be loafing around and playing games or cards—I wasn't much for card games, it’s a waste of time, or bingo (laughs). I suppose that’s all amusement, but I have a simple way of life, and I like to walk an awful lot and see nature. That’s my amusement–and my grandchildren, now.
Anna: Do you like to do anything by hand?
Elizabeth: Oh, I used to do a little crocheting and patchwork and embroidery, and some painting pictures on the side. That was my hobby. Oh, but I have not been so interested in it lately, it’s too much hard work. I don’t like the idea of being gummed up with paint and get my house all plastered up, I just don’t care for it anymore. But it’s a great hobby they told me I did well. I have a few pictures I did, but I don’t expect to sell them for a great deal, so I (laughs) keep them. And don’t have them hanging on the walls either, but someday I’ll get back to it and enjoy painting once again. Because—maybe when I get older (laughs)—I’m too young—I’m too young to get old.
Anna: You’re retired now?
Elizabeth: Now I’m retired, I’m 67, yes. And I expect I’ll like to live to be 85 at least. And if I keep going the way I have and no setbacks, no real ill health, why, then I’ll probably make it and try to help other people that are in worse condition than I am, or—here in the building where I live, there’s some that need help and don’t have too much money to pay for a nurse. Why, you could give a little of your time, but don’t be taken advantage of to the full length. Just a little here and a little there, it’s good to help people along the way, and that’ll make your day. So I am glad to have had this opportunity to talk and tell a little about my life. But at any rate—well, I think I missed out on saying all of the places I worked at. I worked in E.J. Jigger factory and in Dunn McCarthy, I said that before, and the Links—oh—Broome County Infirmary, did I mention that? And Vail Ballou in the book bindery, and—I think I mentioned that, yes. But anyhow it pays—my father gave me a good example in life, always not to be money mad but to do a job where your heart is in it and to like your work, no matter how much you got paid. Of course my trouble was I never got much money, but I think I was happy in life, and that’s the main thing. Thank you.
Anna: Oh, thank you, Betty. Thank you.