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Interview with Louise Petras

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Petras, Louise ; Caganek, Anna


Louise Petras talks about emigrating to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia at the age of thirteen, her work cleaning houses for a variety of people, and living on a farm in Chenango Bridge. She also discusses obtaining her citizenship papers.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


23:11 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Mrs. Louise Petras

Interviewed by: Anna Caganek

Date of Interview: 14 September 1978

Anna: I am Anna Caganek, dating to viewer, talking to Mrs. Louise Petras. 234 Clinton St., Binghamton, New York. Date is September 14, 1978.

Louise: Louise Petras. Louise Petras. Breginsky! [sic]
Anna: Mm-hm.
Louise: I came up here
Anna: My mother and father, yes.
Louise: My father came - 1900. My sister came - 1901. And my mother came - 1903. The youngest one. And my other sister, I came - 1905. And my other sister came - 1906. Came, we livin’ on Pennsylvania - that’s near Harrisburg. I was working, it was about, it was [unintelligible]
Anna: Mm-hm.
Louise: I was working at Good Samaritan Hospital six months, and then I went to Buffalo to my aunt, and I was working in a hotel. When I was 16 years old, I got married…like a crazy. You write that? Then I still was working houses all the time. Was working over and over…housework. I never work in a factory. And then I came to Binghamton. My husband, he was working up here, and I was cleaning houses for everybody. For Mrs. Hamlin, I was working 14 years; Mrs. Smith; Dr. Kane, John; Dr. Kane, Paul. I did - and Dr. Gregory. I can’t think if he was living on a, on a…knick…doctor, doctor…mm, I, I can’t think of his name now.
Anna: Tell me what, though, when you came to Ellis Island what they did.
Louise: And then I came here from the ship. So I went to…now [unintelligible]
Anna: Ellis Island.
Louise: Ellis Island. And I stay there overnight.
Anna: They look you over…?
Louise: They looked me over. Then next morning, I went on a tra, trantor [sic] living on Pennsylvania.
Anna: What was the name of the - you came, the ship?
Louise: Kaiser Willhelm. I came on Kaiser Willhelm. And [laughs] [foreign], we sleep over and [foreign].
Anna: Mm-hm.
Louise: And I tell you, I never see so many people in a ship. And I got lice now. I tell you. [laughs] So when, when I came to, to Lebanon, my mother first was doing my hair. Clean my hair. So I didn’t have any no more.
Anna: Do you know when you got married, or where you got married?
Louise: Oh, I ain’t got married ‘till - ‘cause I was 13 years old. And then I went up to Buffalo and I was working up there in a hotel, in a kitchen.
Anna: Mm-hm.
Louise: And then I was - I have typhoid fever. I was, eh, for 11 weeks I was sick. And I thought, “I’m gonna go.” But, I guess they didn’t want me up there. So then, you know…I have kids after kids - kids after kids. So when I moved from Buffalo to Lebanon - back to Lebanon [Pennsylvania] - I still was working. And…[foreign] I wanna say something, you know…I was working in Buffalo, housework, every place. Then I went back again to Victor, Buffalo. And I was working up there, I don’t know how many years. That was my job. And here I was, working all over the doctors. I was working, I guess, 14 - 8, 16 years after Mrs. Hamilton, and she had the drug store. But, housework. And then for John Smith’s wife, I was working housework. Dr. Kane, John, I was working housework. Dr. Paul Kane, I was working…Mrs. - Dr. Marino, I was working up there year and a half. Then I went back…
Anna: And what’s the name of the…was, uh, the doctor? So I didn’t even know…?
Louise: Dr. Pollmak, over two years. I was working hard, you know. I never worked in a factory because I didn’t understand factory. So I was working housework.
Anna: Hm.
Louise: And you know how that is when you have kids after kids. I have 14 kids. I have 11 boys and, and 2 girl - 3 girls. Now, I got two boys left and one girl. They, all of them died when they was 15…22. Then I was on a farm. I liked it in a farm up on Chenango Forks. We was up there only 10 years, and then move again, [unintelligible]
Anna: Well, tell ‘em how nice the people were in those days.
Louise: And that not, that time, the people was very nice. They help each other. If you need help, the people help you; if they need help, you help them. We never fight. ‘Cause they, they always was nice. Nadda, not like nadda.
Anna: No.
Louise: You won’t get any help now for them. And everything was cheap. So my mother paid $3.50 rent - we had five rooms. But they had water water outside - you had to carry it. I tell you: The people so nice to you. God, if you need this - if you need money, they lend you. If you need help, something like, uh…do you know how much we pay for a pound of pork chops? We pays $0.10 pound of pork chops; $0.04 a hot dogs pound; and $0.06 of beef for soup. How you like that? $0.25 for dozen eggs. The, we used to buy 100 pounds of sugar for $4.00. And 100 pounds of flour because my mother used to bake bread. Now, see how, how people was that time? How they helped each other? But now, lookit: They don’t pay any attention to nobody. I can’t understand how that’s gonna come. And I tell you this much: My grand, grandmother was 96 years when I went here.
And she told us what’s gonna happen. And it’s coming! And nobody gonna wanna believe it. And it’s gonna be worse than it is. Because people don’t care; they don’t help each other like they used to do. I can understand why. There are still the kids stealing, they are killing. That’s what my great-grandmother said, that that’s what’s gonna come, and this is the year [it]’s coming. Now, believe me or not. Too bad I am not up there so I can tell you the straight how is it. But, nah. We paid, you know how much we paid for shoes? $0.50 a pair and $1.50 for the good one[s]. And $0.03 a yard for good, for make new clothes. Now, isn’t it nice up there that time?
Anna: That was probably the 19…eh, the 20s and 30s. Like that.
Louise: Yeah.
Anna: Like, uh…19, uh…
Louise: That was, that was what?
Anna: 1920s?
Louise: Not 30…? Yeah.
Anna: 1930s…and, yeah.
Louise: Yeah. That’s, that…people helped each other.
Anna: 30s. And up to 19…um, uh, 40s, wasn’t it?
Louise: Yeah. Everything - believe me, if you buy coat? $75.00. $75.00, or that was, was the best one. And when the hairdre- when the lady made dresses, she charge you $0.50 for dress. $0.03 for pound; $0.03 a yard, we bought. And then we had everything like that. You don’t believe that, and that’s true. It’s too bad that I can’t do it right straight, you know. To tell them what it what - what we went through. And in the summertimes, you should see the people. They was, my sister’s husband [laughs] was playing accordion and, eh, was dancing outside. Help each other, no- not like now. This is, this is awful what they’re now. [unintelligible] Yep, that’s, that’s true. That’s a, that’s a thing that I can…’course, I went a few days to school. A school home - Mrs. Lee used to teach us. And Ms. Hess come up, you know.
Anna: That’s when you got your paper [proof of citizenship]?
Louise: That’s when I got my paper.
Anna: 1934?
Louise: 1934, I guess. Yep. All the people was nice each other that time. That’s, I don’t think that never gonna happen no more. No. ‘Cause now, you’re afraid to go out. Outside.
Anna: No cars then, days, so no…
Louise: They didn’t have any - so much cars. There was few of them, but…
Anna: Mm-hm.
Louise: Boy, I tell you…
Anna: How did you go, get to the farm? On the car, then? They, uh…
Louise: We, we have a car; we have a truck on a farm.
Anna: What did you do on the farm?
Louise: We wha-farmer, and we was selling milk. And potatoes…and I took eggs: $0.25 a dozen. So…then I pick up the white…I went in a field. Pick, pick up the mushroom - the white ones, the early one. Bushels. I went up there every morning; I went up there, I came up the Main Street, and I said, “Here: Divide it. How much you want? How much you want?”
Now sometimes, I made butter. When the flood hit, we didn’t have any, any place to get the milk, so…I made butter. That’s, that’s the way was my life. So…and I liked it ‘cause there was people.
Anna: Everybody was happy.
Louise: Everybody was happy and there was a people nice. They appreciate you when you come up there, but now? Look at now. I can understand. And believe me or not, it’s gonna be worse. You say, “I can understand.”
Anna: What year did your husband die?
Louise: My husband? Oh, he was, uh…
Anna: He used to build houses.
Louise: He used to build…my husband was a builder - he used to build, uh, houses. Stucco houses and every kind of, uh…that’s why he built, uh…up here, up on the six-
Anna: Sokolovna?
Louise: Huh?
Anna: Sokolovna?
Louise: Yeah! This, this one.
Anna: Tell ‘em, tell ‘em.
Louise: This, this…or…
Anna: Tell ‘em.
Louise: Well, they’re gonna, they’re gonna have to see this up there. My husband build that.
Anna: Yeah, the Sokolovna. Tell ‘em.
Louise: The Sokolovna up here, yes.
Anna: Tell ‘em.
Louise: Yes.
Anna: Tell ‘em.
Louise: My husband was good builder and everybody likes him. Even Father Cyril, when he was fixing something in a church. But, now? They won’t pay any attention to nobody.
Anna: What did you go…? What did you do? Like, did you go out for a good time in Ithaca?
Louise: Oh, no.
Anna: No.
Louise: We didn’t go for good time. We went with somebody got married - the wedding. But, we didn’t go to dance or something like that.
Anna: Vacation?
Louise: No, no. Never, no-
Anna: But, you were happier, though?
Louise: We was happy, I don’t care. But not, not like now. You gotta be scared now when you go out. Well, this is awful - everything. Believe me or not, and it’s gonna get worse. And believe me or not because I read the Bible - all Bible and there everything said.
Anna: So, don’t…?
Louise: Yeah, that’s true. That’s not, I’m not lying because I never lie, and I was working at rich people - doctors, everything. I never touched nothing.
Anna: What church you go to?
Louise: Uh, eh…what church we went?
Anna: What church you go to? St. Cyril?
Louise: St. Cyril, I’ll go. And then I was living on, uh, Rotary Ave., we went down, St. Thomas. Yes. And the people was happy. Now? Gosh. I don’t think take care of street, people across street on Rotary Ave. But now, you have to be afraid to go out. That’s why I don’t go out - because I’m afraid. One thing, um, [I’m] already 86 years and 6 months - 5 months. And I can’t see very good, so I have to sit in house. That’s…so there you are. That’s my story. Too, too bad I don’t know how to write. Because I went to school - we used to have the school home, you know. Twice a week, Mrs. Lee used to teach us.
Anna: And what’s, eh…when you came to this country, you were how old were you when you came to…?
Louise: I was 13 years old when I came here to this country. Nyet. Then I got a job down at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Anna: Hm. Well, you came from Czechoslovakia, off, it was at that time Austria-Hungary.
Louise: Yeah, that was, eh…it used to belong to Franz Joseph, that time.
Anna: Yeah, yeah. Okay.
Louise: But I, I came up here on, uh…what was the ship I told you?
Anna: Yeah, you did.
Louise: So not the way…well, be better for me if I sent somebody intact.
Anna: Mm-hm. Could you think of anything else?
Louise: I was in a hospital…I don’t know how many. The first, I was in that old, old hospital that was on a fifth floor, and we got out first. When was that? That storm? That, that come.
Anna: Oh, you mean, like the…the big storm?
Louise: Yeah, storm. And that, that building went like this.
Anna: Shaking. Tell ‘em.
Louise: Shaking [laughs]. Yeah. I used to tell the nurse how to supposed to clean and mass-
Anna: You mean the City Hospital?
Louise: And massage.
Anna: City Hospital?
Louise: No. Down, down…at City Hospital, I, uh…
Anna: Wilson Memorial…?
Louise: Wilson! Yeah. But, that was the old, old…that’s a long time-
Anna: Uh-huh.
Louise: -because I was up there. I don’t know how long. I used to massage the woman [sic]. You know?
Anna: Yeah.
Louise: And there was this one nurse, she said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “So what? If she asks me, and her backs hurts, why not?”
I used to help how much I could, and then I got so sick. Then I, five weeks. Fi- I think five weeks. Five weeks, I didn’t even talk to nobody, I didn’t even, any…just feed me by the, the tube. ‘Cause I have…wait a minute, what I did I have?
Anna: Typhoid fever?
Louise: No.
Anna: Scarlet fever?
Louise: Something I, I do know…
Anna: I thought you had one of those.
Louise: I forgot already. But, uh…
Anna: Typhoid, didn’t you say?
Louise: The, the first one…that was on my story - oh! I have ulcers.
Anna: Oh, ulcers. Mm-hm.
Louise: Yeah, the first one I was up there. And I used to, used to laugh at them, you know. I said, “Do you clean? Did you call this clean?” I said, “Gee, I could clean it for a few minutes and it look awful nice.”
‘Cause I’ve brought like that when I was in Europe, when I, when my mother left me, I was eight years old. And I started work, you know? And that’s why, that’s why I’m…if I clean, I clean. If I don’t, I don’t. I’ve been bragging, but everybody likes me. Especially when I make the home noodles. [clears throat]
Anna: Tell ‘em.
Louise: I used to make home noodles.
Anna: Mmm.
Louise: Up to Smiths? Boy, you should see.
Anna: You ought to give me some if you’ve got ‘em so I can show the girls.
Louise: You should see how they fight about it. God, I, for five eggs. I’ve, I made noodles for them.
Anna: Mmm.
Louise: Then I put hot butter on it? Oh, you should have seen them. No, I’m not bragging, but I tell you: Every place I was working, they likes me. Everybody, no matter who was. Yes.
Anna: And that’s all? You can’t think of anything else?
Louise: And that’s right, I can’t think of any-[laughs].
Anna: Are you sure?
Louise: Yeah. But, don’t put me in a jail.
Anna: Oh, okay.
Louise: ‘Cause I don’t wanna go to jail now because there’s lots of-
Anna: [chuckles]
Louise: -bad guys up there.
Anna: Well, you want me to stop it now?
Louise: That’s okay. [foreign]
Anna: [foreign]
Louise: [foreign]
Anna: [foreign]
Louise: [foreign]
Anna: Yeah, go on.
Louise: 67…$67.00. 67 years old when I went for the first time for my Social Security. You know, when you get the money.
Anna: So, Social Security?
Louise: Social Security, something. I went in the court, and I asked the man, I said, “Are you sure this belongs to me?” I said, “I don’t wanna go jail.”
And then he said, “Well, they need woman up there cook for them and clean.”
I said, “Boy, if I go up there, they gonna be quiet.”
[laughs] So the, two months later, they call me up. He said, “I got $280.00 for you.”
I said, “No, I don’t, not want it. I don’t wanna go to jail.”
And they started laughing. He said, “Don’t be afraid; that belongs to you.”
‘Cause I was 62 years, I didn’t went up there, asked, ‘till I was 57.
Anna: 67.
Louise: 67. So there you are. But, you know? It’s hard to talk now, this way. But, if I was with you? I, maybe I could have better one.
Anna: No, that’s alright - you’ve said everything. Well, that’s it then, huh? I’ll shut it off now.

Date of Interview



Caganek, Anna


Petras, Louise


23:11 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Petras, Louise -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Immigrants -- Interviews; Household employees -- Interviews; Chenango Bridge (N.Y.); Farms

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.



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The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

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