Interview with Louise Petras
Is Part Of
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]
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]
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anna: Like, uh…19, uh…
Louise: That was, that was what?
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.
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…
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-
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.
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.
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.
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-
Louise: -because I was up there. I don’t know how long. I used to massage the woman [sic]. You know?
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?
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.
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.
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-
Louise: -bad guys up there.
Anna: Well, you want me to stop it now?
Louise: That’s okay. [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.
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.