Ethnic Women of Cleveland
Eleanor Popek Recording & Transcript
Listen to the interview as you read along.
- INTERVIEWEE: Eleanor Popek
- INTERVIEWER: Jeanette Tuve
- DATE: February 18, 1986
- PROGRAM LENGTH: 88:59 min.
JT: Mrs. Popek, what is your maiden name?
EP: Eleanor Grabowski.
JT: Thank You. And your present name?
EP: Popek, Eleanor M.
JT: What is your nationality?
EP: Polish. American Polish.
JT: Where were you born?
EP: In Cleveland, Ohio.
JT: In what area?
EP: In the southeast side of Cleveland.
JT: Is that the Warszawa area?
EP: Well, I was born in the Warszawa area, the first time I went outside to get a breath of fresh air was when my parents moved to the Corlett section; what we call the Corlett section. It's the Harvard and E. 141st area. At the time it was considered like a suburb because it was in the Miles Avenue area.
JT: Where were your parents born?
EP: My parents both were born in Poland. They came to America in 1913. Dad was a veteran of the first World War. He wasn't in there too long because of Armistice Day, but he was very proud, he didn't reach any rank, but he was in the service and he enjoyed it.
JT: Why did they come to Cleveland?
EP: They needed a break. Things were bad in Poland, Dad being the second oldest; his oldest brother didn't want to come to America, so Dad was chosen to come hoping to make money and help his family in Europe. And my Mom came because she had a stepmother and things weren't that exciting, so she had a chance to come, and that was in 1913.
JT: So your mother came for a different reason than your father?
JT: That's interesting. Were they both equally happy?
JT: After they came?
EP: Oh yes. They didn't know each other. They met here in Cleveland. Mom came to the Port Clinton, Ohio area and then she, because of jobs and friends, came to the Cleveland area. Dad had a cousin that worked in the mines in the Scranton area, Mayfield, Pennsylvania, so he came to see his cousin, he was the sponsor. After working and being in the area for a month, his cousin got killed in the mine and Dad sorta got shook up about it and didn't want any part of the mine so he left for Detroit because that's where the jobs were. He didn't like it and came to Cleveland.
JT: What did he do in Cleveland?
EP: He worked in a factory--Ferro Machine Foundry--for 46 years and he was very proud of his record. He only missed about two days, other than depression days when there was no work. But he was very proud of his work.
JT: Did your mother work outside the home after she was married?
EP: Yes, everybody in the Broadway area, all the ladies worked for the Cleveland Wooster Mills. That sort of supported everybody. I remember being a little girl during the depression days when dad wasn't working and mom sort of carried the load. Dad helped out with the ironing and washing, but mom, until NRA came in they really didn't make much money. Then the strike came; Dad wouldn't let mom go and be a strike breaker, so she just gave up her work.
JT: Was there a union in the mills?
EP: No there wasn't, although everybody seemed to be happy. The manager, Mr. Pass, was the owner. He did give vacations and he planned picnics. I remember mom took my brother and I on a boat--it was like the Aquarama--to Cedar Point. The management gave to the employees and they did have some fringe benefits. At the time unions were just getting organized and because hundreds and hundreds of ladies worked there they wanted to get in. I don't really remember if they did, but they did close the shop and that's what killed that whole Broadway area. In that area, on payday it seemed that all the ladies would go to the dime stores, or to Kresge's, or to the music stores and they were doing their shopping. All Broadway thrived because the ladies were working in that area. When that closed then everything started going down.
JT: And your mother didn't work after that?
EP: After the strike Mom didn't work.
JT: Was either of your parents more inclined to keep Polish customs? Was one more inclined to keep the Polish customs than the other?
EP: Well, they both were. In today's times I would think of my Mom, she was a homebody, typical mother who took care of the home, a real good cook. Kept up the custom that on Saturdays we all had to take our baths and go to church for confession at two o'clock. And she would make yeast bread and kolackis in case company came. Mother was almost like a liberal. She enjoyed reading, especially history. And I remember every now and then-- in fact, with my father-in-law--talking she would say, “Well, any time a woman ruled a country there was no war. ” So, she was sort of today's lady libber, I guess. She believed in those things. And Dad, of course, worked and he was very, very active in the community. Church - he brought us up with God and country. We have to be loyal to God and to the country. He took pride in that. He took pride in that we were brought up with this Polish feeling and traditions. Our holidays, like Easter and Christmas. It was the blessed basket--we had to get blessed, and Christmas the wafers. And Dad was involved in fraternal organizations. He was the president of the fraternal. They had a hall. When we were very small, my brother and I were the first, what we call the Polish Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts; it was the Harcestwo. We talk about discrimination, my brother and I were the first in the city of Cleveland, and yet as the organization grew, we couldn't get the trips to Poland because there was an age difference. You had to be 16. My brother, at the time, was 14 and I was only 10 or 12. But, we were the first Polish Scouts. Dad devoted a lot of time to the youth. You had to have flags for signals. I remember my father going to pick out some twigs and scrape them and varnish them and Mother would make the little triangle, red and white, and sew it on there so all the children could have flags for signaling. We used to have little programs; the organization was terrific.
JT: Did you speak Polish at home?
EP: Yes, only Polish.
JT: Only Polish?
EP: Only Polish. In fact my parents demanded that we speak Polish. And I could say that I had an experience. I went to Ursuline Academy and my catechism was in Polish. To this day I pray in Polish. But I remember my homeroom teacher, Sister Bernice, she asked me a question and I sort of had to translate it. When you study your catechism in Polish, the translation wasn't word-for-word the way you are taught your catechism and she scolded me. She said, “Eleanor, I want you to pray in English,” and I said, “Sister, I don't think I can. Maybe God's Polish because He understands me.” To this day I still feel that, when I hear the Polish Christmas carols or the Easter songs, it moves me because they are so beautiful, so meaningful. English just doesn't have it.
JT: It sounds as if you had a very happy childhood.
EP: Very much so. Mom and Dad saw to it, there was just the two of us. We were really too young to really know depression, but both of my parents strived hard. They gave us music lessons. I had the piano, although I wanted the violin, but it was the girls play the piano, and the boys could play the violin. I really could say that we were first in just about everything. In fact, I remember when the boys were going to service I had a girl friend that went down to AAA. It's right here in this building.
JT: It was the old Mather Mansion, now University Hall.
EP: Yes, the Mather Mansion, and she wanted to take driving lessons because there was a car at home and her brother went to the service and she said, “Oh, come on Eleanor, I'm scared to go by myself. Come on with me.” I did. I was just a youngster, 17 or 18. So she signed up and at that time it was fifteen dollars a lesson. So I signed up with her. We didn't have a car. My father never had a car. I'll tell you about that. I came home and I said, “Oh, my God I have to tell my parents I signed up for this driving lesson.” So I did and my Dad and Mom, they were so happy because at that time girls just didn't drive, and I was really the first in the neighborhood to drive a car. Dad had to go out and buy me a car. I really set the pattern. I sort of opened up the field for them. But, like I mentioned, Dad didn't have a car. There I go, I go back to my youth years. A family friend happened to have an accident, it wasn't quite vital, but somebody was hurt just before my Dad had put down a $50 deposit for a car. But that shook him up. He lost the deposit and never got a car. And as we were growing up we'd say, “Dad, what about a car, what about a car?” And he'd say, “You see that piano? It cost me $600. You would've had a car.” Or my brother with the violin. “I brought a pay check,” he'd say, and “I paid $16 for that bow and fiddle.” So my parents really sacrificed for us.
JT: Did you like to play Chopin?
EP: No, I didn't get that far.
JT: How about Paderewski?
EP: Oh, yeah, the minuet.
JT: Yes. I can still play that. As you and your brother grew up, do you think that you retained the Polish customs more than your brother, or is it the other way around?
EP: Well, I guess both of us. My brother is a bachelor to this day, so he was home until Mom and Dad died. But no, the customs were instilled in us very, very much. You mention Paderewski. The last time he was in Cleveland, I may have been maybe six years old. He was supposed to be in Cleveland for a concert and I was supposed to present him with a bouquet of flowers and then this concert was cancelled. We had a General Haller who came from Poland. He was a General. He was with the American Army in the First World War.
JT: How do you spell that?
EP: H-A-L-L-E-R. They had a reception for him at one of the fraternals, Polish National Alliance Hall on Fullerton. I always got these assignments. Somebody would come and say, “O.K. Eleanor, I want you to get a poem ready.” And so, Mother and Dad would drill me and I would always have to come out and recite.
JT: Can you tell us about your education?
EP: Yes. I think that both my brother and I were very, very fortunate. All the people in the neighborhood tried to give everybody a Catholic education, especially elementary. Dad sent my brother to Cathedral Latin and I was going to Ursuline Academy. I did want to go to Notre Dame, but my brother was the one that said, “No, you're not going to Notre Dame. That's too far.” I guess it was just a big brother trying to take care of his sister. So, I went to Ursuline, and, of course, that too was to our advantage. We were the only ones in the neighborhood, two of them. You'd see one boy going to Cathedral Latin or a girl going at that time to now Marymount, to St. Joseph's. But there were the two of us. We have Alliance College. At that time it was considered a junior college. My brother went to Alliance College for the two years. He got drafted on the second draft. I wanted to go to Ursuline College because my girl friends were going to Ursuline College. But somehow my parents said, “No, that's enough of Catholic Schools.”
JT: I don't believe so.
EP: I don't remember having any reunions. We did have one ten years ago or maybe more.
JT: So you graduated from Fenn?
EP: No, I didn't graduate because--boys. I met my husband, and many times he said, “Go back to school, go back to school.” But, I think my brain is lazy and I think it would be an effort to get back into the swing of things.
JT: So you married quite early then?
EP: Yes, I did, in '47. When we got married we got into business. We got into a little grocery store business and from there, two years, my husband's brother had a tavern and he said, “Why don't you go into this business? It's easier than the butcher business.”
JT: What's the name of the tavern?
EP: Mountain Garden Tavern on 75th and Union. We've been there for 38 years. We're there a long time but just a little too young to retire. My husband isn't the type that knows how to retire and relax so I think we'll have to hang on to it for a few more years.
JT: Good. I hope you do. How did you meet your husband?
EP: This is funny. The little grocery that my Mom and Dad went to. It was the mother and pop type of thing. Mother shopped there for years and years. I drove her up in the car so she could do her shopping. The lady that owned the grocery store asked me if I would drive her over to 147th. Her shop was on 140th and Benwood, because somebody in her family was being ordained as a priest. That's my husband's brother. A Franciscan priest and she wondered if I would come and drive her over. I said, “Oh, sure.” So I drove her up to the house and she went in and I waited in the car, oh, I don't know, maybe 10, 15, or 20 minutes. She came back and said, “Oh, my, my!” She calls my husband nephew, but he's really a cousin. You had that respect for adults. And, I said, “You mean to say there were boys, and I was sitting in the car?” I was very outspoken. I sang with the choir at the time and that first mass, I don't know if you are Roman Catholic or understand that religion. But I knew some girls that were in church because they were family relatives to my husband's family and after the mass I was talking to them and I met my husband the next day. He came with two relatives of his from New Jersey, called up and asked if he could come over. I said, “Yeah.” I didn't care, I was just brave. I met a lot of my boyfriends, they wanted to meet me they just knocked at the door and said, “I'm so-and-so” and I met them. And I said, “Sure.” I thought he was such a handsome, oh, soldier he was. He's still handsome. But he was a handsome man in uniform, he was a musician, he was stationed in New Orleans for five or six years. Towards the end, he got into ____ in the Aleutian Islands. I was just a youngster and I knew all about the good time they had at this reception for his brother and they asked if I would go out with them and I said “Three boys and one girl. Oh no, what it I call up some girls up and we'll go out together.” And they did think so. I remembered my mom asking them if they would have a drink. One of the cousins said I'll have a beer but she thought they were too young. Although, they were probably old enough but mother thought they were too young and she didn't serve them and I remember having a Coca. That was how I met my husband. Then he went back to the service and then every now and then he'd come home on furlough and ask if he could come over. He was new in the neighborhood, his family was new in the neighborhood. His aunt asked us over at Christmas time and mother and dad asked “You're going?” And I said “Yeah, I just want to go see whose there.” I was just a very brave type of person and just got myself involved. He definitely was a very handsome man. He still is, but at that time in his uniform he was very handsome.
JT: Does he speak Polish?
EP: Oh, yes.
JT: Did you speak Polish at home?
EP: Every now and then. Not as much as when my parents were living, but we did speak Polish at home.
JT: Before you met and married your husband, did you go with fellows of other nationalities?
EP: Somebody asked me, of Italian descent, asked me to go out, and I told my parents it was “No way, no how!” I wasn't allowed to so I had to break the date. So all my friends, some were in the service. I had a boyfriend that got killed in the service on a B-24. I met them and come over. It wasn't really matchmaking but I'd know someone or someone would say there's a nice party or so and they would knock at the door. I guess I was so open but they don't do things like that anymore.
JT: But you never considered seriously anyone who wasn't Polish?
EP: Oh no, no.
JT: Interesting. Did you have a Polish wedding?
EP: Oh, my wedding. Our wedding, we had at the church hall. We were married May 31st and it was the talk of the neighborhood. Again, I was the first one in the parish to put bows on the pews. That wasn't done before. And we had an archway. I had a florist come in with palms. The whole church altar was just transformed and, of course, there was talk. My father was very active; in fact a few years ago, before he died, he was honored for 45 years of church service. He was the president of the church trustees; he organized the Golden Age League. At that time, the pastor, this is terrible too because so I am engaged and the pastor wanted me to almost call off the engagement because he was having his nephew come from Poland and he thought I would be ideal for him. His name was John. The sky was the limit on our wedding. We had a very big wedding. It was at the church hall. Our wedding reception lasted until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.
JT: The bride and groom didn't stay that long?
EP: No. But we did things differently. We had flowers for all the members and all the invited guests. Traditionally the reception was in the morning. The cooks met the bride and groom for breakfast with a loaf of bread and salt. And that was so your life would be plentiful and not bitter. That's a tradition. We had 400 or 500 people, 11 cases of liquor went. It was just fabulous, and, of course, years ago it wasn't catered. You had to get your own cooks and they were ladies from the neighborhood and they were at my house... my Mom and Dad's house, cleaning the chicken. And this butcher lady that I met my husband they made the sausage and the pork chops and the city chicken and it was just so much food. Soup in the morning, fruit cocktail, well, that wasn't heard of then, it was brought in later. It was just everything. Of course we have a tradition of what we call the Poprawiny, that's the next day.
JT: Can you spell that?
EP: P-O-P-R-A-W-I-N-Y. That's the next day. A lot of times it's held at the bride's house, but Dad, being so active... Mom and Dad being known in the neighborhood, he got the downstairs of the fraternal hall where he was active because he felt it would be too much work for Mom. The dishes were there at the hall. We weren't there. It was just another wedding all over again. One of the men and my brother-in-law played an accordion, and member, a guest, was a fiddle player. Just partying all over; it was traditional. The group comes to the bride's house before the wedding. They come to the bride's for the blessings. The parents meet at the bride's house and, of course, the couple asks the parents for their blessings. So both parents give the blessing and then they leave the bride's house in cars, music playing, a wedding march going to church. We had white runners all the way up to the car, the first in the car, the first in the neighborhood. It was a real, sincere, old-time Polish wedding. The food and drinks were all there.
JT: That sounds marvelous. Where did you live after you were married?
EP: We went on a honeymoon to Bermuda. We came back and we bought this little grocery store, in the neighborhood. In fact we stayed one day after we came back from our honeymoon at my Mother and Dad's house. Then it was time where all the transfer to the grocery store. We had a grocery and a butcher shop for two years.
JT: Were most of your customers Polish?
EP: No, it was almost getting to be a changing neighborhood. We were on Kingsford Avenue and that was south of Kinsman. East 147th Street was starting to change. The ethnic community was starting to change from that point.
JT: You and your husband then have worked together all your life?
EP: Oh, yes. Still working.
JT: That's marvelous. Have you been active in Polish Women's organizations?
EP: Oh yes.
JT: Which ones?
EP: The American Polish Women's Group. They're in existence for 60 some years. I've been active in it and it's a wonderful group. They meet once a month over at Higbee's and traditionally we have the communion breakfast the Monday after Easter, at the Cathedral and then from there we go on to Higbee's. The ladies every year they pick a project. We have fund raisers, especially a card party and every year they dedicate themselves for a certain cause. This year we are going to put our proceeds for the restoration of the St. Stanislaus Church, that is the oldest Polish church [in Cleveland]. That is where are proceeds will go. And, of course, I am active at the Orchard Lake, Chapter 25.
JT: Is this part of the American Polish Women's organization?
EP: No. Orchard Lake is different.
JT: Could you tell us first what you have done especially for the American Polish Women's organization.
EP: I really haven't...
JT: Have you held an office? Were you on committees? What was your talent that you...?
EP: Well no, I don't ever want to hold an office in any organization. Would you believe it, I think I have a big mouth and I think that once you're an officer you have to be on that side of the table and you just have to listen. I'd rather be on this side and raise my hand and give out a spiel. Being in business, my days are sort of limited. My days are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We are considered an industrial section of town where we cash a lot of payroll. I used to work behind the bar and I loved it because of people. My husband was sick four years ago this September and I have a bigger load now. He's not sure of himself, because he almost had a stroke, a cerebral hemorrhage. So I have to carry on the financial of getting things ready for the bank and we cash a lot of payroll checks. But the American Polish there are nice group of people, anywhere from 30-60 people come to a meeting. They wanted me so many times but it's a big job to be an officer. I like to be on the other side and voice my opinions. Not that I will criticize but if I have an old grievance, I will. But I get on a various committees. Now, we're going to have a card party. I guess they wanted to find me to sell tickets because I hustle. I don't mean to criticize, I'm not egotistical, so don't take it as such. But if another lady goes up and say the tickets is 25 cents but I don't come out with the 25 cents a chance I'll say they're 3 for a dollar. I use a dollar so they would buy a dollar's worth instead of quarter's worth. And because so many people know me they would be embarrassed to buy only one ticket, they'll buy more because I approached them. Because like a say, you've been in business and in the church and people know you and its neighborhood people.
JT: I think you would be a good fund raiser.
EP: Oh, I am. I get some good ideas.
JT: And what was the other Polish Women's organization?
EP: It's Orchard Lake. Orchard Lake is a Polish institution in Orchard Lake, Michigan. It is St. Cyril and Methodius St. Mary's College and that's where they promote the Polish priests. Where they teach them Polish. In Michigan. Just last year they celebrated their 100th anniversary. Their Fr. Dombrowski had a vision of community because of the Polish living in Michigan. They have this beautiful 100s of acres and they have a high school now. We have a chapter that just this last year celebrated their 10th anniversary and that too is fund raising. To this day we gave over $50,000. Once a year in July, it's sort of called a pilgrimage, we go take our funds over and every two years we have a convention and we present our check. The Women's Auxiliary wants to help with a pledge of $100,000 for the science room in their up and coming science building. So we are working for that with card parties. I don't know if you've heard of the Slavic Village Festival on Fleet Avenue. Well I get involved and I'm usually chairman of that. We make money... it's a raffle. We came up with an idea of a grab bag. We get the women to donate can food and I get these free bags from a politician or the Ohio lottery. It's a grab bag... a mystery bag and we sell them for a dollar. Everything's donated so it's all clear profit. I keep telling the ladies at the meeting that if we had a thousand of those packages we would have $1,000. We come up with about 300 some packages. Then of course we have a raffle, one of the ladies who always makes the little Polish doll that is one of the prizes. The doll is attractive, it's because of Polishness and everyone would want to buy that doll. But the lady's in her 80s and I say but Mrs. ______, we'll all come over to your house and help you make the skirt and put it together. Because people do want to buy those dolls. We do have the raffle with nice big prizes and we make over $1,000 on the crafts. It's because, we have a lot of dedicated women and most of them are dedicated Polish women that feel... I always say, our neighborhoods are being taken over with the change of neighborhoods, our churches are falling down and we have to help these Polish organizations and Polish institutions so they could upkeep our traditions. Orchard Lake and, of course, Alliance College, are great. We get letters donating and of course we do maybe because we feel so Polish that we support it so much. Like, our son went to Gilmour and we get letters from there and from John Carroll and everywhere is give, give, give. But I think people have to awaken, so much of ethnicity is being lost if we don't support these organizations; who knows what's going to happen.
JT: Is your husband as active in ethnic organizations as you are?
EP: Well not so. He is a musician; from his army days he still has a band. And I'm the one sort of “Well, Mitchell.” Our Polish women had a recognition dinner for example, we need a little music. I get him involved. In fact I was talking for the Nationality group that's going to be in Parma and I had a call because we have a stand for our Women's Cosmopolitan Club. And she asked if there was any way I can get musicians or music and I said my husband's a musician and she says that's terrific. So I asked him today because yesterday was a holiday. He always says you do me such favors you get me all these free jobs. Now the boys in his band said they aren't going to charge they're going to dedicate their services. But for any of the other women's Cosmo or others or the Orchard Lake had their anniversary dinner, he plays for nothing but everybody doesn't feel that way so he pays out of his pocket. He pays the accordion player or if there's a drummer and that is his way of contributing. He belongs to the Cleveland Society of Poles. That is an organization of men, professional and business people, and their meetings are on Thursdays. Once in a while he goes, because Thursday is a busy day for us. But they're the ones who present the girls the debutant ball. They're doing good. In fact, they've had some things up here at Cleveland State. He's not as active because most of the things are during the day or early part of the evening when I can go. He goes sometimes and plays. I always laugh because he plays at weddings and makes money but if it's a clambake, I always kid him, I says, “They hire you to play at a clambake because you're going to spend more at the bar than you make.” But he supports it that way. He enjoys music. Sometimes, if you ever die, I'll put that clarinet in the coffin with you because he loves that clarinet. He has the first clarinet that his mother bought him when he was just a little boy. So he's played over 50 years.
JT: Are you active in other women's organizations, like the Women's City Club? Or things like that?
EP: No. There was, oh, I forgot her name, wanted me to join the City Club, but I just didn't. Her husband is with George Worthington, but I can't think of her name. No I didn't get involved. I sometimes say maybe someday when we retire out of business, I definitely will... I know I'm going to because I will have a lot of time. Until then, my days are Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays sort of limited and it sort of holds me back a little but I enjoy doing things.
JT: Have you been active in politics?
EP: Well, yes, I am. When we first got into business--we have a big parking lot next to our place of business. I don't know if you remember the old shanties that used to be voting booths. You remember?
EP: Well, there were two at the end of our parking lot and the stipulation was that we could never put up a political sign because that was considered being on our premises.. the voting booths and they were really like booths, those shanties. Because we had the room at the end of the parking lot. They didn't take them away after voting. They were there permanently. But we would be allowed to have whoever we were supporting. I think years ago, that was very touchy when you were in business. It was touchy even if you got a big car because they would say “Oh, big shots.” We had Cadillacs years and years ago. My conception was “Hey, I'm a successful business person, I'm entitled to one. Aren't you glad that we have a big car, that we're successful? Wouldn't it be terrible if we were business people and riding in an old clunker.” That was our attitude and of course in business, way back when Judge __________ was running for judge, he would come around, we would contribute to their funds but were never be able to put up signs for them although we would tell people. Now things are different, the old time element the customer is occupied. They'll come out and look at it and say “Oh that beautiful.” People are different; the old ethnic people use to feel that way. It's different now. We can come out and say we are supporters. Our son loves politics.
JT: What's his name?
EP: Ronald M. Popek. He is on the State School Board. Many times, I say are you sure you want it but he really enjoys politics. And I know... maybe it's because he is so young and sometimes that's against him. He's getting there. He is meeting. Years ago we would be at a social function and we'd say, “This is our son, Ron.” And now wherever we go to a fund raiser, he'll say, “My parents.” It's just reverse where everybody knows him and he's introducing us; years ago it was just the opposite. He's very active. He's the treasurer of our Ward Club, treasurer of the Men's Cosmopolitan League. And with that we're all involved. He's had fund raisers, beautiful fund raisers, different for our neighborhood... champagne brunches.
JT: Do you want it on record?
EP: I don't care. One of the ladies called and it was a holiday. It must have been the 4th of July weekend and she called and wanted to talk to Ron. Of course, Ron was out campaigning. And she said her canary flew out of the cage and was up in the tree. Was it possible for get the councilman to get a rig to come out and get her canary? I said “Did you try to call the fire department.” She said “Yes, but they won't come out. Can't he get CEI?” I said “Well you know that's private, they aren't going to come in for something like that. You know City Hall is closed all weekend, why don't you take that cage and put it under the tree and maybe the bird will recognize the cage and help.” I never heard from her so I don't if that worked. People do call a councilman for any little thing. A lady in our neighborhood and remembers Ron as a little boy... lives right on Union Ave, calls and says that there is a dog tied up behind her and he was barking and making noise because it was hot and nobody's there. My suggestion was “Take a bowl of water to the dog?” I think that calls that a councilman get are uncalled for but they just think that a councilman should do something and had to be home all the time. And he can't, he's got other things to do. So I just think him not going in for city council... he knows it's not his cup of tea in a way of saying.
JT: Do you anticipate that he will make a lifetime career of politics?
EP: Yes. I really do. I really think that he's dedicated. He just needs that right break. Everybody that meets him, I don't care if it's the judges or even somebody in politics, tells me, “Oh, you have a fine son.” You have to be at the right place, at the right time.
JT: Have you ever done anything formal in politics? Like being on a committee or having an office in a party?
JT: Or public speaking for your son, or anything?
EP: Oh, I've done that when he out was campaigning... I was on the west side... St' Rocco's Church. I've helped pass some of his literature. Oh, yes, I've done things like that. Because you are in business you had to stay clear and you had to be very, very careful. I knew Judge __________ very, very well and that's really how we got in ... we were almost personal friends and socialized. And then when Judge ______ came in, I would go to bingo to pass out his literature... enjoyed it. In fact, when Ron was at Gilmour, he was passing out literature for him. We have for certain people, not only giving financial help but physical by passing out, going to parties and functions and bingos and meetings and card parties. In fact now we helping Turk out but he didn't make it.
JT: Do you have other children?
EP: Yes. And this is going to be very sad, and I almost don't want to talk about it. I have a daughter. She graduated from Cleveland State. She broke my heart. So, I really don't want to talk about it.
JT: In your home, what features of Polish culture do you continue? Do you speak Polish at home?
EP: Yes, not all the time. Of course our tradition of Easter time, taking the basket of food to be blessed; that is homemade bread, Polish sausage, and three eggs or five eggs; never an even number, and butter and horseradish. That's traditional food. Things are different now, it used to be in the church hall but now we go into church and the priest blesses it. We still observe. Fridays, we still don't eat meat. It's one of the old parts of our bringing up; that Friday is a fast day. Not only during lent but all year we don't eat meat on Fridays. At Christmas time we have the wafer, we call it oplatek.
JT: Can you spell that?
EP: O-P-L-A-T-E-K. The L is with the line over it. Oplatek, that is traditionally at the Christmas meal. Well, the day before, what we call the vigilia, we don't normally observe because we're so busy downstairs. But most families do. So we have to do it on Christmas Day. My Dad and Mom, I'd always have them over to my house for Christmas, or when the kids were small we would go to their house. But towards the end when they were getting older, I would have them over my house. And Dad, being the oldest, would have the oplatek on the plate and he would always start with the oldest, wishing them health, happiness and success and would go right down the ladder and we would kiss and wish everybody good feeling and good luck. Beautiful customs.
JT: Can you spell that?
EP: D-I-N-G-U-S. And that is at Easter time. At Christmas time, the day after, the men would go out caroling. They still keep some of that up, singing Polish carols. Most of them are married or getting older. Years ago, when there were still eligible girls in the house the boys liked to do that. Maybe that's how our trick or treat came out, from some of the old Polish customs. Might be.
JT: I'm sure it's European.
EP: The day after Easter in some of the shops men wouldn't go to work. It was almost like a Polish holiday. They just didn't go to work. They were...just keeping up the traditions. People would visit and there was more sociability then... What can you say, today it's so different. It was grand before. Maybe it's because people didn't have cars. They were all struggling.
JT: They didn't have TVs and VCRs.
EP: Yes. Today it would be like painting a house. We lived on Benwood Avenue and during the depression my Dad bought the house next door. His vacation was painting one house, and painting the other house, and painting a third house. The men would all come and cooperate. I mean, his friends would say,” We're going to come.” And for a whole month they would paint; and the next month they would go and chip in on Saturdays to paint their house. Just a good dinner and some beer and they were all happy after a good day's work. Today you can't put a ladder on your next door drive because they'll sue. But I think, the men and women were homebodies; no TVs other than the Rosary Society for Mom, and going to church service. During the lenten services we have a beautiful service. It's Gorskiezale.
JT: We need that spelled.
EP: Let me write with a piece of paper. It's G-O-R-S-K-I-E-Z-A-L-E. Every Sunday there's a different song. There's five different passions. They sing differently. That was a must. We have it at our church at 3:00 but once you get home you forget yourself. When Daddy was active at our Lady of Czestochowa, he said that after the 12:00 mass people just stayed there. It was just beautiful. The stations, the cross, the songs that we sing in Polish, they're so meaningful. Really, very, very, meaningful.
JT: So you and your husband speak Polish?
EP: Oh, yes.
JT: Does Ron?
EP: Oh, yes. We taught him Polish. In fact, when he started kindergarten he didn't know English. Over the weekends, it was customary in the tavern to have fish fries, my mom used come over to help me Fridays for the fish fry and after the rush she would take the kids home and she would keep them over the weekend to give us a chance to catch up because we were so busy then. I remember one time grandpa and grandma took the two kids over on West 65th and Detroit to see a Polish movie. Ron came back home and he said, “Mom, we saw a real big TV.” But he told us in Polish, “And they talked just like we do.” He didn't realize it was a movie house; he just thought it was a big TV. And on that big TV they talked just like we do. So, it's funny, to this day there are certain things that I don't know for some reason you just don't know the English words for it. Let me see, what can I think of? A strainer that you strain your noodles with, we always called it druslak. We called it in Polish...I had to stop to think how to say it in English, we always say it in Polish. But, we had beautiful customs. When we were small, my mother on Saturdays would bake and we'd take baths and go to confession. We'd always have to ask Mother and Dad to forgive us if we'd hurt them any...And when we'd go to school, it was “ma zostan z Bogiem”--stay with God. To this day, the first time I enter any Polish house, I have a habit. I say in Polish, “niech bedzie pochwalony Jesus Chrystus” [praise be to Jesus]. That's what the Polish pope always says: “niech bedzie pochwalony Jesus Chrystus.” That's still part of me. I don't think I could ever forget. There's been times, they would say “Oh my Gosh”, they would respond to it because some people are forgetting those things. We have a very strong ethnic background and ethnic bringing up. Dad was very persistent, and he believed in education. Many times he used to tell us, “Boy, if I had the chance you people have, I'd probably be a senator or something today.” He had a gift that he could speak different foreign languages. In fact, when he was in the army he helped interpret. When he was going to work, a Hungarian man picked him up. The Hungarian man didn't speak Polish or English, so Dad had to learn Hungarian. He was very easy with languages, and I could almost mention family friends where during those hard time and growing up that most of the boys were going to John Adams High School. And hard times, they used to have a tendency to quit, and Dad used to say, “Don't let them quit.” Let them finish. Do you want them to work as hard as we are?” He used to always tell that to some of his family friends. He used to say “Don't buy a single family house, buy a two family house and you could get rent and you could live for nothing” and that would help. Dad used to help a lot of people. Mom was really the bread giver during that hard time. I guess some of them did not know how to manage. Dad would give them a dollar or two so that their gas wouldn't get shut off. This fellow got married and wanted to buy a house and Dad said “John, is your house paid for?” “Yes.” and Dad said “Take a mortgage on your house, you've got to help him when he needs it.”
JT: Do you make those other Polish delicacies?
EP: No, isn't it sad. I'm a lousy cook. I guess I'm just a good eater. You can tell by my size.
JT: You don't have any recipes to give us, than?
EP: No, but I could always find some. But I really don't. No, I'm just not a good baker.
JT: Is your son married?
EP: No, he isn't. No, not yet.
JT: Does he always date Polish girls?
EP: Well, I hope he does. I certainly do. That's one of the reasons my daughter broke my heart... went off and married God knows who. But I hope he does. He belongs to the Polish fraternal organizations.
JT: Is he as active in the church as you and your husband?
EP: Well, not as much. If the PTU is having a party, and they ask him to come and help behind the bar he does. At the church picnic he always contributes. They don't have--I wish they did--a youth group or something where the young people could get acquainted. There isn't anything as such. Every now and then he says, “I should go to the meeting of the church trustees, just to get involved. But time is so limited; he wants to but there's only seven days a week and, oh my gosh, when I think of it...Sometimes I tell myself, “Boy, you have to be young in order to keep up with the activities--really.”
JT: Do you and your husband use the language in your business?
EP: Oh yes. Not as much...if old bachelors and old timers lived they'd probably be 90 today. The neighborhood is changing. Years ago when the old timers, my goodness, it was like their second home. They were maybe bachelors or widowers. They lived in the neighborhood and they didn't want to spend, say, a day in their one room. They used to come in and it was jolly...The holiday times they used to sing, and some of them would even get tipsy...
JT: That's interesting. Are any of you interested in Polish dances and dancing?
EP: Yeah. Now that goes back again. When Ron was a youngster, I guess about 5 or 6, when he was the only little boy in a dance group over at the Polish National Alliance. Every now and then when we see them perform, I ask “Ron do you remember when.” He was a precious little youngster. He would have to dance with two little girls, one on each side. If you'd look at him he'd roll his eyes and smile and he'd twirl the girl on one side and then the other. He was the only boy. Now they have more boys.
JT: Are you interested in modern Polish literature? Things that have been written in Poland recently?
EP: Well, every now and then, they have this magazine, Polonia, that I subscribed to. But there is some theory about it that they just sort of want to show what they're doing, what the government is doing. They try to build. Because my parents were immigrants and the feeling about Poland is strong, I feel sometimes that some of their literature that comes in is a little...almost like propaganda. And I just didn't renew.
JT: I think that would be true of Polonia.
JT: I just wondered if there were any modern writers that you like to read, whose books you've bought.
EP: No, I haven't. Isn't that terrible?
EP: It isn't?
JT: No, Is Ron, or are you interested in Polish politics?
EP: In Poland?
EP: Well, I try to. I talk to my cousin when she's here and I'm going to see her sometime in March. Like Lech Walesa, we have followed. And then like anything when it first explodes you're serious about it and then it sort of wavers. You sort of lose interest. You get back and you say Polish people are freedom fighters and you wonder is it ever going to be a free Poland again? Is it going to cost bloodshed? Because the way it is now, it's hard. You don't know... I didn't have that experience when I was in Poland, about you can't trust the citizens. But some people said they had.
JT: What do you think about American political attitudes toward Poland? Do you think the administration is doing the right thing?
EP: No, I don't. Really the Polish people are suffering. Poland always felt that they were very close to the United States. And when Reagan says the Polish airline can't come in or the sanctions...I think it's wrong. First of all, way back, after the Second World War, I think America should have helped because Poland gave a chance to England, to France, to mobilize. They were the first country that said no to Hitler. They were willing to fight their cavalry against tanks, and if you were in Warsaw and see where they have dedicated, say on a building, on that corner. So many young men have died. They were giving to their last life. After the war, I think it was at the first meeting at Yalta and Teheran, they sold Poland. At one time Poland was as far as Kiev and the borders almost as far up as Berlin.
JT: I know.
EP: Poland, although there was always problems... saved Christianity by fighting the Turks. Poles were always freedom fighters. They love their country. Although they had problems, it was with the kings and whatever, but they loved their freedom. I still feel that inward, in every Pole, they want freedom. Roosevelt did damage, Stalin again, then Churchill. They sold Poland. They sold it. Something should be done. Now this movement of Solidarity and that Pomocz is trying to say that it should be changed, and maybe it should be. I don't know if Poland would get its freedom unless there's a war. But even in Poland, I think the attitude of some of the people is “why work, why save, who knows, there might be a war.” It's a terrible feeling to live under. That fear that there might be a war, and yet they would be willing to fight for their freedom. I guess their satisfaction, their sanction, and their peace is in the church. A building, I haven't seen it, a church in Krakow that Pope Paul has dedicated... it does show that the government is scared and they have to give a little of that freedom to the Poles, because they don't know what would happen. They have to give in. They have to let them build their churches.
JT: I don't have any more questions that relate to this but just from the standpoint of women's history. May I ask you, what was the happiest time of your life?
EP: Oh, my I really can't say. I had a good life. I have a happy youngsters, a good youth. My only regret was that I was in this different age bracket where I couldn't take advantage of, say, the trip to Poland when the Polish Girl Scouts were going. Oh, they had summer studies at Cambridge Springs. The limit was 16. My brother made it, I was maybe 14. I couldn't go. No matter what strings. All my life... I had a good marriage. Really I can't complain... I have no complaints. I guess maybe I'm a happy person.
JT: When you were a child, what did you especially like about being Polish?
EP: I didn't know that Polish was something different; something special, but maybe just participating in the Polish plays, the Polish dances; just being involved in Easter Sunday procession. That was all part of the traditions, the customs that we had and I felt fortunate that I was able to be in those things and took part in it.
JT: This is the end of my questions. Is there anything you'd like to comment on?
EP: Well, I really don't know. I think we have covered so much. Can you think of any question that you might want to know? Maybe I went from one to the other. I didn't mean to. Maybe we should have gone in to sequence, but...
JT: We thank you very much for your interview.