Thursday, June 2, 2011

Family Reunion--The Promise of a Better Life

I had a wonderful time this Memorial weekend at a family reunion for my mother's family.  My mother, age 83, is the last living of her generation.  Cousins came in from Virginia, New Mexico, Hawaii, Kentucky and Ohio to gather in West Virginia, near her hometown, and we all had a wonderful time.

Several of us caravaned to Century #1 and Century #2, where my great-grandmother settled.  If you blink, you'd miss Century #1.  This was a small mining community and the old coal tipple is actually still standing among remanents of railroad track.  As we stopped near the tipple to head towards the old cemetery, a woman came out of her house and said she had a key to the gate if we wanted to drive back part of the way.  Turns out, the 80-year old woman vividly remembered buying candy at my grandmother's store and  she remembered the children, my mother included.  My mother remembered her as well, so it was a sort of a reunion within a reunion.

We visited the small town and saw the spot where my Grandmother's house was.  Yes, it had been right on the railroad tracks.  My mom jokes that if you fell off the front porch, you'd get hit by a car on the highway.  And yes, it is true.  The house was wedged between the highway and the railroad tracks.  Of course, back then it wasn't a well-traveled road.

Century #1 years ago

Century #1 today. (This picture is taken on the opposite side of the first photo.)

We hiked up a steep hill to a small cemetery filled with probably less than 50 grave sites.  Most were toppled over or overgrown by grass.  We located my great-grandmother Prutsok's grave.  We also visited the cemetery where my grandparents were buried.

My mother next to her grandmother's grave site.
Now, for the story of my great-grandmother and my grandmother.  It is a story not different from many immigrants who came to America looking for a better life and ended up working in the mines.

My grandmother Prutsok, donning the shawl that she reportedly always wore. 
She was born sometime around 1860-70 and died in 1926.

My Grandmother Katerzyna Julosic Prutsok came from Austria with her husband, Steve Prutsok in the late 1880's.  They came for the promise of a better life. They had five children, but one daughter in Austria was not allowed to come to America due to an eye infection.  Steve worked in mining towns and logging camps where ever he could find work.  After he died of TB, Katerzyna married John Sharo.  He moved to find work, and she was to catch up with him.  However, she got lost along the way and ended up in a small mining town in West Virginia, speaking very little English.  She spread out their feather beds at the end of the railroad tracks till some townspeople moved her and her children into a shack and found her husband.  She then ran a boarding house and would make homemade bread in an outdoor brick oven, like in the "old country."  The trainmen would always stop off for her thick slices of warm bread and other food she fixed.  Many townsfolk would also stop by to get huge slices of warm bread with homemade butter and jelly.

Around 1907, the family moved nearby when the town opened up a new mine.  They lived in a house right by the railroad track.

My Grandma only went to school through the first grade and that was at 11 years old.  She loved school but she was needed  to work to help out the family.  At the time, she said if she ever had children, she would make sure they went to school.

My Grandma remembers her mother's boarding house,  the miners' strike, hungry families, picket lines, sitting on the porch listening to the World Series, the Great Depression, sons going off to war, and everyone helping everyone.  She said, "Today we laugh and say we didn't know we were disadvantaged as we were so busy and happy."  Grandma Levicki did follow through with ensuring her children had a good education.  All of her children, and grandchildren, are educated.

My mother always tells a story about how they used every part of the pig except the squeal.  They used the bladder for a ball and even used the pigs tail to keep the screen door from banging!  She remembers stuffing cardboard in shoes where there were holes and how her mother took care of people during the depression, letting them run tabs at the store she ran.  Mom says only one family ever paid her mother back.

Here is a photo of my Grandpa and Grandma and all their children.  
My mother is the 4th one from the left in the bottom row.
This is my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother's story.  I know in this brief post, I have not done it justice, but these were very strong and determined women.  Women who believed in family and who were determined to build a better life for their children in this country.  They worked hard, loved immensely and never stopped.  It is their story, but it is part of mine, too.

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