Saturday, February 5, 2011

Anna's Story - Family life and later years

My grandmother Anna Pereksta emigrated to the United States in 1913 when she was eighteen years old. Almost ten years later she married Stefan Papp (Stephen Popp). You can read about her early life here.

Anna with her husband and first two children
Once they were married Stefan moved into Mrs. Dunda's boarding house in Binghamton, NY to live with Anna. She stopped working at Endicott-Johnson and they began their family. Their first child was born in December, 1923. The next year they bought their first home, a small house on Baxter Street. Two more children were born there. Anna stayed home, raising the children, tending her garden and keeping some chickens. Her life revolved around her family and her church. Binghamton's First Ward, where they lived, was a melting pot of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. Many languages and dialects were spoken in the homes and shops. People worshiped in their own churches, shopped in ethnic grocery stores, and socialized in ethnic social groups. With her sisters living nearby and her church only a few blocks away Anna was settled deep in an American immigrant community. Her parents, living in Príslop, both died in the 1930s. Half the Pereksta children settled in the United States; half had remained in Europe. In 1934 Anna became a citizen of the United States.
Citizenship certificate, 1934
Anna was a small woman, physically fragile, but with a strong will and work ethic. She was usually the disciplinarian, with little patience for backtalk or dawdling. In 1935 she had her first heart attack, forcing her older children to shoulder much of the housework during her year of recuperation. Even so, care was taken that the children would not be injured cooking meals. They would prepare food to be cooked, but a neighbor would come in the evening to light the stove or their father would cook once he got home. Anna continued to have heart problems for the remainder of her life, suffering multiple heart attacks over the years. She retained her will and work ethic.

Anna and her family c. 1946
About 1941 she and her husband bought a duplex on Cleveland Avenue. They lived in the north side of the house and rented out the south side. There was a large yard where she established her gardens. Anna did superb crocheting and needlework, decorating their home and sewing and maintaining the vestments at St. Michael's. She sewed her children's clothes until they insisted on store bought rather than home made clothes. In 1942, with her children growing up and feeling at loose ends, she briefly returned to work at EJs but stopped when her husband, fearing for her health, objected. Their oldest son went off to war but blessedly survived unharmed. Their daughter and younger son grew up and finished their schooling. When the younger son was accepted into college Anna gave him a small cache of money she'd saved to help him on his way and even did the laundry he mailed home so he'd not have to spend money on laundromats.

Family Dinner in the early 1950s
In 1948 her husband Stefan died suddenly while working - still a leather cutter at EJs. Her brother died the same year. Anna was 53 years old. She never remarried but remained in the house on Cleveland Avenue living much as she had before - devoted to her family, her church and her friends. Her daughter and son-in-law lived with her until 1956 when they bought their own home several blocks away. They saw her almost every day, first helping her maintain the house and garden, then caring for it and her as her health failed. Her sisters both died in the 1960s. Anna traveled twice to the west coast to visit her son and grandchildren - the flights a dramatic change from her journey across the ocean aboard the Amerika.

Reunion in 1977
Anna and her daughter had stayed in touch with her family in Europe, writing letters and sending packages back and forth. In 1977, sixty-four years after she left Príslop, she was able to meet the son of her younger sister Nacia who had remained in Europe. Her nephew and his wife came to the United States from Czechoslovakia to visit, though they were not allowed to bring their children. Her children and grandchildren had integrated into American life just as her nieces and nephews in Europe adapted to life under Soviet domination. In the picture Anna is standing on the left and her nephew from Europe and his wife are standing on the right.

Anna died of heart failure on 19 October 1982. She'd said she would never die in the winter. In the mountains where she grew up, and the Southern Tier of New York where she lived most of her life, a family might wait months for the ground to thaw before they could bury their dead. She was buried next to her husband in St. Michael's Cemetery on a hill overlooking her church and Binghamton.

You can read some final memories and thoughts about Anna here.

10 comments:

  1. What a beautiful story. My daughter just moved to Sayre PA, which is halfway between Elmira and Binghampton. It is very mountainous and reminds me of Europe, probably reminded our European ancestors too.

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  2. What at wonderful story. She lived a long, full life. I'm glad the family kept in touch and she got to meet her sister's son. Are you in touch still?

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  3. What a great tribute to you grandmother! Love the family pictures - how lucky you are to have them and the citizenship certificate is a treasure. Very moving!

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  4. What a great story about your grandmother. I loved reading both parts, and am struck by how brave she was - coming to a strange country, and making a home and a life here that left a legacy for generations to come.

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  5. I have loved reading about Anna. Her life must have been somewhat similar to those of many of the immigrant Bohemian women in our part of Texas and of many of my husband's immigrant ancestors. These women definitely needed considerable strength of character to do what they did.

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  6. What a touching story. I had a tear in my eye at the end. Life was so difficult for so many immigrants. Our lives are easy in comparison. Anna sounds like quite a woman. She was so young when she had her first heart attack. Was there a predisposition in the family, or was it just the result of a hard life?

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  7. This is a wonderful piece about your grandmother. I was surprised to learn she married later in life, had a heart attack as a young age and her children wanted store bought clothes (we share that trait). The flow of your story is beautifully written.

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  8. Did you know your grandmother? (I'll probably find out when I read the next section, right?) She was so young when she had her first heart attack and yet lived more than 45 more years! Strong woman! This was so well and interestingly written. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Wonderful story about your grandmother!

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