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Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Louise Adams
Date of Interview - January 7, 1980, in Walsenburg
Interviewed by Rosalyn McCain
Date of birth - 1-26-1900
Parents - John Knafelc and Frances Slevec
Paternal grandparents - Andrew and Mary Knafelc
Maternal grandparents - Joe and Helen Slevec
Ethnic group - Yugoslavian
Family origin - Yugoslavia
Date of family arrival in county - Husband - Las Animas County, 1922; self, 1931
Location of first family settlement - Walsen Camp
Kinship ties - Tony and John Tomsic; cousins in Denver and back east in Minneapolis, Pennsylvania, Toro Canada and Yugoslavia
Profession - Janitress and cook
This is Rosalyn McCain talking with Frances Tomsic at her home on January 7, 1980.
RM: I am interested in where the Slovenian populations were.
FT: Well, Trinidad and Pueblo. There were many Slovenians there. In all these camps, you know the coal mines. I know my husband, when he come here, he came to Trinidad. He started to work in Primero in those coal mines. And it is really something that for a while they weren't interested in these things. They kind of set us back. But now, more and more, and I think we should be proud because we were so proud and happy to come to this country, and I think it makes you feel better and you really feel that somebody is thinking of you.
RM: That's right, and I find that in talking with people, I ask about their sons and daughters and grandchildren, and it is amazing the people that moved from Walsenburg all over the country and were so successful. They have all just done really well wherever they have gone.
FT: That's right. I say it is something that you can't explain it, you know. But if you start to be interested and ask questions, I think it is a good thing.
RM: When did you first come to this country?
FT: Well, I came more late than the others. I think I am the only one around here to come late. My husband, John, was here before me, and he came in 1922. His brother, Frank, was here before. That is Judge Tomsic's father. He and my husband were brothers. Frank was here before, after all these wars that we had back home in Yugoslavia, the First World War. After that whoever can go from there, they really tried to go. Especially in our part of the country, where we come from.
RM: What part of Yugoslavia was that?
FT: It is 35 miles southeast from Trieste. Trieste is now in Italy because that was after that. But Ljubljana was the state capital, and Belgrade is like Washington, D.C. here. But Ljubljana is about 40 miles south there. It is a village. It is a beautiful place. Reminds me of La Veta because of all the mountains and it is just beautiful. World War Italy took it.
RM: So Italy took that part of the country?
FT: Yes, and naturally this young generation, they leave because they were in the war. People used to go before. You know, years before my father was here. I will be 80 this month, but I remember. I think I was 5 weeks old when my father left. He was gone a couple of years, and he was working around the mines in Trinidad. Many others, they come to this country to make some money to come back, so they would go back and forth. They would make money here and send the money home to help to buy the land and farm and everything because there was nothing else to do. So lots of them did settle here which was best. I remember my father, when he come, he used to write to my mother. He was after her to come to this country. But those people in those days they don't leave. They stay for generations. Now it is different.
Anyway, to come back to my family, Frank went first. He was a little younger than my husband. So he come first to this country; and he stay around Trinidad in those mines. I think a year and a half or so after that he sent some papers. You were supposed to get papers in order to get some help to come to this country. So he sent papers to his brother, my husband. And we were still single. I might as well tell you how things was.
My family had a big farm, and I was the only daughter, and naturally I can't even mention it to my parents.
RM: Things were not as they are today, were they?
FT: Well, that is how they believe, these people. My husband come from a poor family. They were Catholics, very hard working people, good people, but they don't have much. They used to work for other people. They worked for us, too, you know. And they were almost neighbors in the country. And so we kind of sign talked to each other. God bless their souls, my parents, and many others there, feel that you had to marry someone that had some farm or land. So they were wrong for that part for me. I don't ever believe that.
So he got a letter from Frank, his brother, with his papers. He found me right away. He's going to go and make some money. In those days, you had to be 24 years old before you were your own boss. I was only 22. No way, you know. And then after he came home, I never went no place with my husband, because they don't believe in it. I was scared, my parents were so against him, and he was the nicest working. You couldn't find any better. Honest, good working, a good boy, and that was what I was looking for. He asked me, “What we going to do? Well, I'm going to go America. And I make some money; I'm coming back and buy some land.” That's what they used to do there. I promised him that I'm going to wait for him, and he promised me he was going to come back. So many left, and even with a family, when they come to this country, they forget their family. But my husband keep his word. And I keep my word, and every time I got a letter, you know, I always give the mailman some money to keep it for me. We used to work in the fields, especially in the summer time, from dark til dark, and sometimes he would keep my letter for a whole week. They kind of… they were pretty sure… but as I say, I had to hide it. Anyway, that is the story of my early life. And so he come back after three years and seven months.
RM: That's a long time to wait.
FT: When he was here they closed a lot of mines, and there was a strike, and he moved. I remember he was working at Primero, and then he went to Idaho to work, up there at Sommerset. He wanted to make some money in order to go back. In four years and seven months he come back. I remember 1927 he come back in April, and we got married in June. He said in those years they find out that there is going to be a Second World War. We don't know anything because they were keeping everything secret. But they knew here in America. It was something you can't explain, really. Boy, they find out if you say anything. It was really something the people that was in jail.
RM: So they were really political prisoners, weren't they?
FT: That's right. And our place was the worst. Do you know Ed Tomsic? No, didn't know anything because we come to this country same time as Frank did, 1921. John told me as soon as he come back, and my parents had nothing to say because they knew they couldn't do anything, and they were very understanding, you know.
When we got married in June, he told me, “I can stay for just six months. I will have to leave.” He was already here for those years before. In order to take citizen papers you have to be in this country for so many years. It was different at that time. You have to get first papers, and then you have to get second papers in those years. So in order not to lose all those years, he stayed just six months. So we get married in June, and he went back in September.
After he went to school some time, he got his first papers. I can't tell you how much time it takes to get papers to apply for Citizenship, but anyway he got his Citizenship Papers in June, 1931. The same day he sent the papers for me, and I had my girl, my daughter. She was 3 ½ when we come to this country. He had never seen her before.
RM: So he had to stay. He couldn't come back to see you or anything?
FT: Oh, no. That's what I say, it's not something you know. This is all true and sometimes hard to believe. But anyway, it sometimes takes very long according to law. You have to go by law, you know. I was really fortunate. I was really well-known there and knew these people, and people helped me. On the 23 of December I was already here. I came to this country. I know sometimes it took people a whole year to get their families to come to America from there. I was very fortunate. So, I came here in 1931.
It was 42 years now the 23rd of December that I was in this country. Some memories, you know. It was a lucky blessed day, let me tell you. At the time, as I told you, I was the only daughter, the oldest. I have one brother younger than me still living over there. My parents were broken hearted when I left because I was never away from home before, never. I remember two days once I went to Trieste because my mother had some relatives there. Otherwise I never went. First time I left my home forever. It wasn't easy, you know, especially with my girl. My parents suffered, nobody knew how much. Afterwards the Nazi part was what they did in that place to those people. After the war my Mother wrote how lucky we are because the girls, my girl's age, what they did to those little girls, you wouldn't believe. Of course, I was lucky that we were here. That is life.
RM: Did you ever get to go back to see your parents after you came to the United States?
FT: In 1975. But let me tell you, honey, I never dreamed I would ever go since I can't go as long as my parents were living. They wanted us to come. That is another story that is very, very sad.
I was only four years in this country and my husband got sick. He was in a car accident before I came. This was on Christmas Day in 1929. They went to visit some friends, and when they come back, somebody hit them. My husband was pretty bad hurt in his head. He was unlucky. At that time they didn't send him to the hospital, and he had his work lost. That was three years before I came, and four years after, when my boy was just one year old, he was getting spells from blood clots, and they wouldn't give him his jobs anymore. You know how the company try to push you about. Then I went to work. I don't understand one word. I don't know much now, but still I didn't understand one word.
RM: Oh, my goodness!
FT: Before I never even went to the store or anything. John, my husband, went. We used to live in Walsen Camp, and he's walk down for food to the grocery or mail or anything that we needed. We used to go on Saturday together, but I didn't have to do anything. Like I say, I don't understand one word.
Then I went to work. It was WPA, and I walked from Walsen Camp. It was in January, and I walked down to St. Mary's School kitchen, and that was my first job. After, they had a school in Walsen Camp where you could just go up here. They had other people that were working there, and they were very nice. They knew John, and they feel sorry for us with two small children, so they give me job at Walsen School. It was really nice. What helped me at Walsen School, we had a 1929 Chevy. How many times my son says, we should have it now. My husband couldn't drive; he didn't have a driver's license or anything. So I taught myself to drive a car, and that helped me right away.
My girl was a citizen at the same time as her dad. I wanted to be a citizen because it would be a good thing. At that time it wasn't so strict. I feel that since I am in this country, my girl is a citizen, my husband is a citizen, my boy was born here, so I used to go down to the courthouse to go to school to become a citizen. The car helped me because I wouldn't be able to walk down because it was sometime in the evening the classes.
I got my citizen papers when I was only five year in this country. I still remember those 54 in the class at that time. There was the old age pension coming in, so people used to be here 25 and 30 years, and they had never applied. They didn't believe it, but at that time they were more interested. I still remember the judge, Judge East. I passed it the first day. I couldn't speak, but I learned my questions, just pretty good, and so I passed it.
My girl started the first grade in school at Walsen School. They were such nice people there. They were just so nice, those people, and they take my girl, five years old, and they took her to school just a little young age, because you know she was Slovenian, and she passed first grade. They were so nice, those people.
Do you know this Walker, Evalyn Walker? You should see her when she sees me. She still remembers. She was the principal there when my girl started to school, and she still remembers, and every time she sees me hugs me. They were just so wonderful. So she helped me a lot with those questions, my girl. I learned it from her, and my husband, of course, because he was real good in school, and he got his papers. So I got my Citizenship papers. So many people, they don't make it, you know. They couldn't learn, and they give it to them the next time. They wouldn't give them the papers. They had to go back to school for the next six weeks or so. So Judge East said, “Congratulations.” I still remember that word. I was real proud, you know.
Afterwards I was working for the WPA, and we moved downtown, and I was working in the sewing room. Then school started again. You know where the Seventh Street School is?
RM: That's where our office is.
FT: Well, I got some memories there. I had an uncle in Denver; he was my mother's brother. He died last year, he was 90 years old. He really wanted to help us to come to Denver because of the different jobs; there was no work here, but my husband don't want to go out of Walsenburg. It is better not to remember. It was so hard; but what are you going to do? I didn't write to my parents. I told everybody not to write to my parents about all this bad luck because they are going to cry. Some how they found out, and they write to us, especially my Dad; he knew it. It wasn't like now; there was no help from anywhere. So they write to us to come back because they had already given us some land there when we got married because they had a big farm, and I had only one brother like I told you. They wrote that they would send us the money to come back, and I wanted to go so bad because I don't know what to do.
I remember Mrs. Summers - she's still living - she come down. They used to live up here in the Sporleder Addition, and she knew that I drive the car. She told me what I had to do and all that. I wanted to go, but my husband wouldn't. He was really sure that I meant it, and we had very good friends. This one in Pueblo, they used to come, of course other people used to come too, but they were very good friends. I talked to them to talk to my husband that I want to go back. My husband, John, said, “If she wants to go, let her take the kids and go, but I got sick in this country, and I'm going to stay here.” I said, “No, not for the whole world. I wouldn't do that.”
I was washing dishes here for Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Mrs. Sporleder sent me. She was just wonderful. All the banquets they had. She was the best cook, and all the banquet and everything were there. She was really good to me because I was hired to wash dishes, but I did other work too. She told me, “Mrs. Tomsic,” because I used to live down there and walk home at 10:00 in the night she said, “Mrs. Tomsic, I hear that the WPA will not last because sometimes they laid you off for several months. Maybe someday you have to support your family just like this. Why don't you help yourself to come closer to town?” I used to wash the dishes for $5.00 a week. And after that, we found out about these empty lots. Then like I say, we don't know what to do. We lived in a shack, but we looked for another. You couldn't find no house.
And I find out about these lots. It was these three lots. Now it is a junkyard. It shouldn't be here like that. But anyway there were three lots, and they were for sale for taxes. Kathleen O'Rourke's father had an office there by the bank, and I went over there, and found out about these lots. The next day I went without the permission of my husband, and I put $15.00 down; that's all I had. I made $3.00 a month payments. That was 1939.
Then, how we going to get a house? You could build a house if you were rich. My uncle had offered the money, but still. John, my husband, found out that they sell the coal camp there at Hastings by Ludlow. One day I come home and pick up the kids from school, and it was the first part of August. At 3:30 there is still plenty of time, so I left my girl home and told her to fix something. I always fix beef stew or something. Then I took my husband and my boy, and we went to this camp, but they already sold it. But we find out that there is another camp above Aguilar where Frances Lenzotti was born at Ideal. And that camp was sold. Someone from Kansas or somewhere had bought it. Only one house was left, and that was on a hill. There was too much expense. You can't move that house. You have to get it down. So we went to the office, and asked the man. He said, “That's the only house we have because the other houses are sold. That one is $50.00.” I had $10.00, so I put down $10.00. It was right on the hill where it was rocky and everything, but it was a pretty good house.
Then we had friends at Ludlow. We went to see them, and that man used to build houses back home with his father. It was Ludvik's family. So we told him everything, and he said, “On Wednesday, the Delagua Mine don't work. Bring your husband, John, to Aguilar.” And he and his son-in-law and a friend met my husband, and he knew exactly what to do. They tear the house down in eight pieces or something, and they hired a truck to take it by. The last of the stuff, they had a little car with a little trailer somebody gave us. They loaded that with brick. So that's the way we build this house in 1940. It's not much, but it's home. We lived here about three years. We didn't even paint it inside, but we still fixed it up. We hired a man to do the main things. We have to buy a new roof, a new floor and new windows and things like that. The rest of the stuff we did little by little. Then after my girl start working, she help us, and my boy. Like I say, it is hard. I can tell just the headlines. I still got bills.
I never forget. We used to go to Pueblo and hire a truck and sell melons. One truck we sold $260.00 at that time. It was a different dollar than now. Well, all of this house was just $50.00. I still got bills, you know.
After that I cleaned the offices of Mr. Summers down on Seventh Street and then Dr. Brunelli's office. I go many times to the cemetery. I have to stop my car and pay my respects, how good he was. Mr. Summers' office was a big office. He used to make all those income tax. It was nothing but desks and chairs and books and all that. $10.00 a month.
Dr. Brunelli, it was a smaller office. At that time he had no help himself, and he pay me $3.00 a week, and beside he take care of my kids. That was his idea. He said, “Send your kids every six months.” And they still have good teeth. When I come to this country, I had pretty good teeth, but the water and the air is different, so one by one I lose them. He make my teeth just for the material, and my husband's work or something.
I used to clean Dr. Shaeffer's office down there next to this Credit Union. It used to be a telephone office. In 1963 they built a new one when they converted to dial. But that was the old telephone office. Roxie Eccher, she owned it where Dr. Shaeffer is on Sixth Street. He was a chiropractor, and he paid me $3.00 a week. So that was $12.00, $24.00, $34.00 a month. But for Dr. Shaeffer, I think I was really lucky to work for him because there at the telephone office they had a woman name of Mrs. Smallmark and she was there cleaning sixty years. She was still going to stay. Her son worked and she had a sick husband at home and in order to care for him, she had to quit her job. That's why she quit.
Mr. Best was an assistant like a boss, and Mr. Darrow was the manager, and they asked me if I wanted it. They had applications like this, but they asked me if I wanted it. I was lucky because that was $9.00 a week. You know that is comparing to other work, and it was one place. I first started at the telephone office in 1943 in December when there were only 7 operators. There were not very many telephones because even when the people wanted the telephones, they couldn't get wires because it was during the war you know.
I come dumb. I'm still dumb, but I come down so dumb. Boy how much I learned there. Like I say, it was very confidential because in those days when you call the operator called long distance, you hear everything, the number and place and everything. I remember Mr. Darrow, like how much he helped me with my Citizenship papers. I wouldn't be able to work if I didn't have my Citizenship Papers. They sent my Citizenship papers to Denver. Especially during the war they were so strict, you know. He told me, “That work has to be done only at night.” I used to go sometimes at 2:00, 3:00, or 4:00 a.m. to scrub and wax it in order that when people came in to work, it would be ready. But he told me, “You will have a chance to hear lots of things, but remember when you close the door, you leave everything inside.” And thank God I did. I worked 21 years with the phone company office. I am very proud, honey. I raised my family all through very, very hard years with my husband sick. So here I am, honey, 80 years old.
RM: When did you stop working?
FT: In 1965. It will be 15 years next week. Like I say, that is the best company to start with.
RM: Do you have a pension with them and everything?
FT: I have a little pension; not much because my job was a part-time job. It wasn't a big office; before they got machines, it was four hours. When they converted to dial, it was 21 operators and Mr. Darrow, Mr. Post and Jim Filer. It was hard work, but I had appreciation. Other jobs were hard work and would be worse, but I would try. All these big shots, they appreciated because I tried to do my best. I got many compliments and I was glad to do it. I appreciated my job because I had no education, and I was more than lucky to get the work, and I appreciated that.
RM: You supported your family all by yourself then?
FT: Yes, it wasn't easy, but I was happy. Of course, my girl helped. She used to baby-sit; she was always good, that helps, you know. They both went to high school. She went to work for Sporleder there, and then Johnny started little by little until now. I am so rich, I have everything; I really do.
RM: Your son lives in Denver now?
RM: Where does your daughter live?
FT: She lives here and works at the hospital. She had a big operation and had tumors removed. She's not too well, but we try our best.
RM: What is her name?
FT: Tony Tomsic. She tried to get a Social Service job, but there was a lot of competition for a few jobs. She made good on all the tests, but they hired somebody else.
I didn't tell you the story of how unlucky my husband was. It was 1943. It wasn't easy you know; I had to pay taxes, family expenses, the house and trying to do everything. They gave him a job for a couple of days with the City in order to help him to pay the taxes. Just imagine how bad luck comes to a person. I never forget. It was on a Monday, 1948, the 25th of April, and he went to fix some bridges up there toward La Veta. I still don't know what it is. I never see one, and I don't want to see it. They ordered this pile hammer driver, some kind of equipment to fix these bridges. It was for the City and County; but more County because it was up toward La Veta. I don't know how far those bridges are. They had some men working there, and the one that was supposed to be supervising, he don't have no experience. So many smart people told us that in order to hold this pile hammer driver, they are supposed to have brace. They are fifteen feet long in order to hold those things. They didn't use that. They put my husband under there to hold it with his hands, like this. It wasn't setting right and fell down and cut my husband's hand off. I wait to tell this last because every time I start thinking of it, I can't take it. My husband was doing some hard work when we moved. Like I told you, we had no money. He done lots of work himself. There was always some nice people that spoke well of him, and people would come and show him how to do things because he had experience. He was a coal miner, but you should see how interested he was. He likes to learn, and he likes to do it. He used to do lots of things. But after that I know there were so many Slovenian people who were friends of ours, and they were talking. They didn't tell me, but they said, “Good bye, Johnny.” Because he was too hard working, and he can't do any work any more. You know, we treated him just like a baby because we feel sorry for him. But it doesn't do any good, and six months after, we had to put him in the State Hospital. He couldn't take it. He was there for a couple of years. Then they put him in a nursing home. We took him home, you know. It was harder then to take him back. He went around the yard, “This has to be done, and that has to be done.” What he has done, we have to do everything after him again. Then when my kids start to work, we have to hire a man.
Then we had to put him in a nursing home in Pueblo. He died in 1966. Just by the headlines of my story, you know how much I loved him. Nobody in the whole world would I take, no other man. I loved him and everything, but you know honey, I didn't shed one tear after he died. I cried every time I start thinking what kind of life he had and we had with him. Now he is resting because he just cannot take it, and that's all. So that is just when you are unlucky. That was the life.
RM: How hard!
FT: That's the way it goes. One thing I have to tell you. I am not a big person, I never was, but I am very strong. In 1979 I went back to Yugoslavia. First my father died in 1953. Then my mother. Well, they both lived long lives. My father was 96. They always wrote. During the war nobody could write, honey, not from there to here, or from here to there. For so many years we didn't hear anything.
RM: That was during the Second World War?
FT: After the war was over, they started letters again and people started to visit. I wouldn't go by boat if they paid me because I was so sea-sick when I came to this country. It was eleven days in the water, and the last six days I was in the hospital with my girl. She wasn't sick, but they were such nice people, they let me take her there. I was really sick, and I will never go on a boat again. I first got a letter when my father was buried, and then my mother wrote and really wanted me to come visit. Lots of people came to this country. After they closed the quota, many went to Argentina, Australia, and Canada.
RM: After they couldn't come here any more?
FT: They went some place else. Now they have a nice life there, honey. You should see it in Yugoslavia. It is just like America; house, electric appliances, a nice life like we have. In every letter my mother cried. She longed to see us, and she was up in age and all. But I couldn't go. How could I go and leave my husband here? I wouldn't do that for nothing in the world. In case something happened, you know. And after, I know where he is, he is resting. We did everything that we can for him while he was here. That made it easier. Then my mother died seven or eight years ago. She was 93, and since I couldn't go and see her, I decided I would never go back. But in 1975 Johnny, my son, and I went. The plane went straight from Denver to Yugoslavia then back to Denver. When Johnny asked me to go, I said, “I don't feel like going because I couldn't go before my Mother died.” Nobody told me it would be 37,000 feet above the earth. I was scared, but I had no other choice. So we went. I would never go by myself, but I went with him. My son is so good to me, and it is different when you have somebody to go with. So we went, and I will never be sorry I did. It was really something. I slept in the room that I was born in. I was almost 78 and a half; it was in May, and it was 43 years and six months since I left. Our trip took us four weeks. There were so many people there who still remember me. It was something to see, only the time was too short.
RM: Is your brother still there?
RM: And you saw him?
FT: O, yes! I can't explain it.
RM: Had things changed much?
FT: You mean the people?
RM: The people and the way things looked.
FT: Well, first I'll tell you about the people. I kind of feel, not shamed, but kind of low. Even younger people that I knew in school, I had to ask them who they are. They told me, and I remembered them right away. They are really something, the people. Other things I still remember. We went into the fields to see our part of the farm. I remember everything. The houses are different, the life is different. They don't work so hard. They have good agricultural land they used to really work. Now, they just don't care. They just don't work it the same way. It's the younger generation, I guess because they were born after the war. The people who were born before the war understand. I was associated with them, and they knew. Everything was something, every church or group, I had to be the head, singing and everything. That was just my nature. I still have a friend who lives in Trieste. She was so poor in those days. Her Mother would help her. She used to work for neighbors who had somebody die, and they had to have somebody help to run the house and with the family. She really suffered. My mother and I would help her. There are people who are like that right here, too. But I never forget those who are poor and don't have anything. I respect everybody. I am not better than somebody else, but I was always good to people, and they knew it. Even in other villages. Ed Tomsic is from a different village, but they had to come to our village to come to church and school, to the courthouse and the post office. Our village is one of the biggest in Yugoslavia. Ed Tomsic and Ann Laney were there visiting our town at the time that I was. Ann's father is from the same village that Ed Tomsic is from. We went to my cousin's. He let my Johnny use his car and that was a big help. So they used to go there and visit Ann Laney's aunt. Oh, they were so happy. All those people looked at us coming there. We used to go to school together. I was friendly with people, you know, at a young age. It was the same, the streets and other villages. It was something. Ann enjoyed it, too.
RM: Yes, she told me that.
FT: You know she understands Slovenian. She is very good at it, only she doesn't have the chance to talk it. She always mentions it because if she talks to somebody it is easier. Everybody is surprised that my son and daughter speak it. She was 3 ½ and we always speak Slovenian because I didn't know anything else, and both of my kids still speak. Johnny, as much as he was in the Navy, and away from home, you should see how he speaks it. If you don't have a chance to speak it, it is hard. Annie is very interested in that, she can even read a little bit. None of her sisters do that. She had three sisters, and she is the only one that is interested.
RM: Are her sisters here in Walsenburg?
FT: The oldest one, Mary Bechaver, then Annie, then Helen Bechaver. Two sisters married two brothers. Then Carol lives in Pueblo. There are four girls. She makes me feel good, you know, because she is so interested. I talk to her sometimes in Slovenian. I know she could do it, but she is afraid. She can write it, but she can't pronounce it.
RM: Tell her you won't answer unless she talks to you.
FT: She went to visit Argentina, you know. She saw her Aunt, her Father's sister. Her uncle had died. You should see Walt, how he enjoyed it. He doesn't even understand, but now they learn English. They got schools now that teach English courses. You should see these young people, how they speak. I mean they even write and everything. They understand Walt, and they love him.
RM: He really is a sweetie.
FT: It was some experience. We went to church, you know. They don't go to church much, but they had a kind of procession at the time we were there, and that is something to see. You just see it once in your life, things like that. We had a very big, wonderful time; and we went on that tour. They ask you when you buy your ticket if you want to take this tour for so many days, and we went, and that was….. Like I say, I was almost 32 years old when I left there because I left December 4, and then my birthday come January. I was almost 32. I never was no place. But that time when we went on that tour that was something to see. You know, you pay so much, and that was very cheap. I think it cost $50.00 for eight days, and the best meals and the best hotels and a guide to explain everything to you and so many cities. That was something.
RM: So you got to go all around Yugoslavia?
FT: Otherwise you never have the chance because even if you go, you don't have anybody to explain it to you. There is so much history to it. They showed us where those wars were and things like that. I can't explain what we saw. The bus driver was such a nice man, and that guide, she speaks five different languages. We were all Slovenians, but we had one German man, and she wasn't too happy to say everything in Slovenian, and then she had to explain just for one man in German. It was worth it.
RM: Were you a member of one of the lodges here in Walsenburg?
FT: Yes, I belong to one, not the one Ed Tomsic has.
RM: Which one are you a member of?
FT: American Fraternal Union. But, I'll tell you truth, when I come to this country, my husband belonged to both of them, the SNPJ and the AFU. But he changed afterwards. Judge Tomsic's father, Ed Tomsic's Father was the Secretary from AFU, and so they put me there, and I still belong to that lodge. But my kids and my husband all belonged to the SNPJ. But I never attended meetings. I feel this way. I am not against them or anything. I know I could learn lots of things that are interesting, but I feel that since my husband got sick and everything, I just didn't go. Frank Fink is the Secretary after Frank Tomsic died. It is good to have. It is not cheap. One thing is different now. With my kids, they both got this policy, and after 20 years you can get so much out. I myself, I have to die to get that money. They didn't have those policies then, but you can't change it now. So when I die, my kids will have $1,000.
RM: What were the things that were the hardest for you when you came to this country and you didn't speak English?
FT: Well, nothing was hard because my husband take care of things.
RM: It wasn't until he was injured…
FT: When I had to go to work. That was very hard.
When I came to this country they help you with the luggage. I brought lots of stuff. I still got so many things, honey. I remember when it came time to pack it, and my husband had left some pretty good-sized trunks. Then I had another smaller trunk that my uncle left me. I had about four or five suitcases. They were not like suitcases we have now. They were cardboard.
In our country the girl starts working. They used to go to Trieste especially in the wintertime or another city down in the south, and they would go work for rich people. They lived there, and they had room and board. But then the girls started working on the farm too. We used to hire people to work for us in the summertime. We were not a big family. We could not do it ourselves. We needed boys, and we needed girls, too. They start saving their money, every girl, and they start to buy some things. Here, don't take me wrong, I'm not against it, but here they wait until the shower. Not there. They start to buy, especially linens or dishes or things like that, embroidery. I could show you things, honey, that I have that I brought from there.
I never have a chance to go. I liked to go because you learn lots from the rich people, a different way from the farm. There is no comparison. If they work for someone, they learn how to cook, how to do everything that the woman need to know. But we don't have that chance. Just work hard. My hands are just like a man's hands. Look, work hard, and that's all. So, like for me, I never had this opportunity to go there. I would like to, but my parents needed me home. So my other mother, my grandmother, they bought it for me because I could not go to work outside. So they buy me little things so that when I get married, I have something. So since I have so much, I had too much stuff because my grandmother was always buying something for me. I brought to this country 32 sheets.
RM: Is that right? No wonder you had so many trunks!
FT: I had pillow cases and stuff, honey, that I cannot tell you. When I packed, I brought those drapes. Someday I want to change them. I brought embroidery, beautiful crocheted work, all kinds of stuff. So when it came time for me to pack, my mother really cried. First she thought that maybe we would come back because she didn't know which was better. But she cried. She said, “Now I see that you will never come back because you take all that stuff.” Good thing that I did, honey, because what I left there was destroyed after the war. So I pack up everything to start out, curtains, pillows, blankets, quilts, so much linen that I still got it. They say that they don't stay. Oh, yes they do stay. I brought lots of dishes. That piece of embroidery work on the wall is from there. That painting is from there. All of the dishes you see up there (in the China cabinet). You know some of these things are over 70 years old. My friend's father gave us this vase here so we were like in La Veta, you know, close to the mountains. So many of the things that I brought has come in handy. I brought everything that I can pack. I'm telling you, I was so lucky.
When I come to New York, I had spent the last six days on the boat in the hospital, and I was all worn out. It was an Italian ship, and my husband sent a ticket for Second Class because Third Class was way down, and Second Class is more up, you know. He was worried that I would get sick because when my father came to this country, he was so sick. It is not everyone that gets sick.
There were two sisters from our village who were very good friends living in Pennsylvania. My husband wrote to them that I am going to come on a certain day on a certain ship. The name of the ship was - - - - - - - - . It was an Italian ship. There was a nurse there that took care of me when I was in the hospital. That nurse, they had to speak so many languages, she spoke perfect Slovenian, Italian and English. She was so good; God bless her wherever she is. She was so good to us. She loved my girl. She said that she had a girl with some boy, and he refused to marry her, and she gave to her mother this little girl so she could get this job. At that time she was 10 years already, all over wherever they sent her. This is interesting. Wherever she go she said, to South America, to North America, to Australia, different places, wherever they sent her, she had been in that job for ten years. And one night, I think it was three or four days before we came. One night, they close all those windows and tied them. We had gone to sleep and they had turned the lights off. It wasn't one hour later, I know because I couldn't sleep because I was so sick, that they turned on all the lights and rushed back and forth, back and forth. No wonder I don't want to go on a boat no more. They had all those windows tied and they rushed back and forth, all those doctors and nurses and everybody who was on duty. I asked her, “What's happening?” She said, “Oh, every once in a while we have to do this.” She didn't say anything, and it was a good thing that she didn't. And the next day she told me in Slovenian, “I don't want to scare you, be we were supposed to have one of the biggest hurricanes.” And at that time they didn't have like they have nowadays telephones and all of those things because I remember when they installed this first cable. They asked me if I wanted to talk to my Mother.
I was working for the telephone company when they installed this cable. At that time they had cablegrams. The nurse told me that the Captain had received a cablegram that they were supposed to have this big storm. She said that in order to avoid that we went the other direction from the storm. She said that in the ten years that she traveled that was the worst storm that night. She said she wished to God that they never have that anymore.
Oh, those ships are big. That was one of the two biggest Italian ships at that time except the Queen Mary and the other English ships. I was so sick in that ship. See, I used to speak Italian real good. I wish I still could. I still love to listen to it, and I could catch lots of words, but I wish I could speak like I did at that time. Because since then we had these very wonderful people who was close to us. There was a house close to us empty, and they were a school teacher and her mother, and they were always in our house. Italian is very east to write. Slovenian is the hardest to write, so I used to speak Italian. I wish that time that I never did because that one night I was so sick. I know you are going to like this. The nurses and the doctors spoke between them. They didn't know that I understood, and they said that they didn't expect me to go through the night alive. Then I got sick.
You know in those days it was the Depression. You hear that, you know that was 1931. That was the biggest years of the Depression. I could tell you a story when I came to Walsen Camp, people didn't have anything. People used to come to my poor husband when he was working at the stack camp. Some people live for tomorrow. But my husband saved his money, and people used to come to him for $5.00 for a family to buy 100 pounds of flour to bake bread. They didn't have anything.
Anyway, when we come to New York these two sisters met us. There was one that was older and one younger than me. They lived in Pennsylvania. One had a family, and the other didn't have a family. Anyway they come and meet me at the ship. And boy, that was luck.
We was supposed to stay from 6:00 in the evening when we came to New York. I still remember it was still light when we see the Statue of Liberty. We had to go to the First Class to the American Consul to get papers. I got a stack like this; and each one cost money. Each one had like a stamp on it. You have to pay for that. I had papers with my picture, one for my girl, and one for me. They took mine when I went for my Citizenship Papers. They have one in Washington, D. C., the courthouse has one, and they give you one.
Those girls came to meet me, and we were supposed to be from 6:00 at night until the next day, 24 hours in order to get the train. So they came there, and you have to open those trunks. How lucky I was; God bless them. Some months before a woman from near my village had come to Pennsylvania. She wrote back to tell me that she took lots of things with her, and they opened it, and she had to pay more than it was worth in duties because it was new stuff. So that scared me, but I think I was lucky because I put on the top, I still remember, one blanket. Not old because I did not have old, and I left so much back home. There is still some there because my mother hide it during the war. I couldn't bring it with me when I went back with Johnny because you can only take so much weight on the plane. This friend of mine helped me, and they went and talked to those guys. They just unlocked my trunks. He just looked like this, superficial took at the top layer, and they locked it back. Inside I had lots of stuff, and when I talk to people they cannot believe what I bring in. I was very lucky.
Then, you asked what was different. They had to sign my name for me because they take care of the passengers. My ticket was paid from the old country to Walsenburg. You were supposed to stay wherever they have a place there for you to stay in order to line you up for wherever you go. One woman was going to Philadelphia. She was with me. Then the next day we met, and she said that each one had to pay $5.00. At that time $5.00 was a lot during the Depression time. But these people signed their name as responsible for me. They signed their name, and they went in front because they knew how to speak. They took me to the front. How great. Like I say, it was wonderful. But I couldn't get any sleep because we talked all night. We talk all night and all day at their place.
The next day we left at 6:00 in the night. I still remember when they took me down to the depot in New York, and I still remember it was before Christmas, it was just like heaven. Oh, boy, in the night, you know, the lights and Christmas trees and everything, and we went to the depot on the ferry over the river to catch the train. It was something. So we left at 6:00, and they fixed me sandwiches, thermos bottles, two of them, one for Tony. So they really were something. As sick as I was, you know, I don't know what I would do if they didn't treat me like they did. It would have killed me.
Then the stop in Chicago on the train. In Chicago from 5:00 in the evening until 11:00 in the night we have to wait there. They take you from one depot to the other. I think I come to Santa Fe or someplace other. That's a story too, I'm telling you. So when I had to pay for anything, I would just hold my hand out with my money. I don't know how much I give them. My husband told me afterwards that it was about 75¢. They take as much as you give them. I don't understand. I thought a nickel was bigger than a dime because it was bigger. It takes time, honey, before you learn everything. I couldn't speak anything, not one word. I can't understand anything. So that was bad when we come to Chicago. They took us to another place. I still remember how beautiful Chicago was. Then we had to wait until 11:00. My God, what I went through. My girl was crying for her grandmother, because she was spoiled so much. She didn't care for me, but my mother. She kept asking for her Grandmother in the night, and she was tired and everything. So I handed her a pillow. Then we came to Chicago, and that was really hard. They don't have those loud speakers or anything. They used to talk with those megaphones, and God knows how many of those … train after train. God knows. Maybe blocks and blocks under one roof.
I was sitting there and Tony was crying, and I was holding her, and then I put a pillow on the bench so she could sleep there. Then pretty soon some colored people came in. I still remember, a man and wife and two kids. She started screaming because she had never seen black people before. That was funny.
There were two women there. One woman was sitting like this to watch for the passengers, and another one on the other side, and I saw them a couple of times. They would pass and talk and took at me. I don't know if they tell me something because I don't understand. Then they saw what a hard time I had with the little girl and everything. So they come to me. My father and some other men had been to America, and they told me that they would ask me for my passport. So when these women came, they were very nice, and they asked me for my passport, and I just give it to them, you know, my passport with my picture. It was important. So I give them that and my ticket. I still remember that word, “ticket,” because they had told me that back home. So I showed her the ticket. Then they knew right away where I am going to go.
They went and found a man, and he came to me speaking Slovenian. I thought he was from the clouds. It was something, because I have nobody to say or ask or nothing at all. He come to me, and he speak to me, and he spoke so nice in Slovenian just like me. He told me, “These women are especially for that, for watching passengers.” They have seen where you are going to go, how far away I have to go and how much trouble I had. You know it was hard with the little girl. So they advised me to send a telegram to my husband because they knew exactly when I was going to come on the train. They saw that I am going to come to Pueblo. They said, “That is about 50 miles away from where your husband is.” My ticket was to Walsenburg. “You are going to come at 5:00 in the morning, and you will have to wait until the night to get the train on to Walsenburg.”
There used to be a train once that we called the “milk train” at 11:00 at night here. It left Pueblo at 10:00 at night. They said, “You are going to come to this and that place and so forth. Then you have to wait with Tony. No train goes then until night.” So they advised me to send a telegram to my husband that he should come and get us with the car. I handed him the money and the address and all that. He said that he would take care of all of that and send my husband the telegram. So when we come to Pueblo, my John and Albert's dad were waiting for me. That was something.
Another thing. This man told me afterwards where he was from in Yugoslavia and how many years he works there as a waiter in a restaurant or a coffee shop, and he asked me if I got money to eat on the train. He said, “You could buy, but it's awfully hard when you don't understand. You need a little help.” I had money. My husband had left so much money. Then I went with him, and he filled up both thermos bottles because they were empty. One was for my girl, one was for me. Let me tell you, I came so darned hungry in Pueblo that I couldn't speak. Then he fixed me some cookies and stuff. So I gave him the money. He took the money and gave me change back. Those things lasted until the night before we came to Pueblo.
Afterwards they told us that this Santa Fe Railroad has places on them like restaurants, and there was some place in Kansas where the train stopped, and everybody went out. I was the only one there, and I didn't know where they go. Everyone got off, and they went and eat. I was so darned weak and hungry that I just didn't know what to do. I had such a bad headache because I hadn't eaten. So I was the only one left on the train. I sat there for I don't know how long; but everybody had their meal. They had just so much time. Then they came back, and some of them brought cookies with them. They were such nice people.
There used to come these men to sell things. It was the first time I ever saw a banana. I didn't know what it was. It was something I had never seen before. The people used to buy the bananas and eat them, and I thought about that, and I had money, but they were so nice to Tony. They gave her some cookies, and I saved them as long as I could for her.
But to Pueblo when they come, I thank God. Believe it or not, I didn't think I could go any farther. I had an empty stomach, and I was sick from the hospital and the train make you tired and everything. So we went to Pueblo to some friends there before we come here. I see them fix the breakfast. Of course, I couldn't eat, but still I took coffee. But I didn't think I would make it.
When I came to Walsen Camp, they fixed this new road at that time. You know where this Huerfano Bridge is? That time they fixed it because at that time you still used the old road. Of course, there wasn't many cars. Even the ones that do have the cars don't have the gas. Frank used to drive, and he was driving. Tony went to her father right away. I was always so glad because I always showed her his picture. She was sitting in front with him, and Frank was driving, and I was in the back, resting my head. There was that bump, and John hollered at Frank, “You better go slow.” Boy that was something. Then we came to Walsen Camp. The wind was blowing; you wouldn't believe.
Another thing, too, my husband admitted after, I had never seen a frame house before. Because back there they fix them with rocks. It is rocky country with rocks that you could cut.
RM: Like sandstone, like here at the courthouse?
FT: Right, and then they plaster and everything. I never seen a frame house until then. Like I say, I was happy. You know, I came to my family and all of that. At the same time that I came, they got furniture. My John went and bought the furniture. He bought many things that I still have, a real good bed and this furniture. He borrowed a bed for Tony, and bought a new mattress for her, and then he buy the heater and the stove for the kitchen. He got just what we needed. But he was always sorry that he didn't buy the dining room set. Somehow they tried to sell it to him because he paid cash and a good price. He bought chairs.
My son Johnny took the heater this morning to Denver, and the stove that Johnny bought 48 years ago, the top is still original. Johnny took that. We could get good money for that because we took good care of it. He took that five years ago, and I still miss it, but he won't sell it. He is up in Denver. He put it by his fireplace, and people come and look at that stove. He took the heater this morning. He is going to put it down in his basement. Of course, some day he may have to bring it back the way things are now.
Look at this vase. I'm going to take it down for you to see. John bought this house in the Walsen Camp, and John bought a couple of chairs and a table, and they even gave this vase. So who knows who enjoyed this? And we got nice pie plates like this that are maybe 60 years old. And all those things are worth something. There are some memories. If you take one look at some things you remember everything. It was a big change for me, too, you know. Lots of people had told me for many years the stories, John told me, even the men in this respect.
I know you are going to like to hear this honey. Not any more, but there were people that call you “foreigners,” you know, “greenhorn,” all kind of names. Who make this country? They work hard, all those men when they come, healthy, young. What else? They had the mind to work. Not it comes different. They realize that, but lots of people were mistaken.
I remember when my daughter was, I'd rather not mention the name, this was years ago. She had already started working some place. And this lady was supposed to be smart. She called my daughter a foreigner. I still remember. She cried because it was not only the word, but how you kind of hear it.
RM: That's right, the connotation behind it.
FT: Right, you know what I mean. She became a citizen the same day as her father. Because that is the American Constitution until 18 years old if you leave other countries. All the kids until 18 years will be citizens. After they didn't come, even the ones that were born here, because they were from other places, and after they were here, they went back home and the kids grew up, and they don't show up until 19 years old, then they lose it. And they were born in this country.
Like I say for my girl, if you are eighteen years old there, she is still an American citizen like her father. So that time I still remember, and that was a couple of times. She was crying. I said, “I know. I am not going to take this. First day you are going to have a day off; you are going to go to the courthouse and find out.” So we went, and at that time the District Clerk was Mr. Haynes. Do you know Cynthia Haynes? She was the head of Social Services before she retired. She is still here, and she is a nice woman, and her father-in-law was the District Clerk, a very nice man. So we went down there to the courthouse. I can still see him; he said, “Can I help you?” I couldn't explain it very well, but my girl did. He said, “Who told you this? Who called you that name? You are a citizen after your father.” He knew my husband. He said, “You became a citizen right along with your father.” Then I spoke to her to tell him that we wanted something to show. He said, “I understand. But I would like to know. Who is that person? Because whoever it is, everybody come from somewhere to this country.” He said, “I like to know who that person is because she doesn't know very much.” She was supposed to be so smart. I'm telling you, it is something. The people around here cannot really understand unless you are really interested, like you are, in the truth.
We went through lots. It was nothing but hard work, all those men. There was nothing but the mine. So they worked there. You know the Turkovich family? Janice who works at the courthouse, that is her father-in-law, and many others, as I say. They are dead now, and they were saying how these boys come in like my husband and his brother, Ed Tomsic. They came after the war. Other people come before the war. That was the time to come to this country. Because they don't know anything about the war, like we do. We went through the First World War. And after all the mess, like I told you, they took a country here and there and all the fight. They were preparing for another war, all the fascism, and all those things. We got that experience. Like I say, Ed Tomsic come in 1921, and that wasn't so bad, but after those years, what we went through in those years until I come to this country. You know, I remember, they used to say all those boys were nice young men, young boys, 24 or 25, and what else? Nothing but mining. They work hard, nothing but work hard, honey.
So it really comes a different time. Johnny and those men explained it in a speech at the college; it was something to learn what these foreign people went through. There were lots of them. That's what I want to mention when I first started. Men and women, they cry when they first come to this country. They were disappointed, you know, because they think that in America, that you shovel the money. They have to work awfully hard. They would go right back if they can, but they couldn't afford it. But it wasn't easy for nobody. So, any more questions, honey?
RM: What was it like in Yugoslavia in those ten years before you came to this country when many of your generation had already left and gone to the United States, what was it like for those that were still there in Yugoslavia?
FT: You mean for all of us that were still there? Oh, we went through lots during the war. I was 14 years old when the First War was started. It was four years and some months, that war. Because there was November 11, what they call Veteran's Day. The war started in the last part of July, so those months it was more than four years. What we went through! My husband was in the war. He was almost 18, and they already took him there to fight. In those days they don't fight with cars and machines and things like that, you know. How much they suffered, those boys.
RM: It was just arm-to-arm combat at that time, wasn't it?
FT: What they call infantry; they don't have nothing. After they started fighting in Italy we used to see those lights in the night and hear the bombs shaking. There was some families that were good friends from our village, and then he went in his old age close to the city, not Trieste, but close to the line of Italy, and then he got a job to help himself. He was pretty smart and interested, and he got a job like a policeman, and he make it real good. He raise a family, educated kids and all that, and he was a pensioner already. This is just for an example of what people went through. When the war came, he was close to the Italy line. She was ironing her clothes; you know, it was wash day. They have to leave everything. Oh, boy.
I wish I could explain to you how families suffered. They were refugees. We always was taking them in, and they come from Poland. Like I say, he was a policeman during the First World War, and he came to our village, and I'm telling you, he never went back.
After all the boys came after the war, they went their way. They got jobs and everything like that, but the old people, they made a life where they were, in our village. They lived across the street, and they were telling us how much they went through. The soldiers, before they sent them to the front to fight, they would send them for so many weeks to pack their stuff in the hills. All kinds of experiences like that. That was the First World War. Afterward they were still broke up because they say it was crooked like anything else anymore.
What an experience that was because they are very different people. I don't know how many from our village, one was without an arm, another was without a leg. They didn't even have a pension for them. It was not like it is here. They didn't give them anything. Many got killed in every war in the world; and if this war comes, look out, because every one is different. The first war was bad. The second was worse, but if this comes, look out. We got a great experience ahead of us.
Like Russia, they took hostages, and they keep them there, and some of them suffered, and some did not. How many kids are there that are without fathers? How many died in Viet Nam? That's what makes war. When the First World War started, the young women had men in the service, and they had babies. Some of them did not have them more than once. They came back, and she was with another one, and he come back alive. He was captured. Then it happened that he was captured in Russia, and they treat him so good and everything that he forgot his family, and live there. That's war. And I could tell you more and more.
It was harder for our people when Italy took part of our country. It wasn't the people, because they were so wonderful. I'll repeat it again, it was the ruler. They wanted the ruler, and they win it. We used to pray for Mussolini; then we find out what he was. So that is the war. Our place, Lord knows how many hundreds and hundreds of years, generation after generation, and after came through there was no school. There was Italian school, Italian court. Everything was different; it was hard.
Then the Polish people came with families. There was a house that was empty. The mother died, one man was in America, and one boy got killed in the war, so the house was empty. They moved into those houses, you know, those families. I used to speak real good Polish because there were foreigners with us. There were some places you could find them so neat and clean; but some places they were not. Every nationality is like that in every country. Like a different house.
Like I say, it is something when they send those soldiers from Meneres (?), and some of them stay longer. Some of them stay, and lots of young girls have babies. The Italian boys stationed in Italy, but still they think they have something in their blood against Italians. It wasn't people's fault, but it happened. That's war. We had lots of trouble.
Mr. Darrow, he was in the First World War, and he was stationed for a while in Trieste. Sometime he stopped my work. I would be real tired and want to go home, and he would be there and this Mr. Fifer, and another one was there in the Second World War stationed there, too. It was something because we had that experience. Mussolini, not too long ago it was in the paper that his wife died, and how many kids he had. We used to pray in church for him.
The little kids were 3 ½, and everyone had to enroll them in Fascism. They used to have a little school, for example like kindergarten for these real young kids. When enroll them, they took them more out of the town. They have teachers, women to take care of them because lots of them had to take them to the bathroom, you know the young kids. They weren't trained, some of them yet. When my girl was 3 ½, she was supposed to enroll, and they come to the house to enroll Tony. The day before they came, I show them the papers that my husband sent for me, you know, that I am coming to America. So Tony was already a citizen.
They never speak to me because my parent's house was on Main Street. Everything was passing in front of the house to go to the store, the church, the post office, everything. They used to call her because she was very cute, like every child is cute at that age. We always dressed her nice, and they used to speak to her. They don't even look at me after that.
The parents have to take the kids in the morning at 9:00 to the school, and they keep them there until the afternoon, 3:00 or 3:30, and they have to go and pick them up, I think at 4:00. All they teach them is Mussolini. They dressed them like Mussolini, black cap, white blouse and black skirt; and the boys, black pants, white blouse, and a cap with a Mussolini tassel. They used to take them in a procession, you know, a bunch of them. The teacher would take them in a field close to work, and they would sing the songs for Mussolini. See how they change, the things, really change. The experience, all that we went through; and that wasn't very far from us, 60 miles only, and they were ready any time. They didn't have equipment like now. Now it will be different. It is all the truth.
I just hope it never happens any more, the wars. Like in the Second World War, I wasn't there, honey, but what they do to people, animals wouldn't do that, not animals. You are young. The people are still scared. You know they still have it scary, real scary. Another thing, they don't want to bring up those memories. You know, they are not talking about what they went through.
RM: It was just too hard, wasn't it?
FT: Yes. I have a friend. I have a letter somewhere. My friend lived in another village from us, not the one that Ed Tomsic is from, but farther out from there, close to the mountains. She had five girls when I left there. The youngest one is the same age as Tony. She had a boy after I left. We are some kind of relation. Her husband had the same name as my maiden name. We were friends, what you call friends. The Fascists came, and all those years she remembered. They would have to come to our village because it was more like a town. I mean we had a post office and everything like I told you already. They never come through if it was raining or something like that. You know at that time they don't have cars like now. I don't know how many miles we walked. I think it took one hour to walk. It was pretty far, and lots of times they would come, and if it was raining or something they would come for an umbrella. Next time they would bring it back. In the wintertime they would come for church, and they would come to get warm, things like that.
I'll have to find that letter. She was three years younger than me, and honest to God, when I come now in 1975 there, and when I went out with Johnny to the cemetery to my parents' graves. When I come to the cemetery, right there, I saw her picture. She died just before I came. I really can't get over it because we were such good friends. She was wonderful. Like I say she was three years younger than me, and she wrote to me when the letters started coming to this country. She wrote to me, and she said, “I am really gone nuts. My hair turned all white from what I went through in those years. My five girls, every night before the sun goes down, they have to go up the hills and hide.” They were beautiful children. I wish I could explain it to you. You see our place is rocky, and they have some kind of holes, like caves or something, you know. There were lots of them there, and they hided themselves.
She wrote to me, “And your father every night when the sun goes down, they have to go. In the morning I don't know if they are going to come back or not. They hide because the Fascists come for the girls and take them. God knows what they do to them. And many, many they kill. So she said how lucky I was. “Your father came over every night, and they would go different places.” He knew the hills. He was always working in the hills and everything, and he knew where all those holes are, and he told them here and there, and every night they had to go different places. So just imagine the life. The two girls, one as old as my daughter and one two years older, and they come to get them, and those girls, and many others, seventeen from our village at the same. So they took them, and nobody knew where they took them to or where they go or what they do with them. First they put them in jail. It was like if that place was La Veta, and they took them to Walsenburg. It was a bigger place, and they had a jail. So they keep them in jail. I don't know for how many days in jail there.
After that they disappeared. They don't care, they take those girls, seventeen of them; but they left some men. Afterwards they sent those men to Concentration Camp in Germany. My brother was there. I do not know how many years. But see, nobody don't know any more of those girls. Where they went or what they do, nobody knows. After the trouble was over and people started to come back from the Concentration Camps, the ones that were left, they started to ask each other, “Where are those girls?” Nobody knew. Somehow people got to talking here and there, like for example, from La Veta to Walsenburg. It was different country, and some of them were talking that here and there, there were lots of them buried. People were scared to talk, and they went and dug like where there is a highway and where the land goes down like a ditch like where there are dams for water to stay there. They went and dig, and there they find them. Seventeen beautiful young girls; and that is all they find out. I think it was 2 ½ years afterwards. And all they could recognize was the clothes where they weren't too rotten, and each one hold a big, big, not a stick, more a longer stick, like this in their hand.
RM: What was that for?
FT: No one knows. It is a question. And the men, they went and put them together, and spilled the gas and fire, and they burned them to death. That was the Second World War. Let's pray not for war. Pray for peace. Another thing too, I tell you. You are young and smart. To me, I didn't trust anybody. It is all right, you keep it to yourself. That is what happened in the Second World War. Friend to friend, good friends. I give you a big lesson, right? It is everything the truth. Let's pray for peace.
RM: Tell me how you learned to drive.
FT: My husband got sick, you know. Nobody can drive then, and he was in the hospital, miles away in Pueblo, 79 or 80 days. He likes to see the kids, and he like to see me. It was hard. There were not many cars like now. And the bus was hard. We used to live in Walsen Camp. We had to walk down to the bus, and I didn't know my way at that time. At that time the bus used to stop at Corwin Hospital for people to go visit or for patients to go there, and that was a help. So sometimes I used to take a bus, and sometimes, when other people want, they gave me a ride. When they go to Pueblo, they give me ride and all that. But still it was kind of hard. We had friends and neighbors in Walsen Camp, and they drove the car for me, Mr. and Mrs. Zorba (?), Mr. and Mrs. Stimack, and a couple others. They would drive the car; and boy, they had kids, and I had kids, and it was just like watches in that car.
I mentioned Mrs. Stimack. She still lives in Pueblo, and so she was a big help to me. She came here from Pueblo, and she could speak just like me in Slovenian. They had a car exactly like we had, a 1922 Chevy. How many times my son says we should have that now. Pretty good condition. My husband buys it second hand. That was just before he got sick.
I mentioned to her, I said, “Mrs. Stimack, I have a notion to learn how to drive.” She drove. Not very many women drove then. The camp had a garage. She told me how to use the clutch and shift it little by little. My daughter was in school, and my little boy was still little, about three years old. I used to take him, and we would go down and practice whatever Mrs. Stimack told me. Every time we went we passed her house on the way to the garage. So every time I went, I told her how I had done it, and she, God Bless her, she gave me courage. She would say, “You done fine,” and this and that. And little by little, I don't know how many days, but anyway, the time come that I could shift it, and put it in reverse and 1, 2, 3 and so on.
Then I said, “How do you start it?” They didn't have it like they do now, with a key. You had to start it with a pedal on the floor. I don't know how many days it took me, but finally I started the car. I had that experience that they had said, “Don't ever start the car with a closed door. Always start with an open door.” That was a good lesson, you know. So I started the car, and the door was open, and there was kind of a little switch that you had to go down, and pretty soon, I was out. It wasn't easy to go back up. Boy was I scared! My uncle in Denver had a new car, but he didn't know how to drive it. The kids drove it. So once the car was parked outside, and it started to hail, and the kids weren't home. At that time, they didn't have tops like they do now. So my aunt told him, “John, go try it. Go slow.” So he was driving the car. They had a door in the back of the garage, too in order to go in the alley, and he went through that door and bumped everything. I had that in my mind. So then I back up my car, I went real slow, and I done fine. When I went home, and I started to tell Mrs. Stimack, and I can still see her now, and she said in Slovenian, “Mrs. Tomsic, Thank God. If you went back, you would have gone this way (through the wall of the garage).” That is the way I learned how to drive the car.
That was kind of ….all of my friends were surprised at how I could get a driver's license. I couldn't speak English at that time, but I make it. I pass. I think I understand what they asked me. It was a different test than now. It wasn't so hard, but still it was hard for me because I didn't know how to speak. But I got my driver's license. And I have it yet since 1937. It sure was a great help, honey, for me. Especially when we lived in Walsen Camp and I went for my Citizenship papers. I told you this last time. They had two classes, in the afternoon and in the evening, because there were too many. But for me to leave the kids and work all day for the WPA, it was so much more convenient for me. I still drive today. I don't enjoy it because I am scared of other people's driving, not my own.
RM: The other question that I was going to ask about was the story you mentioned of John's grandfather fighting for 12 years as a young man in a war. You were talking about a young man in the New York Symphony who recorded that history.
FT: There were two men in our village in that war, but I can't tell you which war it was. Everyone knew this story. There were two men from our village in that war so many years. Like I say, I can't believe it is so many years. I am 80 years old now. It was my husband's grandfather, and one other man in that war. This was 150 years ago if not more. They spent twelve years in that war. There weren't cars or anything. So they carried their food and supplies and everything they needed on their horses, and they spent twelve years, and they speak German just like Slovenian. My husband's grandfather died first, but I still remember him. My husband looked most like him. I don't know when the other man died, but that was in 1927, and he was crippled in the war.
In 1927 my husband come back, and we got married. In the same month there was a man from our village who was well educated because he came from a rich family. Years ago over there, there were rich, and poor, no middle class people, and he was from a well educated family. He went to college in Vienna, and then after he went to this country, he was playing in the New York Symphony Orchestra. There were four brothers, and he was named Milan. We were almost neighbors, and he came back to visit his mother and everybody. There wasn't one day while he was there that he didn't visit this crippled man. He took all kind of pictures, all kind of writing about him. He didn't have equipment like you do now, this tape recorder and everything. He took all kind of history from this man. Sometimes you feel that your life is….let me explain it. He is the one that give to my husband….He left a week before my husband. I told you he came back in April and left in September, 1927. Before my husband left, he gave him a piece of paper with his pictures on it so that when he come to New York to go to a certain place because he was well-known, and he told my husband, “John, you don't have to go to the mine. I will find you a job in New York.” How many times my husband mentioned this! But he went back to the coal mines so that he would have a good chance. Not that he would have had some high class job there, but he could find him something to make a living. That was 1927 and his name was Trest. He had three brothers, and they were all educated. His three brothers died, and I always wanted to know if he is still alive because he was just a wonderful man with his class and his education, but still he was nice to the people, see. I wish I knew which war it was that that man was crippled in. We had too many wars. I know my grandparents remembered that. They had a war with the Turks and France years ago.
I mentioned to you last time that our place is rocky and is in the mountains. You know when you go to Monument Lake (over Cuchara Pass) you remember how you start these rock-like walls. They remind me of back home because they have a stone line, and one side is France, and the other side is Turks. They are not so high as these walls here, but you can see the line. So they used to have wars there. Then they had the First World War, the Second World War. You never know what is coming. You never know. It is too bad, but like I say, every war gets worse. Mixed up whole world. The older you are, the more you like to know things.
I got a letter today from a man I grew up with. I really cry. They lived next door to us. He wrote to me just like we were sister and brother, you know what I mean. He still signs his name, “Your neighbor,” and he wished me Happy Birthday. It is something that means so much……this. We have big high mountains, and this is one that is really, really something. Only on the highest mountains does this flower grow.
RM: Is this an edelweiss? It is really beautiful.
FT: He sent me this for my birthday. His nephew sent it from there to him, and he sent it to me for my birthday. It is not much, but to me it is something really wonderful. We grew up together, you know, and we always write that we wish we lived closer. He and my husband were very, very good friends. He is going to be 82 next year. Sometimes you wish you were closer because maybe he remembers something. He told me how it was hard when he come to this country, and he left home after my husband did. We had great experiences, you know, honey. People that never had that experience can't realize how much that means. Like I say, that makes life.
RM: That is a wonderful present.
FT: Very thoughtful.
RM: Very sweet.
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