When You Give a Kid a Quarter

Ever since the first day of the semester when I signed up for ancestry.com, my grandmom has helped my tremendously with my portfolio. So, it was only fit to interview her, so I could include her stories and memories within my project. Throughout the semester, my grandmom has been sending me names of relatives, dates family members arrived in America, places we thought they originated from, loads of pictures, and other useful information dispersed throughout my portfolio. She has helped me more than any website ever could have and has been more than happy to do so. In fact, she knew I had class every Tuesday and Thursday, and would text me during class asking how English class was that day. I knew what she really meant was, “How can I help you today?” She has been retired for a few years, so I know that helping me do some research and dig through old photographs has been her new favorite hobby. When sending me pictures, I noticed that there were so many I had never seen. This made me realize that there were so many more things that I did not know about her life. With every new picture she sent, I wanted to know more.

Left: My grandmom, as a 3 year old, before church on Easter; Right: Me at my 3rd birthday party

Me: Do you mind if I record the interview?

Grandmom: No, I don’t mind. I know you have to ask.

Me: When and where were you born?

Grandmom: I was born in Coaldale, Pennsylvania.

Me: When were you born?

Grandmom: Are you going to give this information…is it okay to give this information out? I was born on June 7th, 1950.

Me: Yes, it’s okay to give it out…I’m not like…you’ll listen and understand. Okay, so what was your life like growing up?

Grandmom: Oh, I had a wonderful life. I lived in Coaldale until I was four and I had a sister who was 3 years older than me and my mom and dad. Then we moved to Philadelphia and then on weekends we would come back to Coaldale to take care of my grandfather and um you know, my mom and dad always took care of us. We always had nice clothes and food to eat and on our birthdays, my mom would say you can have whatever you want for dinner and she would make any cake you wanted. I had good friends and I had friends that I had in Philadelphia in my school years and then from after we got out of school until labor day, we went to the lake house and we were there all summer and I had friends up there.

Me: Very nice! How did your parents incorporate their Russian culture into your life?

Grandmom: Uh, actually, by going to church and um, I went to Sunday School and just the traditions that were brought up from their parents and foods that we ate.

Me: Can you give me any examples?

Grandmom: My parents would make pierogies, my parents made borscht — it’s a beet soup. At Christmas time we would have Holy Supper and there was no dairy or meat…you would have fish and vegetables and at Easter time, we would go to the church and we got an easter basket that had food that was blessed with horseradish, ham, kalbasea, salt and pepper. There was also always a candle in the basket and the priest would come around in church hall and bless all of the food with holy water. Then after, we would fast all day then the next night, you were able to eat and we always ate something from the blessed basket first.

Me: Very cool, I didn’t know that. Did you and your family have any of your own traditions that were not part of the church or not passed down? Traditions that you made yourself?

Grandmom: Yeah, we always had because there were different Easters because some of my parents families did not stay Orthodox, some turned Jewish, some turned into Presbyterians, a lot of the family would come back to Mom-Mom and Poppy’s house at our easter, Russian easter and we would have, that would be our tradition. They would all come to our house. And at Christmas time, St Nicholas, his day was December the 6th and Mom-Mom loved St Nicholas so we would put up Poppy’s dress socks that were black, ya know that men wear, and we would get an orange and a 50 cent piece so that was our own tradition that we had.

Me: Aw, that’s sweet!

My grandmom and her sister, Alexis.

Grandmom: Yeah, and Mom-Mom and Poppy always had candy for me and we always, when we traveled in our neighborhood, we always had corner stores. And Poppy and Mom-Mom would give us each a quarter and we would go to the corner store and we would get a brown bag. So that was a tradition that me and my sister had like whenever we were traveling back and forth to Philly and Coaldale for my Grandpop — his name was Dietzo actually — and we had a quarter and we each get a 5 cent sugar daddy because that lasted a long time, but then my little bag was full because i would get something that was like 3 for a penny or 2 for a penny and my sister’s was only half full.

Me: Oh my goodness! Of course you had a full bag, you have such a sweet tooth!

Grandmom: Yeah, and then on Saturdays, Poppy would go to this corner store and we always had sandwiches with a jewish pickle and potato chips and that was our Saturday lunch, ya know. Poppy always went to periodically probably like once every two weeks or once a month, Poppy would go to 4th and Richmond in Philadelphia and bring home homemade rye bread from the bakery.

Me: Aw, so cute!

Grandmom: Yeah, because we enjoyed that, with a lot of butter hahahaha. So that’s ya know traditions like at Lake Hauto, we always had a huge fireplace and poppy would make a huge fire and everyone would congregate at our house. Like memorial day, July 4th, Labor Day, anybody’s birthday or an anniversary, all of the cooking would be done on the fireplace. And Poppy used to make the best baked potatoes. He’d would wrap them up in foil with butter and then throw them in the fire. Oh, they were wonderful! And then they would buy like a keg of beer for the men and then us kids had root beer. That was a tradition that we had all of the time and it was always at our house. Cause poppy like literally made this huge huge fireplace facing club drive.

Me: I can picture it. So going off of what you said about church, what religion did you associate with when you were a kid and what would you say you are now?

Grandmom: I would say Russian Orthodox and I would still say that I am Russian Orthodox. And I uh ya know do some traditions and other ones I don’t.

Me: When you were a child, did you go to church every week?

Grandmom: Yes, every Sunday and holidays and they were long, very long services. Like they were an hour and a half to two hour services.

Me: And what was your church experience like other than that they were long?

Grandmom: Um, I really enjoyed them because I learned about the church and actually one summer, my sister and I went to Saint Tikhon’s and attended camp.

Me: With the Russian Orthodox church?

Grandmom: Yes, it was Saint Tikhon’s. It was nice because in the morning, you got up early and you put the United States flag up, ya know that was the first thing you did in the morning and then we had church services and actually I learned to eat dark rye bread there which we didn’t usually have — we had light rye bread and I learned to eat other foods that they made differently. Like you know in other parts of the country, they make things differently with different spices or different like Mom-Mom and Poppy when they make pierogies, they use sour cream to make it light, but some people use flour and water and it is heavier. So it just depends, some people put cheddar cheese in and some put american and that’s how things change. The custom is the same but the ingredients change from where you are or what’s available in your area.

Me: Yeah, definitely. How was your life…

Grandmom: Also too, while I was in school, with the church, I was in the church choir, and we traveled around at Christmas time and sang carols and I was on the bowling team.

Me: Very cool!

Grandmom: It was a really nice experience.

Me: Yeah, you were really involved?

Grandmom: Yeah, it was called the Junior R Club.

Me: Very cool. Since your parents were the first of their family members to be born in America, how was your life different than your peers’ at school? Do you think it was different at all?

Grandmom: No, I don’t think so, no because a lot of my friends, their parents were born in America the same, ya know and I just had when I was younger, when I went to elementary school, Benjamin Franklin, we had um my sister and I and another brother and sister were the only Russian Orthodox children in the whole school. Our easter was different, but then when I went to junior high school, I encountered jewish people. I did not really know too much about the jewish culture but I learned more about it. The school was probably 60 percent jewish so I learned the culture, ya know what I’m saying? Which was a nice experience. Until this day, I just went to my 50th class reunion like two years ago.

Me: Yes, I remember.

Grandmom: And it’s funny because all of the kids I went from kindergarten to 12th grade we all stayed together.

Me: Oh wow.

Grandmom: Yeah, that doesn’t usually happen because sometimes you just go your own way, but that’s what happened

Me: Very cool. How were your family dynamics? Did everyone get along? Were you guys a close family?

Grandmom: Yeah, I would say we got along. My sister was 3 years older so that kind of like the only drawback was you got hand me downs, ya know what I’m saying?

Me: Of course, I can understand.

Grandmom: Other than that, it was always good like when I drove, she would always say, do you wanna come with me? Like when I was going to high school, I was nervous, I was a freshman and she was a senior and she would walk me through school and I felt good because she was there.

Me: Of course, that’s how Sam and I were.

Grandmom: And then Poppy, she was on the bowling team and she was a varsity and I was a junior varsity and Poppy would come to our games and our matches and so that was good.

First place medals my grandmom won for twirling and marching (she sent them after our interview because she forgot to mention it at the time).

Me: Thats fun!

Grandmom: And in school, I was even in junior high school and senior high school, I was always in student government. Loved it.

Me: Was your sister in it, too?

Grandmom: I was always the secretary, yeah I always took the notes.

Me: Very cool, I was in student council too in high school.

Grandmom: Yeah, I loved it. I really, really did.

Me: Me too.

Grandmom: A lot of my friends were in the business school and I didn’t know shorthand, I just wrote and then I had one book and I would write my notes, ya know what I mean?

Me: Uh huh.

Grandmom: And one time, when we were in junior high school, I ran for president and there was like three or four people would run and then what would happen is, everyone would get a spot. The person that had the most votes would get President and then it was like Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. And it was funny because when I gave my speech, it was all boys and at the end of my speech, I looked at the boys and said may the best girl win and looked at each of the boys.

Me: Oh my goodness, Grandmom! That’s so funny!

Grandmom: I didn’t win, but it was a good experience because you can’t win at everything.

Me: Exactly.

Grandmom: And sometimes losing is a good thing because it prepares you for something else in life, ya know?

Me: Most definitely. Do you know anything about your family name and why it was changed from Habrolovic to Harb?

Grandmom: Yes, because Poppy was in business and Poppy was an official like he did basketball, football, and baseball and he just thought the name would be easier. And his brothers actually changed their name to Harby, H-A-R-B-Y.

Me: Oh, I did not know that.

Grandmom: Some of his brothers changed their names to Harby, but he changed it to Harb and Uncle Chick was the only one. Because it was Uncle Walt Harby, Uncle Tom Harby, and then Uncle Chick, he’s Harbolovic, he stayed the same, and Poppy changed it to Harb because he figured that was easier.

Me: I did not know that.

Grandmom: Yeah, that’s why he changed it.

Me: Very interesting.

Grandmom: And he had to go to court and all to change that.

Me: Yeah, of course. Do you have any ideas or any guesses as to why Mom-Mom and Poppy’s parents immigrated from Russia to America?

Grandmom: Because they had turmoil in Russia with the zar and all so they decided to come to America to have a better life and they came through Ellis Island.

Me: Very cool.

Grandmom: And they settled when they came, the Yarosky family, Mom-Mom’s family, they came to Coaldale and so did the Harbolovic’s also. But Mom-Mom and Poppy were like I said were born in the United States.

Me: Okay, well thank you so so much, that answers all of my questions.

Grandmom: Was it sufficient enough?

Me: Yes, that was great.

Grandmom: Okay, anything you need hahaha. It’s a good thing you didn’t call me tomorrow because…

My grandmom’s senior yearbook photo (1967).

Reflecting on the interview:

What I have learned, what I look forward to, and challenges I faced

How does your tradition-bearer’s story relate to your community in both the present and the past? How does it relate to you?

My grandmom’s story relates to my community in the past and present through my grandmom’s lifetime. My grandmom was born and raised in Coaldale, Pennsylvania which is located about an hour and a half of where my family currently resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania. My grandmom’s story connects with the past and with my present because she is the link to her parent’s family from Russia and her children and grandchildren in the United States. Although her mother was born and raised in America, my grandmother is the first one whose whole family was born and raised in America. Her grandparents are the ones who immigrated here and her parents were born and raised through their parents Russian lifestyle. Her story relates to me because she was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and so were my sisters and me. She placed her family’s roots in Pennsylvania where we still are now.

How did your perception of community history change, from before the interview to now?

My perception of community history changed because of the ways through which my grandmom described her childhood and how it compares with mine. I have read so many articles about Russian immigrants to America and immigrants living in Pennsylvania, but the best stories are the real stories, like my grandmom’s. She was able to tell me about her peers and what her school was like living in a melting pot of students whose parents and grandparents recently immigrated from all over the world. Her story made me realize how different my area alone was, such a short time ago. It amazes me that so many incredible changes have occurred since the time she was in school to my school years.

How did this project inspire you to learn more about your family and community?

After listening to my grandmom’s stories and learning more about her life and her side of the family, I am inspired to learn about her husband’s side of the family as well. My grandpop is one of six children and I am interested to hear about how his life was different from my grandmom’s, since she was only one of two. In addition, through researching, I have learned bits of information about coal mining in Pennsylvania. This project has made me curious to continue researching the coal mining history in my home state and watch the movie, Mine 9, that I discovered through my research. Lastly, I am inspired to learn more about my father’s side of the family since I have gained copious amounts of knowledge about only my mother’s side through this project.

What were some of the challenges you faced during this project? What could you do differently in your next oral history interview?

Some of the challenges I faced during this project were deciding which side of the family to research and finding out where my maternal great-great grandparents actually came from. In my next oral history interview, I could visit my great grandfather’s brother, my Uncle Chick. He and my grandmom are the only ones on their side of the family that are still alive. My Uncle Chick is my poppy’s older brother and he was born just after his parents moved to America. I think he would have an even better perspective on growing up in America since his parents had just moved before he was born. I would have liked to interview him, but it would have been very difficult since I go to school in Georgia and he lives in Pennsylvania with limited access to a phone. However, if I could do anything differently, I would definitely interview my Uncle Chick.

If the roles were reversed and you became the tradition-bearer, what stories would you like to tell?

If I became the tradition-bearer, I would tell stories about my childhood and what it was like growing up as the middle of three girls. My life was crazy, full of laughter, and looking back, I enjoyed every minute of it. For a father who had always wished for a son, he was meant to only have girls, in my opinion. He is the best dad that my sisters and I could have asked for. He is just tough enough on us to encourage us to absolutely never give up, always try our absolute hardest, and keep pushing through. However, he is the most gentle, teddy bear of a guy for being a 6 foot 7 giant.

In addition to my childhood, I would tell stories about my mom and dad. They have both turned out extremely successful and I hope to be like them one day. My mom was the first to graduate college in her family and my dad was the first to graduate on his side as well. My sister graduates next weekend and then, fingers crossed, I will graduate in a few years. The furthest any of my mom’s parents got in education was one semester in college. Then, they met, dropped out, got married, and had my mom. Although none of my grandparents went to college, it is inspiring that my mom and dad both chose to continue their education and receive their degrees. I hope to one day share my stories of how I became as successful as both of them have become over the years and journey it took to get where I am.

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