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Conversation with Barbara A. Pendse

Pendse, Barbara A.
Date of Interview: 
overcoming obstacles; relationships with people and places; stories and storytellers; cultural identification; tolerance and respect
Barbara Pendse talks about how her grandparents met, married and came to the US, and how they influenced her life growing up.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
This is from a collection of interviews of Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
BP (Barbara A. Pendse): OK. I am going to talk about my grandparents and the time, uh, in Hungary where, when they met and how they came to America. Um, my grandfather um, met my grandmother at a wedding in Hungary. At the time he was a soldier in World War I and, um, he had gotten wounded in fire, um, at the front line. Um, my grandfather was wounded very badly and lay in the ice and the snow for a long time bleeding and, um, some nice officer, uh, switched uniforms with him and another officer because my grandfather wasn't, um, a high ranking officer and when they switched the uniform, um, they deemed that he was, um, um, necessary to get some medical help. Otherwise had he just had his regular soldier's uniform on they would have left him to die. But anyway, he was taken to a hospital and he had a long time recuperating, but when he did get better, they wanted him to go out and fight again and he, he ran away [laugh].
UV (Unknown Voice): Uh-huh.
BP: Uh, I am really happy [laugh] that he ran away because I wouldn't be here if he didn't [laugh].
UV: True.
BP: They were going to put him in prison but the war ended by that time. And he met my grandmother at a wedding and my grandmother came from a very large family of, um, I would say poor peasant people. Um, they had to work on the fields, out on the fields harvesting tobacco and, um, corn and vegetables. She came from a family of six sisters and five brothers and a mother who had been remarried because her father died when she was very young. Um, fortunately, they did marry into a family where the man had no children, the, the father, stepfather, and, um he was very kind to all the children and he had a decent job, um, in the public administration. But still, in that area where they came in Hungary, which now is a very small village in Yugoslavia, um, they, people just didn't have a lot of money. Um, they worked, they worked in the farms and raised sheep and did the best they could and everyone in the family worked together. There were many soldiers on both sides of my, um, family, uh, my grandfather's family and my grandmother's family. And so many people were killed in the war. Um, my grandfather's entire family died during that time. His sisters died of, of illnesses and, and of viruses and plague and his brothers were killed in the war. So he was left with no family members by the time he came to America. Um, they traveled on a large ship called Lusitania and got very sick [laugh] sailing over to America and wondered if they would be going to die because some people did get sick and actually died on, on that journey. Um, when they came here to America, they landed in Philadelphia, uh, Pennsylvania and there was no place for them to stay. They had little bit of money but not much. Um, my grandmother had left all of her family and my grandfather also left. They were leaving their country, all their culture behind. And when they arrived they slept up on a park bench in the park in Philadelphia. They did this for several days until my grandmother, uh, found herself sitting on the front steps of, uh, a woman's home, crying. She was looking for some way to find a job and she had no skills, she could, she didn't speak any English. And, um, she was crying and a Jewish woman who lived in, um, this town home in Philadelphia came out and talked to with her. And sure enough, um, the Jewish woman was from Hungary and she spoke Hungarian.
UV: Wow.
BP: So my grandmother and her spoke the same language and, um, she asked her, you know, like she comforted my grandmother and the Jewish woman was married and had a little baby and a child and my grandmother was always very good with children. So, she hired my grandmother as a nanny and a cook and maid. And for the next two years, she allowed my grandmother to stay in her home and to work and make money while my grandfather was, was supposed to find a job and it was hard for him. But he was not allowed to stay in the Jewish woman's, uh, the Jewish family's home because they didn't want them together for some reason even though they had a room. [Pause in recording] I am not sure why, but my grandmother always said that she was very kind and helpful to them. My grandfather did find work in restaurants and he did speak a little English because he spoke five different languages and he learned English a little on the ship when he came over. He was very smart that way. Um, I think soldiers in Hungary were very, um, a little higher-educated than just regular farmers. So, um, he picked up English very quickly, working in a restaurant, meeting people, he was very sociable and friendly and, um, liked meeting different kinds of people. And then he did finally get a job at, um, RCA, which is a major electronics company and worked his way up through RCA and became a teacher of electronics with having no college education [laugh]. But he did train at RCA and, um, I remember him retiring from RCA with a nice gold watch and he was so very proud. My grandparents spoke Hungarian around me and they took care of me in their home when I was a baby. Um, and my, my mother also, she was from, uh, Italy, her family was from Italy. So I grew up listening to Italian, fluent Sicilian-Italian, and Hungarian, um, most of the time. But my grandfather had made a decision in our family, he was the leader of our family, that we children, would learn how to speak English. And so, whenever they could speak to us, they spoke in English and then they would speak back and forth with us in English but we heard this other, these other languages all the time. Um, I, I admire my grandfather because, even though he came from this old foreign country with, uh, his old views and my grandmother was not allowed by him to venture out and attain any educational, um, work or anything like that, he was a bit chauvinistic, patron-, [laugh] patronizing, he did educate my grandmother how to speak English and he was constantly bringing friends in, well-educated friends, to talk and converse with them and socializing and expected her to keep up and, and, and shared his knowledge with her. But when it came to time for me to make a choice about what I was going to do in high school, my grandfather told me that I must go to college.
UV: Uh-huh.
BP: He said, "In America," um, "women have to be educated." And so I really have respect for him in realizing that there was a difference here in this country and that, um, it was important for women to do other things besides, you know, just stay home with the family and not ever venture out and do anything. Um, my grandfather, um, had a stroke when I was in high, um, high school.
UV: Uh-huh.
BP: Not long after, he asked me to go to college and, and encouraged me and, um, he was paralyzed for ten years and my grandmother took care of him and then he did die when I was in my first year of college and it was very, uh, sad-.
UV: Yeah.
BP: -And hard for me. Uh, and my grandmother just passed on just a couple of years ago and I miss them both because they were very much leaders in our family and, and always close to me, there, there for me and, um, took care of me like parents, actually. Um, so, I had two sets of parents. [Laughter] And I so miss that closeness and plus when they died, my culture, part of my culture dies for me. I am no longer in touch with my cultures, um, very much. Um, I remember, um, one thing I do remember about our culture in Hungary is that the people there love art, they love to either, uh, speak poetry or, uh, write poetry, or paint, or sculpt, and almost every Hungarian has an art skill aside from their everyday working skill.
UV: Hmm.
BP: Um, it could be singing or dancing or whatever but they love to dance and they love art. They love to share it with each other. And so, I, my first profession was art because my grandmother would sit and paint with me many, many, um, Saturdays and Sundays and that's how I learned how to do art and appreciate it.
UV: Hmm.
BP: Um, my grandfather was a very astute learner. He liked to learn things about everybody and every place. He was what I call a walking encyclopedia. Um, he also liked to debate and act and I kind of, I think because he was a natural teacher, maybe I picked up some of those traits as well. So, I think my grandparents had more to do with influencing and shaping my, um, profession and the way I think than actually my parents.