Jacob Tereshko (1896-1987)
[Extracted from Westford Memories, A Collection of Interviews (1983), pp. 43-45, conducted and published by Charles Vogel’s 8th Grade Class at Abbot Middle School, Westford, Mass.]
Mr. Jacob Tereshko
(born January 16, 1896, White Russia)
Interviewed by Scott Arimento and Brian Hudak
I born in the White Russia, state Grodno, town Dubno, village Suehenech, my name: Jacob Tereskho. I born 1896, January 16. I come to this country 1913, June 18. In old country I live in one room, eighteen people. We get big stove, make them fire, make dinner, everything on that stove, warm twenty-four hours a day. We get no chimney in the house, all smoke go in the house, come out the door. We get one big hole up into ceiling smoke come out. We get no education. My father can no read, can no write, mother·too. I go to school eight years, but I go to school when I finish cows.·I go to school maybe four hours.
We live pretty good but after we get separated half land get my grandfather brother. Half land keep for my father and his brother. After my uncle separate again, no enough land. My father get four boys·and one daughter. We make bread. We no need nothing. But, no land what we gonna do? My brother [Wasil] go United States. He stay over here three years. Hake a little money, come home. Buy nice horse and stay·six months home. After come back again, I go over to him he go, I go and my aunt go. Come this country. He work hard over there. Men work hard in the summer and in winter men no work; but lady, they work hard about cloth. Hake everything made by hand, linen.
Daughter married young, no’ help, nothing. But, I help my mommy. I help, my old country. If you go work in garden man work, people laugh, all woman work, but·I help. I don’t care if my friend laugh for me, for I help my mommy. My friend call me mommy’s boy, I say “I am mommy’s boy.” After that we come to the United States.
Q: When you came to the United States, why did you come to Westford?
A: I came over here because my brother lived over here three years before. All from my village, almost all people are over, all neighbors, all cousins, we come over here. When we come over here no much work. I stay home two, three weeks, my cousin keep me.
I get job up to Chelmsford. I come over there and come back for shoes. I work over there maybe three months. I go·over there and that man make old belt. Just like cloth, but no cloth, and run big engine, big wheel. I try it. I come over there and I know that room because when my mother, old country, make cloth I go in and make cloth by hand. My mother make by hand, when I spoil it, but I see how my mother do that. I come over here, I know that over here better because machine run it. We put old country by hand. I got job over there. I stay one day. That boss, he say, “Jacob, tomorrow I give you machine.” I run it because I know, I know better over here than old country. He give me job. I work, he give me pay from first day just like people who work over there all the time. Eight dollars and ten cents for fifty-four hours a week. When I get paid at dinner time, all men go outside just like, get dinner, I go in men’s room. Men’s room got water in the bottom near river. I open envelope, I look and my ten cents go down the water. My first pay, you know, that time ten cents, better than now, ten dollars. Oh, I’m sorry.
I work over there maybe three months and then no work. That time I go pick apples. You know Littleton Depot? I work over there. I work over there picking apples. I pick apples up to Drew. After I go look for apples, no much work, but go just the same. One girl work over here, maybe four or five years, she says, “Jacob, I give for you to superintendent ten dollars. I give it, job for you.” I say, “I’m glad, give it.” And she give it ten dollars, and I get the job.
When we come from the old country, and boys come·to United States, stay in bunches. We get first jobs in United States because we work. We work hard. First when I get my pay I send it to my mommy, all my pay. My mommy say, “No send me money. Keep it yourself.” I say, “I don’t care mommy, I no forget you.” And I·work. In 1915 I find the girl I married.
Q: Was she from Westford?
A: Westford, Russian girl. Russian girl I know, that Russian girl from village in old country. Over here all the Russian boys sleep over here four boys in one·bed. Some people sleep down cellar, some in attic, and no steam heat like now. We poor people, that no matter that we from old country. United States people just the same, no street, no electricity, no bath in house.
I work for Abbot fifty years. 1956 Abbot’s close, I very worried because I sixty years old that time, can’t get my Social Security, too young. One day boss comes to me, say, “Jacob, you want ·to go to work for Abbot’s in Lowell?” Wow, I’m glad, just like a million dollars. I don’t care what I gonna say for myself, but everyone like me for my work. I work for Abbot’s at war time when we get·short of people. I work two and a half years, sixteen hours a day.
Q: That was World War II?
A: Yes, sixteen hours a day. And my wife worked. And I work that, but I keep one year three big pig. I buy in spring and keep them all summer. In the morning I get up and feed my pigs in the woods. I come for dinner time home. I make a mix for my pig at our dinner time and go to work again. Night time the same thing. One year I pick them, for my pig, five hundred and eight pounds of apples. I sell one, but two I kill myself. I can separate it good, I see how my father old country do that.
Q: Did your mother ever come over?
A: No, you know, my mother died fifty-seven years yesterday. My mother died the same day I’m born. My birthday yesterday. I been thirty years old when my mother died.
Q: About this house, before you owned this house did you rent it?
A: No, no, all houses belong to Abbot. This house, everything, just across the street, one man get it. Most everything belong to the company, we pay no much rent. We pay for home five dollars. My brother-in-law and me live together because, Abbot’s, if you have no much family, no give it to you. We came together with my brother-in-law and my wife, brother and we get, I think six people and Abbot give house. Because no many houses. Abbot say when no many people·work, can’t get it. We live for, this house I buy I think 1941.
Q! Did you buy it from Abbot?
A: Yes, I buy it when Abbot’s going to sell house. First, I want a build house, but Abbot no build it how you want it. He go around and show me name, Mr. Hailey [Healy?], and I no build. Manager of the houses take me, and I go see lots of houses he show me, if I want to buy it. I like this one, that’s why I get garden over here. I get big garden over here. I pay for this house two thousand dollars. September first I move over here. I buy early in the spring, but people live over here can’t move now.
Q: When you moved to the United States did you ever see your mother again?
A: No, no, I never see mother no more. I write letter before I come United States from road to my mommy. I write letter every week to my mommy. I send her money how much I get for my mommy. One man come from Russia three years ago, from my village and I know him. I talk with him. He say, “Who’s that? Maybe that man who send lots of money to old country.” I say, “That’s it. Maybe I tell someone over here they will think I’m a liar.” But I say, “Thank you for your say it like that.” I send my money, mommy best friend in the world. If you lose a mommy, no more mommy. Even Bible say, if you lose a wife, you get another one. If you lose a baby you get another one. But, if you lose a mommy, no more mommy. Even if I think now, I cry for my mommy.
Q: Did you celebrate any Russian holidays?
A: Yes, Easter. Christmas before get different. Before we celebrate Russian Christmas, January 7. But now churches come together, all same time. But, our biggest thing is Easter.
Q: Do you belong to the Russian Orthodox Church?
Q: In this area are there a lot of Russian people?
A: Oh, maybe a hundred over here. When I come this country and somebody died we bury it St. Catherine. But after, somebody say we no Christian people. What we going to do? We get town cemetery, we go over there, but nobody know about that. Well, we buy place and make Russian cemetery. We work hard. We come from work, everybody go over there, work over there.
Q: Mr. Abbot controlled the whole village didn’t he?
A: The whole town, you might as well say. But, he’s a good man. When we pay five dollars rent, if you don’t have work, he cut it down $2.50. If he send them home when no much work, when it pick up come back. He took care of us. He care us, like a good father care kids, that’s true.
Q: Could you tell us about becoming a citizen?
A: I go to Abbot, the town send them three teachers, in the hall and we go to school. We learn everything about the United States. When we go for citizenship paper we know answer when they ask me. Everything they ask me, we go to Boston.
Q: Where did you learn to speak English?
A: I no speak very well now. Well, teacher come over here, you know I’m pretty good education in Russian language. We get over here, even people from England come over here, he talk good. But he no understand nothing. Can’t read, can’t write. He go to that school. We go night time sometime. I don’t know how many nights, but we go.