Ludmila Anderko was born in the small mountain town of Kolačkov, northeastern Slovakia, in 1949. Her mother stayed at home and raised Ludmila and her three sisters, while her father worked in a textile factory in nearby Kežmarok during the week, coming home to visit the family on weekends. According to Ludmila, who had to help out with farm work from an early age, the hilly ground around Kolačkov was hard to farm, so no attempts to collectivize agriculture were ever made in the village.
Ludmila’s aunt Alžbeta had left Kolačkov in the 1920s and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1966, she made a visit back to Slovakia and met Ludmila and her sisters for the first time. Following this visit, Ludmila maintained contact with her aunt, and was invited to come and stay with her in Cleveland in 1969. By this time, Ludmila had already finished her training to be a shop clerk and was working in the local store in Kolačkov. She decided to visit Cleveland and make a decision about whether to stay or not once she had spent some time in the city.
Ludmila did decide to stay, living first with her aunt Alžbeta in Maple Heights, an eastern suburb. After two years, she moved by herself to Lakewood, renting a property just opposite what was then a Slovak Church – Sts. Cyril & Methodius (now known as Transfiguration Parish). It was here that Ludmila says she became much more involved in the Slovak community, frequenting Slovak dances, starring in Slovak Dramatic Club plays and attending the local Slovak Civic Club in Lakewood. It was at a dance at Česká síň Sokol on Clark Street that Ludmila met her husband Frank. The pair were married in 1973 and have four children. Ludmila encouraged all of her children to participate in the local Slovak dance troupe Lucina and, as a consequence, several of them traveled to Slovakia to perform with the group at a folk festival in Detva in 2008. In recent years, Ludmila has been making a number of public appearances as one third of the trio Slovenské mamičky [The Slovak Mothers], performing traditional Slovak folk songs as well as original works written by accordion player Monika Smid. Ludmila lives not far from her sister Marie, who came to the United States in 1980.
“I was very close to my maternal grandparents. They died a few months after I left Slovakia, and I really loved them. At one point, we lived across from my maternal grandparents, so I was very close to them; I always sat in their house. And my grandmother was very religious, she would go every night with a candle to pray in the church. Of course, the church was closed, but she would stay, you know, outside the church, by the door with the candle praying every evening. And sometimes I would go to church with her too and she had all kinds of holy books and she had all kinds of mission magazines that were like illegal in Slovakia. And I would just read them, you know, I just loved to read and I was there all the time and reading, and I loved to be there with my grandmother, so…”
“They didn’t say too much, they just said it was bad, you know, and they were saying about the Jewish people… and there was a cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, behind the little river in our village. And I never met a Jewish person until I came to America. I never knew there were any Jewish people alive in Slovakia. I never knew, but there was so… Apparently there were some Jewish people, but I never met anybody, until I came here.”
“When I was going to school in Stará Ľubovňa, and when we were, when I was, learning my trade, they would take us, and we had to go to Hniezdne, that was like a city next to Stará Ľubovňa, and mostly in the fall we would go and pick up potatoes – yeah. Which was a lot of fun because we were happy to be outside, instead of being, sitting, in the classroom or stuff like that, and they gave us food so we ate, and you know it was like… it was fun.”
“It just, you know, I saw that life was a lot easier over here, that you could get money faster than there. You have to, you have to work, you know, but it’s like it seems to be easier than in Slovakia. And, I really missed my family – the first two years I would cry every weekend. I missed my, you know, everybody, and then later on I met some young people that came from Slovakia and we made a… we started singing and performing and dancing and stuff like that, which was a lot easier and I felt like I was at home, you know, not in America, but like I was in Slovakia. And we also made a play, you know, we had a play also in Slovak over here so… And I was, actually, I played the same part in the play that I played in Slovakia as I did in America, in the same, same play.”
“The first two years I worked in Joseph & Feiss, which was a factory making men’s suits. Now it’s called Hugo Boss. And mostly European people worked there. Mostly they were from Eastern Europe, like Slovaks and Czechs and Ukrainians and Polish. And how it happened? One lady from our village, she worked there, she was like a supervisor there, and that’s why she got me a job there. And so what happened was that I got a Ukrainian boss. So, the first two years, I didn’t speak any English, because I spoke Slovak and he spoke Ukrainian and we understood each other, with everybody else I could speak, so I didn’t learn any English, I understood everything. My cousin was telling me ‘Speak English, speak English,’ and I said ‘No, you’re going to laugh at me if I say something in English because I’m not going to say it right.’ So, he was always telling me, and his wife was Polish
– my cousin’s wife was Polish – so, I spoke with my dialect with her. So I didn’t have to learn any English.
“But after being here two years, when I moved to Lakewood, I started working somewhere else, and there were mostly who didn’t speak, you know, European, they used to speak English. And there were two Puerto-Rican sisters, and they had been here for like 20 years. And when I heard them, how they speak English, I’m thinking ‘Why should I be ashamed? I mean, they have been here for 20 years, I have been here for a few years, if they have an accent, why should I be afraid?’ And so I just started speaking and that’s how I speak!”
Return to Slovakia
“Well, when the changes first started in 1989, my favorite store was K-Mart. And then they opened a K-Mart in Slovakia. So I said ‘I don’t want to go to Slovakia, because they don’t have a K-Mart over there.’ And so there, when they opened a K-Mart, so they said ‘Okay, so now they have K-Mart over there, so you can, you know, live there!’ And for some reason, I still feel like, I don’t know, it’s still not, you know, I’m so used to being like… I lived one-third of my life there, and I have lived two-thirds of my life here, so, I’m so used to it, I feel like my home is over here. I mean I still love my country, I still love my heritage, that’s what I try pushing onto my kids, which they appreciate, they really love it. Like [my daughter] Anita went to an American wedding, and she… you know, at a Slovak wedding, you would come home at 1:00 in the morning, or until they let you, how long they let you stay in the hall.
She came home at 10:00. It was her friend from grade school who was getting married. And she comes home and she says ‘Mum, I am so happy to be a Slovak.’ We’ve got so much more, a lot more fun than those people over there. She said ‘I didn’t like the music, I didn’t like anything over there. I liked the food, but I didn’t like the music, that’s why I came home. Because we have a lot more fun, we like… you know, that’s why I’m happy to be Slovak.’ So you know probably a lot of different nationalities feel the same way, you know, but that’s what she said, that’s what she told me, so…”
“In Slovakia, they bless the baskets on Sunday morning, over here in America, they bless on Saturday afternoon. And, when we first got married, I would not let my husband eat the food on Saturday until the Sunday. So he would wait until midnight, and after midnight, he would start eating. But later on I gave up and I just let him, so ever since then, after we bless the food on Saturdays, since Lent is gone, he still fasts in the morning on Saturday and then after I bless the food, he comes home in the afternoon, and we make this huge platter of klobásy [sausage] and eggs and cheese and this stuffing I make, and ham and all the traditional stuff. And the beets, the beets with horseradish. And I make everything homemade; I make the homemade bread, the pascha bread, with raisins and all the other stuff so… And the cheese, I make the cheese and the stuffing with eggs and bread and ham and bacon in it, and I bake it in the oven.”