Mothers-in-Law . . . they are interesting creatures. When I got married at age 21, I didn’t inherit a mother-in-law. My husband’s mother passed away three years before then. In fact, I had never met her. I heard wonderful things about her, and I assume that she would have made a great mother-in-law. My mom was a great mother-in-law. If her daughters loved someone, she did too, because she loved her daughters. I figured that is how mothers-in-law are supposed to be.
In 2013, I got married again, and just being a few months short of 65, I got a mother-in-law! Go figure! Alberta who is now 100 years old, is my mother-in-law. I don’t worry about her picadillos because I am older and more mature, and they don’t really bother me. Being a young bride, can cause a difficult situation for a young lady who doesn’t realize how different their mother-in-law must be from their own mother.
Thus the story of my grandmother, Appolonia Agnes Vrazsity Tomich, known as Pauline Tomich. She was born in Austria Hungary in January 1900. When she was ten years old, her family which at that time consisted of her parents, and a younger sister and brother, emigrated to the United States, coming through Ellis Island on March 26,1910. They settled in a home in Madison, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri.
Pauline was the oldest in the family. She had several sisters and brothers who were born after arriving in the United States. There were eight children in total–4 girls and 4 boys. Across the road, on Washington Avenue, lived the Kosta and Darinka Tomich family. They had three sons, one being 14 years older than his younger brothers. His name was Zsiva, but Americanized his name to David. Both families were of Serbian Heritage. The Tomich family was Orthodox Christians, and the Vrazsity family was Catholic.
One day Mrs. Tomich came to the Vrazsity home to help milk the cows, since Eva Vrazsity (the mother) had been ill. She noticed the girls and commented that the oldest one may be good for her son to marry. Pauline was only 14 years old. Eva said that would not work since her daughter was so young. Pauline did not attend school but had a job at the local can factory. She walked to work daily. One day as she was walking to work, David caught up with her. This 19 year old young man also walked part of the same way to work, and they would split off in different directions. As David walked along with her on their way to work, he asked her if she wanted to marry him. Pauline said, “Okay.” That was that. Now David is trying to set a date to get married, and Pauline is putting him off. The third time he asks, he says that will be the last time, so she agrees to marry him. David has $10, and they get a marriage license and are married on May 15, 1914 by the Justice of the Peace. They take a streetcar to St. Louis, and rent a room for a few days. The following day,
David goes to work, and returns to their rented room with a bucket of beer and a pound of “cold wienies,” as my grandmother used to say. That was their own private wedding reception!
When they came back to Madison, her mother was relieved to know where she was. David and Pauline moved in with his parents and two small brothers.
This story is from my grandmother’s recollection which was recorded when she was 88 years old. Disclaimer: there are holes in the story, and details missing that would have helped, but this is what I have.
One thing that Pauline did not elaborate was that she apparently quit working when she got married. She did say she hardly knew my grandpa, and it wasn’t about falling in love. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I think at 14 years old, she was tired of going to work and also helping with her siblings at home. You know the thing, people get married to get out of the house. Little do they know, they jump out of the frying pan right into the fire!
Pauline is living at the in-laws with her husband. The men go off to work, and the Darinka (the MIL) is going out for the day. She tells Pauline to pick a bucket of beans from the garden and cook them for dinner. Pauline went to the garden and picked a whole bucket of beans, cleans them, and then “schnivels” them which she said was to cut the beans in half. She put them in a big pot with some onions and some fat, and started cooking them. Here is where the story is a little fuzzy. She is either cooking outside, or the kitchen of this home is detached from the rest of the house.
Darinka arrives home and Pauline is stirring the beans so they do not scorch. She asked Pauline, “What are you doing?” Pauline, who said she had done a lot of work picking and prepping the beans, replied to her, “I’m cooking the beans,” at which the MIL stated, “Who ever heard of frying the beans?” Pauline replied to her that was how her mother cooked beans. Darinka, in her anger replied, “I am not your mother. This is my house.” Darinka continue to give Pauline a hard time, so Pauline walked into the house, shut the door and sat down and cried. Remember this girl is only 14 years old. When David got home, he went into the house and asked her what happened. When he went back out after hearing the story, Darinka, took a dresser and pushed it against the door so that Pauline was locked inside. This is where I think Pauline must have walked into a bedroom to cry, and the door was blocked with the dresser. The rest of the family along with David and his mother sat down to dinner, and Pauline was not invited. She stayed in the room alone.
Pauline became pregnant with my Aunt Angie about four months into the marriage. She and David found a house down the road. The day before Orthodox Christmas, which would have been in January of 1915, Darinka (the MIL) showed up at their home while David was at work. She proceeded to show Pauline the Serbian custom of baking bread for Orthodox Christmas. Pauline was not allowed to help but was to observe. Darinka baked a whole bushel of bread and then left. My grandmother, in relating the story, said she was wondering what she is supposed to do with all this bread. She didn’t ask because she was afraid her MIL would beat her up—she stated this was the kind of woman she was. Is that an exaggeration? Who knows?
The next morning (Orthodox Christmas), David took the bushel of bread out to the back porch, and said to Pauline, “When I come in, ask me what I have.” Pauline had no idea what he was talking about and found it to be quite funny. She started laughing at him. David got angry, slammed the basket of bread on the floor (which broke up the bread), and left. Pauline thought that he left her for good. She was pregnant and worried what she was going to do. David had gone home to his parents. His mother was angry and told him that Pauline must become Orthodox and observe their customs. His father, Kosta, was more level headed. He told David to go home, and act like nothing happened. David came home and everything was peaceful. They spent a happy Christmas together. Pauline said she just did not understand Orthodox customs, that the Catholics did not celebrate the same way.
When Angie (their 1st born) was a baby, David told Pauline that they were going to move to Detroit. He went first to find a new job, and then she and the baby followed him. They rented a 3 room apartment on the first floor of a house where the French landlords
lived above. When she arrived, David was so happy to see her. He said he had written many letters that she never answered. She didn’t believe him, until he showed her the stack of returned letters. My grandmother stated that they shared a post office box with her in-laws, and apparently her MIL would refuse the letter and have it sent back. Pauline was glad to be away from them and with her husband and baby in Detroi
That did not last long. One day the in-laws with their two small boys showed up in Detroit. They rented their home out in Madison, Illinois, and came to live with David, Pauline, and Angie. Kosta (David’s dad) got a job in Detroit. One day the landlady told Pauline that she rented the house to her and David, not the extended family, and they would have to move out. I am sure Pauline liked that news. Kosta went to work and asked some of his Serbian coworkers if they knew a place they could rent. One of his coworkers gave him a lead. The next thing you know, they rented a larger place, and not only did they move in, David, Pauline and the baby also moved in.
At that point Darinka told Pauline that there couldn’t be two women in the kitchen, so Pauline had to go to work. She got a job at a laundry, and she like working there. I am sure she enjoyed her time away from the in-laws. Of course, living with them required that they turn over their pay to them.
The in-laws did not like Detroit, and they still owned a home in Madison, Illinois. As my grandmother said, “They harped on Papa (David) to move back to Madison,” which is what he finally agreed to do. Darinka told her son that when they get back, they will send Pauline back to her mother’s. Pauline was mad, and went back to her mother’s but left the baby there. When asked why she didn’t take the baby with her, she stated that she wanted to be free. Of course, she is only around 16 years old, and life has not been easy for her.
Pauline and David stayed separated for seven months. During that time David started attending a protestant church. He and Pauline moved to their own home. She became pregnant with my mother Darinka (Dorothy), who was born in 1918. Can you guess who named that one? Haha! My grandparents were married for 58 years before my grandfather died in 1972. I am not sure if my grandmother was ever truly happy. She seemed rather stern to me. I think my grandfather, was more like his dad, pretty easy going. He worked full time as a salesman. They had five children (one died young). David also became a lay minister at his church. Today people will tell me that my grandpa gave them a little Bible or a Christian tract. He was out spreading the word!
Appolonia Agnes Vrazsity Tomich lived for 90 years. After my grandfather died in 1972, she moved for a short time in Ohio with her oldest daughter, Angie. Then she moved to Phoenix, Arizona where her only son lived, and enjoyed the rest of her days there.
The video I watched where she told this story about her mother-in-law was recorded the week of her 88th birthday. I don’t think she regretted being married to David or the family she had. I know she worked hard. She worked outside the home for years to help supplement her husband’s income. She had a huge garden. She loved to cook and bake. She did the weekly ironing for our family and my Aunt Mary’s family all the way to the 1970’s while her daughters worked in their husband’s businesses. Remember those days when all the clothes had to be ironed?
Checking the internet about mothers-in-law, I ran across a great blog called, “18 Mother-In-Law Behaviors That Deserve a Punch in the Face.” It is an interesting list. Funny, I never ever thought of rearranging the furniture at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. Or have I thought of folding their laundry without their permission–I don’t even want to fold my own laundry (although I do). I agree with this article, so if I ever do any of those things, feel free to come punch me in the face, but warn me first so I can duck!
I have heard many different “mother-in-law” stories from family and friends. I think I took the lesson from my mother. She never interfered with my family or my sisters’ families. I think Pauline was the same way–I think she liked who her children married. Recently, someone asked me if one of my children was planning on more children, and I told them I had no idea, that was not any of my business. They looked rather surprised. I don’t ask my children things that are private. If they want to volunteer the information, that is their decision, but it is not my place to ask or suggest to them how to live. I hope when I am gone from this earth, that none of my daughters-in-law can say I interfered with their lives. I love my daughters-in-law because they love my sons and my sons love them. That’s all I need.
So much for the “Mother-in Law Jokes.”
Andrea, thank you for writing out this story. I’ve been aware of the story but could never remember the details to pass on to our children.
wow… this is soo good and we definitely need more women like you to understand family doesn’t necessarily mean intruding in their private lives and not giving them space to breathe!
Loved this story! I remember your Grandmother Tomich. She would come to the AC church in Phoenix with Gus and Ann!