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Milam County, Texas

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Mary Ann Kostroun

Oral History
August 26,1989

This is Bonnie Bell HOLDER, Chairperson of the Milam County Historical Commission, the interviewer, presenting an interesting report with Mary Ann KOSTROUN, the interviewee. Video taped by Debbie DYCUS in the living room home of Bonnie Belle HOLDER.

Question: This is a record of Anton and Emilie KOSTROUN. When did they marry?

Answer: Grandpa and Grandma married in 1876 in Czechoslovakia. Grandpa KOSTROUN was born in 1852 and Grandma born in 1853.

Question: They decided to come to the United States and that was in 1890?

Answer: Yes, in 1890 by boat.

Question: Anton was 38 years old?

Answer: Yes, and Emilie was 37 years old.

Question: Now, they came to the United States and they really fled the old country?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Leaving was mainly because of the military?

Answer: Yes, definitely. Every male had to serve in Franz Joseph’s army.

Question: So, after they decided to leave, they took the boat to New York, USA and then to Galveston, Texas, USA?

Answer: Yes, but one thing I want to say is that in order for Grandpa and his family to come to the United States, Grandpa’s sister had to be sold or sacrificed to Emperor Franz Joseph. She worked for him in the castle as a maid and he became very much infatuated with her and consequently she bore his child, a boy. Since he was not of royal blood he was referred to as a bastard; and for that service Franz Joseph gave money to my Great Grandfather. That money enabled my Grandfather Anton to seek freedom.

Question: I believe Anton imbibed heavily?

Answer: Very much so. That was his one bad fault. Grandmother was very much in love with him, probably worshiped him, with this one worry on her mind. She finally condescended to come to America with the thought that when they would be on the boat on their way, in the middle of the sea, the boat would sink, that would be an end to the imbibing as Grandpa and Grandma and the four children would die.

Question: She was optimistic and they brought their family records along?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Then they walked from Galveston, Texas to this Milam County area?

Answer: Yes.

Question: They brought in a knapsack. What was it they brought?

Answer: Well, when they took the boat from New York to Galveston and they disembarked in Galveston, Grandfather and my Daddy placed two precious family Bibles in the knapsacks and carried them on their back while they walked to Milam County, Texas. Grandma with the three children rode in a wagon.

Question: Now then, on the boat, your father, no, your grandfather got into a game?

Answer: Oh yes! Naturally, that was a very popular sport on the ocean and unfortunately they got the best of him. They got all his money, and it is not that they were broke because Grandmother stashed some money in her undergarments!

Question: So, when they came to the United States, they had enough to eat?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Now, this walk from Galveston ended in Cameron and Yarrellton area?

Answer: Yes, in Yarrellton, North Elm and Marak area.

Question: Were there any other Czechs in this area?

Answer: Well, the MARAK brothers were primarily the early settlers in this area.

Question: The forbearors of the present MARAKS that reside here?

Answer: Yes.

Question: That is where the church and cemetery came into being?

Answer: Yes, and I want to say that Grandpa Anton helped build that church in Maraksville.

Question: That man was Anton, your grandfather?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Now, the first land they occupied when they arrived here was rented from whom?

Answer: The land was rented from the WILKERSON family in Yarrellton. They owned many, many acres of land.

Question: Grandpa was skilled as a farmer?

Answer: No, Grandpa was really a carpenter.

Question: And, that is how he made his (living) money?

Answer: Yes.

Question: And they had other children?

Answer: Yes, they had three other children who were born here in the United States. There was a daughter, Agnes and a son, John. Another daughter Emilie , who died in childbirth.

Question: And now, Joseph KOSTRUN sent for another wife, back in the old country?

Answer: Yes. When he was ready to marry, he did want a Czech girl.

Question: And that was your father?

Answer: Yes. That was my father and my mother.

Question: And, how many children did they have?

Answer: They had 9 children, plus three miscarriages, and I am the youngest in that group.

Question: And you were the youngest? Where were you born?

Answer: I was born in Maraksville and all the rest were born in North Elm.

Question: I think the most interesting thing about the Maraksville area is that you have written up the history of the church and the three cemeteries; and one is written in Czech. And, I have a copy of it and it will be on file along with this interview when it is put away. Now, the first land that Anton bought, he first rented and the first land he bought was originally a grant from Governor Davis, Governor of Texas in 1872. And he bought some of this land. How much of this land did he buy?

Answer: He bought 230 acres.

Question: And, how much did he have to pay for the land?

Answer: It was a little bit more than what the Marak brothers paid when they first arrived.

Question: It rose in price, didn’t it?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Now, the real heart of this interview is about you because you are the one that has such an interesting life. Tell us about the school?

Answer: I attended a parochial school in Maraksville which was run by the nuns and of course I did not know any English and so didn’t the other children. And it was a headache for the teachers but they did drum it into us!

Question: So, when you got to high school you did learn to speak English and you went to high school in Cameron, Texas?

Answer: Yes.

Question: And, you didn’t finish?

Answer: No, I did not. I was determined and hot headed.

Question: So, there was something that decided your quitting? And that was the fact that a recruiter came in here?

Answer: Yes, Well No. I worked for Dr. Newton for $30 dollars a month after I quit high school. And, that was my first freedom of earning my own living. And it was afterwards when the recruiter came to Cameron that I joined the Air Force. That was during the war.

Question: Were your parents willing for you to go to the Air Force?

Answer: Well, course, my father was already deceased and my mother, she just let me have my way.

Question: She probably had also learned it was the easiest way?

Answer: No doubt.

Question: So, you went into the Air Force. So, where did you take your training?

Answer: I was inducted at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and took my basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia and then was sent to Bergstrom Air Force in Austin, Texas.

Question: And you worked in what capacity?

Answer: I worked at the Base Operations where the airplanes landed. I was driving military vehicles. I was meeting the pilots when they landed.

Question: But you were also a translator?

Answer: Yes, I was a translator.

Questions: And in your translations and then and later what languages did you speak?

Answer: I speak fluently Czech, read and write Czech and also understand German and French if I would hear it again.

Question: And while you were in Czechoslovakia, there was a suicide-murder of the leader of the Czech people?

Answer: The Prime Minister, Jan MASARYK, who was very well liked all over the world. Then that was still a democracy. It was shortly after I arrived in Prague as a member of the Diplomatic Corp at the American Embassy there. And he was pushed out of the window. And that was when the Iron Curtain came around Czechoslovakia.

Question: You were more or less caught up within that because you had become part of the Diplomatic Corp?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Now, from being transferred from your training in the United States as a secretary and translator, you were sent to Czechoslovakia?

Answer: Yes, I went there in 1948.

Question: After the war?

Answer: After the war. And that was when Czechoslovakia was still a democracy.

Question: And the Occupation Forces were there?

Answer: Well, the Occupation Forces were in Germany, not in Czechoslovakia.

Question: And then, after this murder, actually, cause everybody thought it was murder, the Diplomatic Corps became alarmed and there was uncertainty as to your future of it all? You were under surveillance. Why were you?

Answer: Well, all the Western world was under surveillance, and I think the Americans were particularly because they did not want any western contact there. And after the librarian in the USIS Library in Prague was expelled for treason, also, before I was. I took her position or was assigned to it. And I was horrified at the mistreatment that the Communists showed towards the natives.

Question: But you monitored the secret radio?

Answer: Well, it wasn’t a secret. It was the Voice of America and that was beamed to all of Eastern Europe. And in order for us at the Embassy and the Diplomatic Corps to know what was going on, I had to monitor the broadcast at 2 o’clock in the morning every day.

Question: And of course you spoke Czech: you knew and didn’t have to depend on different persons to translate it for you?

Answer: Yes.

Question: So, you went to the Library and so you didn’t know you were going to be expelled? And when it did come, it was a surprise? And, what (how) did you get out of the country?

Answer: Well, I was given 24 hours to leave the country and some of my fellow staff members went, too. The only thing I did take with me was what I could throw in my car. But all my formals, most of my clothes and all my household good were left behind.

Question: How about your money?

Answer: Well, fortunately we all carried American Express checks.

Question: You were paid in American money?

Answer: We were paid in dollars.

Question: And you left in your own car? And you drove to the German border with your passport?

Answer: Yes, well, as I left Prague on my way to the border, I was followed by the Czech Secret Police and my one fear as I was driving on the autobahn was: “What if the police curb by auto and arrest me, no one would ever hear from me again?”

Question: But you had a special passport?

Answer: Yes, in the Diplomatic Corps I was not an officer but was a member of the staff and had a special passport.

Question: And you went from there to a kind of mid-house before you were sent to Paris?

Answer: Yes, I stayed there for 3 months.

Question: What did you do in Paris?

Answer: In Paris, my primary position was a secretary in the political section of the American Embassy and also an interpreter and a courier in the French Foreign Office, in Paris.

Question: And occasionally you would come home on an R&R and then return to Paris?

Answer: Yes.

Question: And, finally, did you quit or were you dismissed or was the service terminated or?

Answer: No, after a lush post like Paris, France, which is ideal for anyone, I was assigned to Amman, Jordan. Of course, then it was only refugees. And you could not back down. You had to go where you were sent. So, I resigned. And, I found myself being more European rather than American, and I was losing my roots.

Question: And so, you wanted to remain a citizen of the United States, and you finally came to where you are now?

Answer: One thing I want to tell you that once I had come back on one of my R&R’s and I was arrested by United States Immigration Officers in New York for being a spy. And as they sat you down in that 8 x 10 cubicle, they kept asking me where I was born, and what was my mother’s name? Where did she live? This went on for hours and hours. I kept telling them that I was in the Diplomatic Corps. They kept insisting that there was an American woman on a British ship traveling on an American passport and that I apparently had all the qualifications for it-including my mannerism and how I behaved on the boat. My clothes too were not American. So, they finally checked with the State Department in Washington and I was released. Of course, they apologized profusely!

Question: The other day you read me something that happened to you while you were in Europe and would you like to read some of it?

Answer: Oh yes, I am fascinated! Once when I was traveling through the Bois de Bologne near Paris, which is sort of a forest. I was apprehended by an Algerian. At that time Algeria belonged to France and they were demonstrating to obtain their freedom. Fortunately I had my car door locked. He got in front of me and motioned with his finger to come to him. While I made an effort to get away from him, he grabbed my car door handle; however since it was locked he had to turn loose and as I was speeding he could not retain his hold. Needless to say, that was a frightening episode. For a long time I avoided traveling there. The other fascinating episode was when a friend of mine who was also at the Embassy, had purchased a British car. We could not get it started at noon to go out for lunch. The car was parked in front of the Embassy. We decided to pour in gasoline, that it needed fuel: and as we were pouring the gas, Clark Gable the movie star was strolling with beautiful women, one on each arm. And I told my friend, “Look there is Clark Gable.” And, of course, we gaped and as we did this precious gasoline, then rationed, was pouring on the ground. But, looking at him was well worth the wasted gasoline.

Question: It looks like Clark Gable could start a car without gas!

Answer: I bet he could.

Question: Then after you had worked in cities in the United States, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston, you came back home, here? Well, we could say that is the end of the story? Well, it is not the end of the story because since that time you have written the history of three cemeteries (one in Czech as well as English). The history of the church out there that your grandparents attended and they all have been entered in as part of the Milam County Historical Commission Report for 1987. And, it has become part of a permanent record as a contribution to our effort here to try to restore and preserve history. And you still are interested in civic affairs. I thank you for your assistance and we shall preserve this forever.

Answer: I enjoyed it. Thank you.

NOTE: Mary Ann Kostroun was born on 29 Oct 1922 in the Marak Community, Milam Co., TX and died 5 Apr 1994, in Bell Co., TX and is buried in the Old Marak Cemetary, Marak Community, Miliam Co., TX.

We must say a special thank you to Judy Hugg Grimes of Yorba Linda, CA, for typing the above for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.

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