Monika Smid (born Monika Čambáliková), 1950
Monika Smid was born in the village of Hájske, western Slovakia, in 1950. Her father, Vilém, spent the week in Bratislava where he worked in construction, while her mother, Maria, stayed at home raising Monika and her five siblings and tending to the family’s vineyards and fields. Monika attended school in Hájske and, for three years during her childhood, traveled to nearby Nitra to learn the accordion in the evenings. Upon graduation from high school, Monika moved to Bratislava where she worked for komunálne služby mesta Bratislava [communal (municipal) services of Bratislava] as a pedicurist. In 1970, Monika was sent for training in this field to Gottwaldov (now Zlín) in Moravia, which was also home to the shoe factory Bat’a.
Monika says she loved her job at a salon right in the heart of Bratislava; she counted famous actors and ballerinas as her clients, and maintains friendships with some of her former colleagues. She left the salon in 1974 after marrying her husband, Mirek, and moving to Trnava, where the couple were guaranteed accommodation through his job at a local car factory. In 1975, their daughter Martina was born.
Monika says it was her decision to leave Czechoslovakia four years later. She says she had a number of relatives already in the United States, and that a love of travel ran in her family. She traveled with her husband and daughter first to Austria, where the family spent seven months near Salzburg before gaining visas to travel to the U.S. Monika and Mirek’s son was born in America. The Smid family settled in Seven Hills, Ohio, where they now own several properties which they rent out. Monika plays an active role in the local Slovak community, particularly through her involvement in the trio Slovenské mamičky [The Slovak Mothers], who perform traditional Slovak folk songs as well as a few of Monika’s own compositions.
Monika says a love of music runs in the family
“My grandfather, Štefan Apalovič, he died years ago. My mom’s father – he was a very, very special man; he was a simple man, but he could do anything, he could do carpentry, he could do… Men came every Saturday, men came to their house when my mother was a little girl for haircuts. And my grandfather, he was reading American newspapers that he received from his three brothers who lived in New York, in New York State. And those men, they couldn’t even read, and my grandfather, he knew how to read, and – I’m talking about 1925 when my mother was little – he was reading the newspaper for them and they came for a haircut and things like that.
“He could do anything. Also, he played accordion. So all my uncles, my mother’s brothers, they knew how to play accordion. My oldest brother, Frank, he never went to school – music school – but just trying, and he played better than I play! This is in the family, actually, and my cousins play accordion and piano. Yeah.”
Hear Monika perform with her band, Slovenské mamičky
Monika says that farms were collectivized in her village of Hájske in 1956
“First, people were unhappy. But I think later, I think later when I was a little bit older, they had relief. Some people had really relief. Like, we can’t even work, it’s so much work, and now they have tractors and they have equipment, machinery, and many people had relief, actually. But some of them, still they were sorry what happened and ‘oh, yeah, they took my field’ and whatever. So, it all depends.”
Monika loved her job as a pedicurist in the heart of Bratislava
“I was working in downtown, and that was the best! I was working in downtown Bratislava close to Prior and close to Manderla [department stores]. I have very good memories and I liked to do what I did, what I learned, and I liked my boss and the girls I was working with. It was great, working in downtown – much better than in some suburbs. We were always, always busy. No appointments, just walk-ins and, of gosh, no air conditioning – it was hot, hot, hot in summertime. People were waiting and waiting and waiting, like two, three hours, but they really, they really wanted to get their feet done, and we did more pedicures than manicures. But here in the United States, everybody goes for manicures; not many people maybe for pedicures because they don’t know much about that.”
Monika kept her family’s decision to emigrate secret
“I think I was just strong. I can’t tell anyone, I can’t tell anyone. And when I was working in Senec in a pedicure salon, my friend Eva, she called me – my very close friend, my best friend. She called me from Switzerland to my work. But I didn’t have a telephone there, they called me next door; they repaired some electronics and somebody came and said ‘Miss Monika, you have a phone call.’ And I just said ‘Yes, no, yes, uh-huh,’ something like that. That other lady, who was boss of those guys – she told me later after 13 years, when I came for my first visit to Slovakia, she said ‘My gosh, it’s so long, 13 years ago – Monika, I knew something is going on. You didn’t say anything, just “Yes, no, m-hmm, yes, no,” who called you?’ And at that time, I couldn’t say ‘My friend from Switzerland who just left the country, and they are there one week or two weeks.’ I couldn’t say that.”
Category: Cleveland, Oral History