15 December 2014

My Paternal Grandfather

Michael Kolodzinski was my paternal grandfather.  Everything I know about him came from stories told by my dad and aunts.  I never met him.  He died in Chicago, Illinois on 21 Dec 1940, many years before I was born, years before my parents were even married.  
For many years, this was the only picture I had of Michael.

It was taken in 1938 at the wedding of his daughter, Mary, to Theodore Porebski.  His look is stern for this day.  Maybe I am a romantic but I believe he missed sharing this day with his wife, my grandmother Mary, who died two years before.

Stories, so many stories, inter-sprinkled with facts I have proved through research.  My dad's side of the family is a brick wall for me.  Hopefully over time I will be able to scale that wall through genealogical DNA.

Michael was born in an November 1877.  He claimed to have been born in Lithuania but was Polish.  Both were true since the area where he was born had been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  When he was born the area was part of the Russian Partition.  Is it any wonder he spoke 7 different languages, none of which were English.  The area he was born is now part of Belarus.

Michael told he served with the Cossacks.  No doubt he was in the Russian military since all men were expected to serve when they came of age.  In all probability he took care of the Cossack horses since he had a wonderful way with animals.

He arrived in the USA on 18 January 1908 at Ellis Island in New York.  According to the passenger list his residence was Dykshuy, Russia.  He had paid for his own ticket and had $10.00 in his pocket.  He was traveling to Chicago to his brother Nikodum, who lived on Avery Avenue.  No brother has been found.

He adopted my grandmother's two children, they would have four more of their own.  Two of the four died in infancy, one of the adopted children died in her 20's.  This left my father, Edward and his two sisters, Anna and Mary.  To support his family Michael worked as a laborer for many different employers.  He also worked for himself as a junk man, driving a horse and wagon through the streets of "Buck Town" in Chicago.
This is a picture of my grandparents taken in Buck Town.  My grandparents moved many times and owned their own home several times.  As a matter of fact, my maternal grandparents rented and apartment from them in the 1920's.  Everything changed during the depression.  They lost their home and even the children looked to find work just so the family could survive.  Michael had a pet rabbit who followed him around like a dog.  The family had no food and the decision was made to kill the rabbit so they could eat.  It was done and the family had food to eat that day, well, all except Michael.  He could not eat.  

My grandfather was a strict man with his children.  He was also a hard drinking man, an alcoholic.  It is for this reason my dad never drank.  After my grandmother died, Michael lost himself in the bottle.  He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 21 Dec 1940 and is buried in Saint Adalberts Cemetery in Niles, Illinois.

06 November 2014

My Dziazek, Stanley Szostek

My grandpa, dziadek in Polish, was Stanley Szostek.  I never remember calling him grandpa, he was always dziadgie to me.  He was not in my life for very long, dying when I was only 5, but his love and warmth has stayed with me my entire life.  He was the only grandfather I would know.
Stanislaus Szostek was born 10 Oct 1884 in Gromiec, Poland.  At the time of his birth, Gromiec was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and located in Austrian Partition of Poland.  Poland would not exist again as a country until 1918.  Stanislaus was the second of six children born to Wawrzyniec and Maria Bronislawa Szostek.  The family’s life in Poland was not easy, as soon as he was old enough, Stanislaus went to work in the nearby coal mines.

Gromiec, Poland   (courtesy Google Maps)
When he and his older brother, Frank, saved enough money they immigated to America.  They arrived at Ellis Island on 27 Apr 1907 having sailed from Bremen, Germany on the S.S.Main.  Both were surprised at finding the streets were not paved with the gold they had been told they would find.  Franc had $12.00 in his pocket, Stash had $20.00.  According to the ship manifest found, Franc was married.  The brothers were traveling to Chicago, Illinois to stay with Franc’s brother-in-law, Stash Rebek.  Frank was 5”4” tall and Stash 5’6”, both were stated to be blond with blue eyes although in 1918 Stash is said to have brown hair and grey eyes. 

Stash or Stanley, would stay in Chicago working as a Box maker in 1910 and a moulder for Illinois Mallabel Iron Works in 1918.  During the time he worked at Illinois Mallabel Iron Works, he befriended John Bochyniak.   John and Stash would sometimes get together at John’s home.  It was here Stash met John’s wife, Mary, and his son, Eddie.   Stash became close to the whole family.  Mary became a widow in January of 1917.  She was left alone to raise her small son and moved back to Franklin Park with her parents.  Stash kept in touch and when Mary’s mourning period was over he asked her to marry him telling her how much he loved Eddie and that he would take care of both of them for the rest of their lives.  The couple married in Franklin Park at Saint Gertrude’s Catholic Church on 24 Sep 1918.  Over the next 10 years they would add 3 daughters to their family, Phyllis, Loretta and Helen.  
Stanley, holding Loretta, and Mary Szostek with Phyllis and Eddie right front c1922
Stanley worked hard in a foundry over the years, money was not abundant but the  family was a happy one.  It was expensive but Stanley became a US citizen in 1936.  Stanley loved to cook and made most of the meals teaching his daughters how to make wonderful pies along with other great Polish foods.  It was not all work and no play, Stanley would bring out his concertina  and sing the songs he learned in Poland.  Christmas was his favorite time of the year as he would decorate the house and while the delicious smell of his baked goods filled the air.  

Loretta Szostek, Leroy and Mary Porebski, Helen, Mary, and Stanley Szostek, Mitchell and Phyllis Wegrzyn, Emily, Holding Diane, and Edward Szostek c1946

Most of what I have written was told to me by my mom, Loretta, and my aunts but I remember so much....  
My dziadgie would pull me up into his arms and hug me whenever we went to visit.  Even though he would never learn to speak English and I did not know Polish, we understood what the other was saying...  
Every time we visited he would bring out the cards for a game of Canasta with my dad.  I would sit on dziadgie's lap as he play and talked to me, asking me which of the pretty cards he should play next...
He rolled his own cigarettes and I remember tiny pieces of tobacco falling out and settling on his chest.   The Bull Durham bags the tobacco came in were precious gifts he would give to me....
I remember the sound of his concertina and his singing kolędy (Polish carols)...

Stanley Szostek (1984-1955)
I cry as I write this, still missing his warmth and love all these years since.

01 October 2013

Poland: The Land of Our Ancestors

The land we currently call Poland is one of contrasts.  The country’s total area is slightly over 120,700 square miles, a bit smaller than the combined areas of the states Wisconsin and Illinois.  Forests cover almost 29% of the land.  More than 1% of the land is classified as a national park, therefore protected by the government.

On the northern border one finds the Brackish Baltic Sea.  Along this area you will find many long sandy beaches, impressive cliffs and unusual geological formations. Dense forests can also be found here.  There are many islands in the Baltic Sea; many under the flag of Poland.  Some of these are under government protection due to the varied protected wildlife such as eagles, wild boar and other protected species.  There is also a small bison preserve on one of the islands.  Others contain resorts which are enjoyed in the summer months.  These are major tourist attractions for the Poles and other nationalities.  Also found are the remains of one of the oldest Slav settlements that had been built during the 9th and 10th centuries.  At one point in the history of the land, this area had been a Viking stronghold.   This event continues to be celebrated in an annual Viking Festival held in Wolin.
The land along the Baltic shoreline also holds its charm.  Here one finds beaches and sand dunes, lakes and flooded meadows.  Spas, resorts and many historic buildings also tempt the tourist who journeys to the coast.  Scattered among the resorts one finds many fishing villages.  Even a 14th century castle once occupied by the Pomeranian Duke Eryk I who had also ruled Denmark, Sweden and Norway can be seen in the area. 
It is along the shoreline that one finds Poland’s fourth largest city, Gdansk.  It has long been Poland’s major port and trading center.   Here one finds many historic buildings some dating back to the 10th century.  There are fine examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture much of which was destroyed during World War II but beautifully restored by a people proud of their heritage.
Now we travel to the contrasting southern border of Poland.  Here we find the Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian Mountain range.  The Tatras contain some of the highest mountain peaks of this range.  Winter sports abound in this beautiful area as tourists flock to resorts scattered around the Tatras.  This area has well earned the title “Winter Capital of Poland”
Since World War I, the small town of Zakopane at the foot of the mountains has been known as a refuge for well-known artists, a place to relax and enjoy the rustic beauty of the area.  It continues to be known today as a Bohemian town attracting many artist, writers and composers.  Zakopane also hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics and both the 2011 and 2013 Alpine World Ski Championships.
Even so it is the mountain peaks that attract most of the three million tourists that visit annually.  The area is enjoyed by both the Poles and many other Western Europeans for skiing and various other mountain sports.  The entire mountain area is part of the Tatra National Park which was created in 1954.  The park holds a wide variety of both indigenous and Alpine plants and animals which are protected by the park system.  The area is one of the Poland’s last refuges for the Golden Eagle.  You will also find bears, Marmot and chamois, to name a few.
Previous to the creation of the park, the area was inhabited by the Polish peoples called Gorale or mountain highlanders. Here they could have been seen grazing goats, sheep, and cows in the summer pastures of the Tatras.  The language of the Gorale is a mixture having Polish as the base language.  Their original culture is preserved in stories told by the highlanders who still live in the area. 
The central region of Poland is the largest.  On the west it extends to Germany and the Czech Republic and on the east to Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine.  It consists of flat plains interspersed with lakes and ice-aged rivers. The geography of this area allowed Poland to become a natural roadway between foes; usable for other counties during various European conflicts. 
City of Poznan circa 1890.  
Here is the agricultural belt of Poland. Fields with wheat, rye and potatoes along with other crops are planted on narrow strips of land.  It is an area of contrasts; large, mechanized private farms bordering small farms being worked in the way of the 19th century farmer.
The towns can be bustling cities like Warsaw, Krakow or Posen or small, quaint villages containing thatched wooden cottages.  Nobles’ castles are preserved and war torn cities have been rebuilt.  Most Polish cities have retained their medieval layouts containing a town square with markets, a town hall and burgher’s houses.  The architecture can range from Romanesque to Gothic, Renaissance to baroque or neoclassical.  In the large cities one also sees the bland apartments built during the 45 years of communist control.