television

Happy Spring!

Work on the stuff in boxes has slowed way down because one box in particular has loads of my work from grammar school. Work that my mother had saved. The trip down memory lane has been surreal… and slow…

The above drawing was with a group of papers created when I was about seven years old. We had to draw things we were thankful for. I drew my house, the American flag, and this television. It made me smile.

Recently I’ve learned that I think in pictures, rather than words or patterns. I had a reputation for being a bookworm, and I do love read, but I do it very slowly and my reading comprehension is not up to par. (I now have my grade school report cards to confirm that.) I find it very interesting that I did not draw a book for this assignment!

I still love watching T.V., although at times I am embarrassed to admit it. Some people can be pretty snooty about how mind-numbing they think most of what is offered is. And it is. But as I was growing up my parents required us to watch nature (think Jacques Cousteau), science and history documentaries. To this day I still watch and enjoy them!

After my mother died I would watch T.V. with my father on Wednesday nights, Nature and Nova on PBS. And Masterpiece Theatre on Sundays. And nowadays you will find me glued to the set when Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. comes on!

One night in October last year, I found an episode of Nature online. I invited Katherine to watch A Squirrel’s Guide to Success with me on my laptop. To my surprise and delight, she was utterly fascinated — we do watch squirrels a lot when we’re outside — and stayed put to watch the whole program with me. 🙂

I will keep reading books, but I’m more gentle with myself now when I have difficulty following along. And in honor of my inner child, I will now be watching T.V. without apology!!!

getting started

Papa at work in his lab

Finally, after years of eldercare, our own health problems, and helping to welcome our grandchildren into the family, I find myself with actual free time! It feels very strange.

So, I’ve been able to roll up my sleeves and tackle the pile of stuff taking up half of the guest/genealogy room. Three large boxes of stuff have been donated (mostly knick knacks) and a couple of large bags have gone to the dumpster. And I’m starting to find some of the buried treasure. Tim set me up with a scanner so I’m on a roll now!

Grandfather examining refrigerated bottles of ?

These two pictures were taken by my grandmother, probably sometime in the 1960s. It makes me smile to think that my father took his in-laws to work with him one day, probably while my sister and I were at school and my mother was at work. They were very proud of his accomplishments. He was the first in our family to get a PhD. My sister would become the second.

We should be getting some snow tomorrow ~ that would be nice if only the rain wasn’t predicted to come wash it all away.

morning light

10.22.18 ~ morning light ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.

In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.

Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.

Katherine’s Children

Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943) and three of her eight children: Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986), Theodore William Chomiak (1922-2013), and Lillian Elizabeth Chomiak (1915-2016).

It’s simply amazing what comes into the light when cousins start exploring family history, too. Several weeks ago I shared a picture one of my maternal cousins discovered and today I’m sharing a portrait found by one of my paternal cousins.

The woman is my grandmother, Katherine, who died long before I was born. I’ve always been curious about her because she is the one grandparent I never knew.

Катерина Фюшяк (Kateryna Fusiak ~ my Aunt Lil showed me how to write her name in Ukrainian) was born on 19 November 1887 in Luzok Horishni, Ukraine, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She died on 22 October 1943 at New London, Connecticut.

Katherine’s parents were land-owning farmers. When her husband William, the son of peasants, left for America, she was pregnant with her second child and they already had a small daughter, Mary. According to my aunt Mary, who grew up with her grandparents in Ukraine, Katherine’s father, Konrad, who did not approve of his daughter’s marriage, was furious about not hearing from William, and with great resentment sold a cow to buy passage to America for Katherine and her new nursing baby boy, Jon. At the tender age of 22, on 19 February 1910, Katherine and 5-month-old baby Jon sailed to America on the SS Finland from Antwerp, arriving in New York City on 4 March 1910. She had no ticket, but was in possession of $19 which she used to pay passage for herself and her son. She was 4’11” tall with a fair complexion. She was identified as a “Ruthenian” on the passenger arrival record, a term used to refer to a group of Ukrainians living in Ruthenia and eastern Czechoslovakia.

Mary stayed behind with her grandparents and so Katherine did not see her firstborn daughter again until Mary was 18, when she finally joined her family in America after World War I. By then, Katherine and William were living on a farm in Montville, Connecticut.

Katherine was a devoted mother who admonished her eight children to stick together no matter what, as she believed that family was all they would have in this difficult world. Her grandchildren called her “Baba.” Katherine died of a strangulated hernia at the age of 55. She lies buried with her husband in Comstock Cemetery in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Three of her children did not survive into adulthood. Jon Stephen died when he was 9 years old, of appendicitis. Augustine was about two when he got into some pills or something that poisoned him. Olga, a toddler, met her death by scalding when she pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, a horrific accident that my aunt Lil was old enough to remember first hand.

In the portrait above, daughter Mary is missing because she was still living in Ukraine. Jon had already died. My Aunt Jean is on the left, my father is the little boy, and my Aunt Lil is on the right. My Aunt Em was not born yet.

Katherine had a very hard life as a farmer’s wife who made it through the Great Depression living off the land. Her husband was a harsh, bitter man, who regretted leaving Ukraine and apparently hated this country. I admire her courage and fortitude.

My father always spoke of his mother with great fondness and missed her dearly. Even during his last illness he asked for her. He had enlisted in the army during World War II on 4 February 1943. Sadly, only eight months later, on 22 October 1943, his mother died. Only 22 years old, he came home on leave for her funeral and then returned to duty. I am struck with a little synchronicity here because Katherine was 22 when she saw her mother for the last time, and my father was 22 when he saw his own mother for the last time.

My father often credited his mother with raising him to respect women and appreciate their strengths. As an example, he often told the story of her ability to drive a hard bargain. A butcher came down from Norwich to the farm in Montville three times trying to buy a calf for less than the price Katherine wanted to sell it for! But she got her original asking price, impressing her son, and the sale was finally made!

Farewell, Auntie Lil

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux (1915-2016)

Last autumn we lost our aunt, who lived to be 101 years old. The various stories behind the above drawing presented a puzzle for us but after comparing memories we finally decided that the sketch was probably drawn on one of Auntie’s cruises. She kept it hanging above her bed for as long as I can remember, flanked on either side with the senior high school pictures of my sister and me.

Following is the obituary I wrote for the newspapers:

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux, 101, of Storrs, Connecticut, died on October 27, 2016, at Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, after a short illness.

Lillian was born on January 30, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of the late William & Katherine (Fusiak) Chomiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. She married Leo Oscar Rioux on November 30, 1934 at Montville, Connecticut. Her husband died on June 5, 1957, leaving her a widow for 59 years. Lillian was predeceased by their two sons, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984) and Lance William Rioux (1950-1979).

Lillian was also predeceased by six siblings, Mary Riback, Jon Stephen Chomiak, Augustine Chomiak, Augusta Jean Hereth, Olga Chomiak, and Theodore William Chomiak. She is survived by her sister, Ludmila Sabatiuk of West Virginia, her grandchildren, Leo Rioux, Jr. of Montville and Sarah James of Tennessee, seven nieces and nephews, four great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

Lil was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy and was a seamstress employed at Hendel Manufacturing Company in New London for many years. She was a long time resident of Montville and later moved to Juniper Hill Village in Storrs to live closer to her brother. An avid traveler, beach bum and shell collector, she loved to sew, cook, grow orchids, do jigsaw puzzles and work with her hands.

A memorial gathering will be planned for next spring. Memorial donations can be made to Mansfield Town Senior Center, 303 Maple Rd, Storrs, CT 06268.

We had our memorial gathering for her on May 6, spreading her ashes on the graves of her parents and her husband and two sons, as she had directed. My Aunt Em read to us her memories of Aunt Lil’s earlier years.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s parents, William Chomiak (1882-1965) & Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943), Comstock Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut

Every year on Memorial Day, my father would drive Aunt Lil to these two adjacent cemeteries, so she could plant geraniums in front of the headstones, each one a different shade of red or pink. When my father could no longer drive, my sister and brother-in-law stepped in to take her. As he has been doing for years now, John once again planted the geraniums that meant so much to her, this time with family spreading ashes and telling stories.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s older son, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

The story Auntie told me was that it was not permitted for her to be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband and sons because she never converted to Catholicism. But she married a Catholic and had her sons baptized in the church. It was her wish to join them in the cemetery by spreading her ashes on their graves.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s husband, Leo Oscar Rioux (1913-1957), and their younger son, Lance William Rioux (1950-1979), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

At the last grave Tim read a poem my sister Beverly wrote in memory of Auntie for the occasion.

They were worker’s hands, never soft, never still.
It took me fifty years to catch them, hold them, keep them safe and warm.
A thousand times I watched them go:
knit and purl
peel and chop
turn the pages
stir the pot.

If hands could talk what would they say?
It took me fifty years to hear them, know them, find out how they spoke.
A thousand times I felt their love:
show and tell
hug and pat
acts of kindness
pet the cat.

I’d come to love her knobby hands
that always showed me what to do.
How those hands have touched my life!
They’ve one more job before they’re through:
stitch and mend
my broken heart.

~ Beverly Chomiak
(Her Hands)

Then we all went to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, Old Tymes in Norwich, finishing the meal with dishes of Auntie’s favorite black raspberry ice cream. ❤

helping hand

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“The Helping Hand” by Émile Renouf

The first time I ever saw a print of this painting was at an estate sale, not long after my father died on September 19th in 2013. The expression on the man’s face reminded me of my father and the little girl reminded me of myself so I bought it. It’s not in the greatest condition and the coloring is way off. Perhaps the coloring on this digital copy is off, too. Some day I may replace it with a better copy.

He’s been gone for three years now and I still miss him, my favorite teacher. Papa taught me how to wash my hair, how to cross the street, how to trust my own instincts, how to treat animals, how to be compassionate and kind, how to swim, how to ice skate, how to paddle a canoe, how to chop an onion, how to look up words in a dictionary, how to do research, how to enjoy bird-watching, how to garden, how to walk (and play) in the woods — the list goes on. I think of him every time I do any of those things.

It’s almost autumn and I will be eating as many Macoun apples as I can while the season lasts. They were his favorites. He often told me the following story when I was growing up. (It first appeared almost 6 years ago on my blog!)

When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!
~ Barbara Rodgers
(Iduna: Keeper of Apples)

But perhaps I miss him the most whenever I hear a story on the news about a threat from a new virus or other infectious agent. Dad was a microbiologist and was utterly fascinated with microorganisms — viruses, bacteria, spirochetes, amoebas, fungi, parasites. He would never tire of explaining things about them to me and correcting any misinformation the media might be passing along to his fellow citizens. And I never tired of listening. I find myself wondering what he would have had to say about the Zika virus. It’s not easy finding someone so interested in this subject!

I didn’t notice it at first, but my father died on his older brother’s birthday. Jon Stephen was born on September 19th in 1909 in Ukraine. My father, Theodore William, never knew his older brother because Jon died of a ruptured appendix on March 15th in 1919 in New York, when he was only 9 years old. Papa was born three years later on March 13th in 1922. A little bit of synchronicity there I think.

Still missing you, my dear old Papa!

old radio soap opera

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Hanley Stafford, voice of John Perry on “John’s Other Wife.”

This morning I’ve been pleasantly occupied catching up with reading my favorite blogs. My blogging friend Jane, over at nichepoetryandprose, has been writing about one room schoolhouses. Reading her posts brought back a memory my father used to share frequently in his later years, when he was suffering from dementia.

He said he would walk home from school at noon to eat lunch with his mother. He always had to wait a few minutes for her to feed him while she was listening to the end of an episode of her favorite radio soap opera, “John’s Other Wife.”

Papa attended a one room schoolhouse in Montville, Connecticut. He also walked to high school at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich. One day Tim & I drove along the route to see if that was feasible, and it was 3 miles, no problem for a teenager.

I decided to search online for “John’s Other Wife,” and found this interesting blog post: September 14, 1936: Debut of John’s Other Wife. My father was 14 years old when this program debuted and he must have been in high school by then. Perhaps his mother was listening to it when he got home from school in the afternoon? I’m not sure he would have walked 3 miles home for lunch and then back to school again for a few hours. The memory of returning home for lunch from the one room schoolhouse must have mingled with the memory of returning home to find his mother completely absorbed in her soap opera, no doubt after a long day of hard work on the farm.

Then I found an episode online – “John’s Relapse” – it was only ten minutes long! Anyway, it was fun listening to the very program my grandmother listened to all those years ago.

Marconi Beach

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Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

One of our favorite stops on Cape Cod is Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, part of Cape Cod National Seashore. The last time we were here was in May of 2009 and we were a little startled by how much of the sand scarp had eroded away since then. We knew the Cape had been hit hard by severe storms the past few winters but somehow we still weren’t prepared for how much of the bluff was now missing.

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Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

The Marconi Area obtained its name from the famous Italian inventor, Marconi. From a site here, Marconi successfully completed the first transatlantic wireless communication between the U.S. and England in 1903.

Here, the outer beach is famous for its then steep, forty-foot sand cliff (or scarp) located behind it. Swimmers and beach walkers feel a sense of solitude here because the scarp and ocean provide an unbroken, pristine natural scene in all directions.

The uplands above the beach slope gradually westward, and provide a graceful vista of both the bay and sea horizons of this portion of the Cape. A platform above the Marconi station site enhances this view, and offers vistas southward to Eastham, and northward to Truro.

The Marconi operation at this location was initiated by the young inventor in 1901. However, in December of that year, due to a number of setbacks, he had to use temporary facilities on St. John’s, Newfoundland to prove his theory – wireless could cross the Atlantic! Meanwhile, a new station was built in Nova Scotia while repairs were being made to the Wellfleet station, and the first two-way, transatlantic wireless message was made at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, on December 17, 1902. Not long after, the Wellfleet Station was ready, and on January 18, 1903, Marconi staged another world’s first (and a bit of a media event) by successfully transmitting messages between the president of the United States and the king of England. With rapid advances in technology, the station became outdated in a matter of a few years, and was replaced by a newer station in Chatham, Massachusetts.

~ Cape Cod National Seashore website

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looking out over the Atlantic Ocean ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

All of these pictures were taken from the top of the scarp. When I was a very little girl, my father and I were standing somewhere near here when he explained to me that if we sailed east all the way across this ocean from here we would end up in Spain. I remember being very impressed. 🙂 I think of that conversation every time I come here.

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peering over the scarp, but not standing too close ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

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looking down (40′ or 12m) at the beach, at a spot where we were allowed to stand a bit closer ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Notice some metal debris, part of the viewing platform now missing, in the picture above. And below, notice the asphalt walkway, abruptly ending at the new edge of the scarp.

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abandoned path ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

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part of a missing structure ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

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looking north towards Truro ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

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new railings along the scarp over the ever changing Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

It seems no matter how solidly we humans think we may build, no matter how strong the foundation, nature will eventually reclaim what we leave behind. Everything is flowing. Nothing is permanent. Somehow we know this and yet, when the ocean delivers this message so dramatically and suddenly in our own observing lifetimes, it comes as a sharp reminder, not always easy to receive.

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perhaps this sign might need an update? ~ Marconi Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Wellfleet, Massachusetts

one year old

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9.17.15 ~ Katie with Grammy’s mishas

Thinking of my sweet little one-year-old granddaughter today. Even though she lives so far away in North Carolina I have had the joy of seeing her many times this year, the last time only eight days ago when I took these pictures. She’s a very curious and busy little girl!

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9.17.15 ~ Katie

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“Do you know what this toy is, Grammy?” ~ 9.17.15 ~ Katie

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giving it some thoughtful consideration ~ 9.17.15 ~ Katie

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a tender moment ~ 9.17.15 ~ Katie

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practicing standing while playing with newspaper ~ 9.17.15 ~ Katie

Happy Birthday, Katie!