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!

Konrad Fusiak & Ludmila Karasek

This the story of my Ukrainian great-grandparents, most of it given to me by their granddaughter, my aunt Mary, during a lengthy interview on 21 July 1999. Aunt Mary was the oldest child of my grandparents, William & Katherine, but she grew up in Ukraine with her grandparents, Konrad & Ludmila. When Mary was 2 years old her mother sailed to America without her to join her father here. Mary didn’t see her parents again until she was 18 years old when her parents could finally send for her.

Konrad Fusiak (1864-1926)

Konrad Fusiak was born sometime after 1864 in Ternopol’ (Galicia) Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in Ukraine, and died after 1926. He married (as his first wife), Ludmila Karasek, who was born in Prague, Bohemia, which is now Czech Republic, and died in 1917 in the Ukraine, daughter of Joseph and Anna (Cermak) Karasek.

Konrad died at the age of 72, according to his granddaughter. He was a land owning farmer and a deacon in the Orthodox Church. Ludmila came from Prague to Ukraine with her parents to work in the salt mines at Starasol (or Stara Ceyl?). Konrad and Ludmila raised their granddaughter Mary when their daughter Katherine left for America. Ludmila died of double pneumonia. Apparently after Ludmila’s death, Konrad married (as his second wife) (—) Blenday. Mary remembers this step-grandmother as being very kind and protective of her, since Konrad was apparently a man harsh in his ways.

Left to right: Konrad & Ludmila (Karaseck) Fusiak, Ludmila is holding her baby granddaughter Mary Chomiak, daughters Anna and Augusta, and in front, sons Nicholas and Julian.

These pictures were taken in Ukraine, and brought to America by my Aunt Mary. Konrad & Ludmila were the parents of eight children, five of them emigrated to America. Order uncertain:

1. Katherine Fusiak (my grandmother), born 19 November 1887 in Luzok Horishni (Galicia) Austro-Hungarian Empire [now Ukraine], died 22 October 1943 in New London (New London) Connecticut. She married 16 February 1907, William Chomiak, who was born 2 February 1882 in Drohobych or Nahvevitchi (Galicia) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a village now known as Ivano-Frankovsk in Ukraine, and died 7 November 1965 in Willimantic (Windham) Connecticut, son of Fedor and Anastazia (—) Chomiak. Katherine & William were the parents of eight children.

2. Anna Fusiak emigrated to America, settled in New Jersey and married a boarding house operator, Michael Prytuliak/Palmer. She died on 11 December 1963 in East Newark (Hudson) New Jersey. Anna & Michael were the parents of six children.

3. Augusta “Gussie” Fusiak, born in Luzok Vizniy (Galicia), died at age 39 in Harrison (Hudson) New Jersey. She married a butcher, Jacob Wasyliw, who was born in Lviv (Galicia). Gussie & Jacob were the parents of three sons.

4. Mary Fusiak, lived in Stariy Sambir (or Sambor) and married a Polish railroad worker (perhaps surnamed Nyedv) at Mazurka.

5. Nicholas Fusiak went to school in Sambor, and served in the Austrian army. Nicholas was studying to be a teacher in the Soviet Union. At some point he went to Czechoslovakia. He is thought to have been killed by Stalin when he returned to Ukraine.

6. Steve Fusiak also went to school in Sambor and served in the Austrian army. He apparently had a child, but died young of tuberculosis.

7. Andrew Fusiak, born 13 December 1896 and died in November 1940. He also attended school in Sambor, married Christina Wolanski (born in 1909) in Luzok Vizniy (Galicia), emigrated to America, and settled in New Jersey. He was a butcher. Andrew & Christina were the parents of four children.

8. Julian Fusiak, born 6 August 1898 and died in June 1976 in Irvington (Essex) New Jersey. He didn’t like school (in Sambor) and ran away from home often. He married Božena Lowda, who was born 24 April 1902 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire [now Czech Republic] and died in October 1986 in Irvington. Julian served in the Austrian army immediately after World War II. He is thought to have collaborated with the Nazis to free Ukraine from Russia. He worked as a storekeeper. Julian & Božena were the parents of four children.

Last Revised:  18 April 2018

 

summer solstice

"Ukrainian Landscape" by Efim Volkov
“Ukrainian Landscape” by Efim Volkov

There came a Day – at Summer’s full –
Entirely for me –
I thought that such – were for the Saints –
Where Resurrections – be –

The Sun – as common – went abroad –
The Flowers – accustomed – blew –
As if no Soul the Solstice passed –
That maketh all things new.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #325)

Fathers Day

~ Papa and me ~

Tomorrow is the 100th Anniversary of Fathers Day, a day set aside to honor and remember our fathers and forefathers. This year music is on my mind.

My father discovered his passion for music when he heard Woody Guthrie on the radio for the first time. He learned how to play the guitar as a young man and when I was little, apparently I loved to dance when he was singing and playing. Dad also taught himself how to play the piano, and many nights I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of his simple tunes. We had Peter, Paul & Mary records in the house, and his favorite piece of classical music is Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

~ me ~

I look at the picture of me next to my father playing his guitar, and even though I don’t remember that far back, I somehow think that this is where it all began. My love of troubadours playing their guitars and singing their own songs… My dad’s gift to me.

My paternal grandfather was twenty-eight years old on the first Fathers Day, and in this country only a year. He was a Ukrainian immigrant who bitterly regretted coming to America. He lived with us until he died, when I was in third grade. I have no memory of Pop ever showing us any affection. He spent his days cutting and clearing the brush in the woods around our house. My sister and I were afraid of him because if we bothered his neat piles of wood he would furiously wave his axe at us and shout at us menacingly in Ukrainian. I suspect it was a good thing that we had no idea what he was saying.

So… I was very surprised several years ago, when my father happened to mention one day that when his father was a young man in the Ukraine he crafted his own fiddle and played it at the weekly dances in his village. (I wonder if this was what attracted my grandmother?) It gave me a new dimension of his personality to consider…

John Philip Sousa

The difference between a fiddle and a violin? There’s really no difference, but the old saying is that the violin sings and the fiddle dances.

My adored maternal grandfather was five years old on the first Fathers Day. I wonder how his family celebrated the new holiday? Oh the questions we never think of asking until it is too late! He played the trombone and his favorite musician was John Philip Sousa. When Grandfather was a young man living in New Canaan, Connecticut, he played the trombone in a marching band and he often spoke of those days as some of the happiest ones in his life. It was always a treat when he pulled out his trombone to play a few notes for us. When he hummed he even sounded like a  trombone!

Woody Guthrie

As Dad slips further into dementia I am happy for the days we spent listening to Woody together. I gave him The Asch Recordings, a box set of 105 Guthrie songs. We also watched at least four different Guthrie DVDs over the past few years. Good memories for both of us…

I’m looking forward to seeing my dad tomorrow. I hope he will be having a good day, but even if he isn’t we will make the best of it. Play some music… Talk about the things he can remember…

my mother

Write something, anything…

Tonight there will be a full moon. Today is the day my mother died, nineteen long years ago. She was only 59. I was only 34. So young, the both of us. Fifty-nine seemed like such a long way off then, and here I am now, at fifty-three, wondering at the last nineteen years, each day so long in the living and yet the years speeding by. My son is 34. I look at him and try to imagine him motherless, as I became at his age.

It’s amazing that I still miss her so and often wonder what life would now be like if she was here… Somehow I want to do something in her memory, but I’m not sure how…

Elisabeth J. White

Mom was a nature lover and avid bird watcher. One time she found a baby owl that lived in our bathroom for a while until it was ready for release. Our childhood was spent camping, canoeing, and hiking. She was a physical therapist and loved to read. If she wasn’t outside, she had her nose in a newspaper or book.

Her high school classmates said of her: “With charm of soul possessed by her, she rules herself.” So true. Until I left home, I was unaware of the “war between the sexes.” My parents had a true egalitarian relationship. Mom disliked cooking and it was unremarkable to me that Dad did the cooking and Mom mowed the lawn. They modeled interdependence and mutuality for me and my sister.

She loved her grandchildren, my children, and took each of them separately for a special week-long visit at Grandma’s before she was too ill to enjoy them. After her special visit, my then ten-year-old daughter declared her intention to move in with her grandparents. Her grandma gently explained to her that it wouldn’t be as much fun if she was living there full-time.

Mom didn’t have any sons, so she adored her grandsons, who were thirteen and fifteen when she died. My older son was her little shadow and loved following her around, helping to feed her chickens, weed the garden, pick vegetables for dinner, or whatever else they found to occupy themselves out there. There was a special bond between them and he took her death the hardest.

It’s kind of funny, Mom had no interest in art or interior decor. My sister and I, who have more of an eye for balance and color, were continually exasperated at how she arranged the furniture and how nothing seemed to go together. One day while Mom was at work, my sister took it upon herself to make new curtains for the kitchen, paint it and put down some pretty shelf paper. Mom didn’t seem to notice and merely shrugged when my sister pointed it out to her and asked her if she minded. We later learned that her mother, who was an artist, had tried many times to give her daughter a hand with the decorating, but her efforts were for naught.

Some things skip a generation, and if my sister and I are like our grandmother, my daughter is very much like my mother. Especially in the wanderlust department. Mom loved the adventure of travel, and as Dad puts it, she dragged him to Greece to live for a couple of years when an opportunity to do that presented itself. And they took trips out west and through Canada to explore another of her passions, the culture of Native Americans. They also took a trip to the Ukraine, the land of my father’s ancestors.

First Congregtional Church Cemetery, Harwich, Massachusetts

Yes, I still miss her and her Seminole skirt. Had she lived I’m sure we would have found her rumored New England Native American ancestor by now. Yesterday I immersed myself in genealogical research, which was an occupation we both enjoyed. My goodness, what would she think of all the online research now available? When she died she was learning to use the online genealogical bulletin boards that seem so primitive now.

Well, I could go on, but this is long enough. Somehow I think my mother knows that she may be gone, but is by no means forgotten. And that I’ve learned that all we have is now, and that when all is said and done, that is enough.