Way before dawn this morning my sister and I found ourselves sitting together in the living room, shedding tears for Ukraine. Our father was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. We both have memories of him telling us about how Ukraine has been invaded over and over again throughout its history. Being little children most of what he was talking about didn’t mean much to us, but we often heard about Vikings, Mongols, Cossacks and Tatars, the Austro-Hungarian Army and Russia, Hitler and Stalin. His sense of ill-fated tragedy made a deep impression on us.
My grandfather left his pregnant wife and young daughter (Mary) in Luzhek Verkhniy, Ukraine to come to America in 1909. My grandmother left their daughter in Ukraine to be raised by Mary’s grandparents and came to America with her five-month-old son in 1910. They had six more children born in this country. Our aunt Mary finally came to America to live with her parents in 1926, at the age of 18. Most of her aunts and uncles who she grew up with came over at various times, too. Except for one who was “killed by Stalin,” presumably because he stayed.
Our hearts feel very heavy. I wonder if some sort of genetic memory is at work here. Took a peek at CNN and saw some people in Ukraine kneeling in a city square, praying. I had to turn it off. If you have any comments, please don’t make them political. My thoughts and prayers are for the Ukrainian people.
We got our groundhogs out for a nice walk this morning. Meet Basil and little Basil, if you haven’t already. For those of my new readers who don’t know the story, Basil is named for my paternal grandfather, who was born on Groundhog Day, February 2, 1882 in a village near the city of Stanislav, now known as Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukraine. When Pop arrived in America in 1909, instead of translating his given name, Wasyl, to its equivalent in English, Basil, he started using the name William, by which he was known for the rest of his life.
After taking the pictures we decided to walk through a meadow, a path we hadn’t had a chance to follow yet. It was lovely covered in snow, still on the ground four days after the blizzard. But today the temperature got up over freezing so it is starting to melt.
Looks like Friday will be a mess with an ice storm. I was grateful for this lovely day.
O barren bough! O frozen field! Hopeless ye wait no more. Life keeps her dearest promises — The Spring is at the door! ~ Arthur Ketchum (The Atlantic Monthly, February 1904)
One thing about staying home during the pandemic is having gobs of time to sort through all the family stuff I’ve been grumbling about for years. The other day I discovered the above chart, created by me when I was eleven years old!
When people see how passionate I am about family history they often ask how long I’ve been researching my tree. “For as long as I can remember,” is my usual reply. Well, now I have proof I was doing it at least since age eleven. 🙂
Looking at this made me smile because it has so many mistakes, mostly the spellings of some of my cousins’ names. And using nicknames where I wasn’t sure of the full name. But I did the best I could after interviewing my parents. No dates. I was keenly interested in the relationships.
After I found this chart and drifted down memory lane for awhile, Tim suggested we go for a drive up in Ledyard because one of his friends said the trees were starting to show their fall colors. It was a beautiful Sunday drive! Please enjoy a little glimpse of our autumn. I have a feeling because of the drought it might go by too quickly…
Every day you play with the light of the universe. ~ Pablo Neruda (The Poetry of Pablo Neruda)
Local COVID-19 update: Ledge Light Health District is tracking an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in southeastern Connecticut. People are letting their guards down. We decided to try a take-out order on Monday — it was delicious — and then heard this news and decided we won’t be doing that again. Numbers are now higher than they were in April. People are gathering and not following protocols.
LLHD recorded 60 new cases during the week of Sept. 19-25 and another 43 new cases this weekend alone. Those numbers compare to a low point of five new cases a week in mid-August.
New London County now has 1,959 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 14 people are in the hospital and 115 have lost their lives. That’s 339 new cases and 7 more in the hospital since September 9 when I last reported. We were startled to see our part of the state the new area of increased concern on the news. Living in our bubble has become a comfortable routine yet this is raging all around us. It’s unsettling. A reminder that we’re doing all this staying home for a reason.
On Tuesday we decided to take another leaf peeping drive, as it was too humid for a walk. The weather people said that the colors are coming two weeks early because of the drought so we might be headed up to the Quiet Corner of Connecticut sooner than planned for our autumn drive. Still a lot of yellows for now but we did see a few rust and orange leaves…
We are under a gale warning today as we get some badly needed rain. Waiting to see how many leaves will be left on the trees tomorrow!
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 Luzhek Verkhniy, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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. ❤
She’s too little to understand just yet but I think she recognized her name, the one she shares with her great-great-grandmother, Katherine. We were at the cemetery to spread some of my aunt’s ashes on her parents’ grave, as she had wished us to do. Will share some things from the memorial we had for my Aunt Lil soon…
This is 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. (I’ve been adding data here and there as documents turn up on Ancestry.com.) 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, probably son of Gabriel and Euphosina (Dziuta) Fusiak, was probably born 29 September 1855 in Zdynia, Małopolskie, Poland, and died about 1927 in Ukraine. 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.
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 Luzhek Verkhniy (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. Mary Fusiak, born about 1891, lived in Stariy Sambir (or Sambor) and married a Polish railroad worker (perhaps surnamed Nyedv) at Mazurka.
3. Anna Fusiak, born about 1892, arrived in America 23 January 1911, settled in New Jersey and married 21 February 1914, 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.
4. Andrew Fusiak, born 13 December 1896, arrived in America 3 July 1913, and died in November 1940. He attended school in Sambor, married Christina Wolanski (born 6 August 1909, arrived in America 21 October 1929) and settled in New Jersey. He was a butcher. Andrew & Christina were the parents of four children.
5. Augusta “Gussie” Fusiak, born about 1897 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.
6. Julian Fusiak, born 6 August 1898 and died 22 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 26 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 emigrated from Ukraine on 27 July 1949, age 50. In America, he worked as a storekeeper. Julian & Božena were the parents of four children.
7. 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.
8. Steve Fusiak also went to school in Sambor and served in the Austrian army. He apparently had a child, but died young of tuberculosis.
Technically winter will be over in 6½ weeks no matter what the groundhog says, but because he didn’t see his shadow today, there is hope for an early arrival of spring-like weather.
Our groundhog, Basil, refused to step outside in the raging ice storm for his shadow-less annual photo shoot. So we put him in front of the sliding glass door with one of Brigid’s lambs. No shadows to be seen anywhere! Come spring!
Basil is named for my paternal grandfather, who was born on Groundhog Day, February 2, 1882 in the village now known as Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukraine. When Pop arrived in America at Ellis Island in 1909, instead of translating his name, Wasyl, to its equivalent in English, Basil, the immigration worker wrote his name down as William, by which he was known for the rest of his life.
Last year the sun was shining brightly, so we took Basil down to Eastern Point Beach for pictures.
Last week Auntie had her first visit from a professional companion-homemaker. I was enlisted to be on hand and make sure things went as smoothly as possible. It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, a difficult transition for her to have “strangers” in her cottage, but after a while she relaxed a little and even put her feet up while the friendly and cheerful young woman cared for the cleaning chores that have become too much for her. (And too much for us!) We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this week she’ll be able to cope without one of us having to be there while the homemaker cleans and shops for her.
I grew up knowing that my paternal grandfather was artistic. Pop, Auntie’s father, carved wood and even crafted his own violin as a young man, and I was told he could also draw. I had been told that my aunt could draw, too, but I had not seen any evidence of it. So I had a lovely surprise when Auntie and I went into her bedroom so the homemaker could vacuum the living room. She pulled a collection of DVDs off of a shelf on her nightstand and brought out two things that were hidden behind the DVDs. One was a jewelry box, but I was far more curious about the other thing. It was a sketch of Clark Gable! Auntie shrugged it off as something she drew a long time ago and had no use for, and so it was given to me!
Today I finally got around to taking the faded and yellowed drawing out of its unattractive frame with broken glass, and photographed it as best I could. On the back Auntie had written, it would seem 70 years ago, “Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in the movie Gone with the Wind, 1940.” I couldn’t resist trying to imagine the 25-year-old girl who drew this. She had already been married for six years and had a four-year-old son. Since she was 42 when I was born, it’s hard for me to picture her young, romantic, and perhaps a little star-struck! I found a better frame for my new treasure and hung it on a wall that gets no sunlight so it won’t fade more than it already has. It looks great with two other drawings I have, one of Dave Mathews and one of Van Morrison. My collection grows…
Edit – December 14, 2010: For some reason looking at the color I call “yellow mud” turns me off. So this morning I finally figured out how to use Photoshop to transform the drawing from color to black and white. Now it is easier on my eyes, anyway…