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. ❤

namesake

5.6.17 ~ Katherine at the grave of her great-great-grandparents

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…

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

 

Groundhog Day

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.

Clark Gable

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…

hurricanes and heart attacks

“Storm Landscape” by Franz von Stuck

The mixture of the calm with the storm is not haphazard. Quite the contrary. My growth is at the center of each. I will trust its message.
~ Karen Casey
(Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women)

It’s been an unsettling week, to say the least. We’ve been keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Earl since Sunday, hoping it stays on its predicted course and brushes past us to the east tomorrow with minimal damage. The tropical storm watch was upgraded to a tropical storm warning today at noon. Cape Cod is now under a hurricane warning and for some reason I have a desire to go there.

Sometimes it seems that all there is to talk about is the remarkable weather. Yesterday and today we’ve had a heat index of 100º. Today many towns nearby are letting their schools out early because of the heat. The weed pollen levels are “very high.” And there is an air quality alert to boot. The advancing storm should be eliminating all these problems when it arrives. I don’t usually watch the news at noon, where I learned all these bits of information, but I was curious about the hurricane.

Any threat of hurricanes stirs up frightening memories for my father and his sisters. The Great Hurricane of 1938 descended on my father without warning as he was walking home from high school in the afternoon. Fierce winds were snapping branches off trees and other trees were being uprooted as he struggled to keep walking. According to Wikipedia it “remains the most powerful, costliest and deadliest hurricane in New England history.”

When Dad got home he discovered that his mother wasn’t home, only his father, two of his sisters, and a baby nephew. At the height of the storm they were all trying desperately to keep walls from crashing in on them, bolstering them up with heavy furniture and the weight of their bodies. Still, the hardest part was not knowing if his mother was safe, and his sister’s husband, too.

After the storm passed by Dad’s mother returned home. She had decided it would be safer to stay at the neighbor’s house where she happened to be when the hurricane struck. Auntie’s husband was caught at work in New London which had flooded with the storm surge, so he stayed there to help rescue people. Not knowing what had become of him for several days was hard for the family to endure.

Well, thanks to modern technology we can worry a little less about the storm coming tomorrow. And modern technology was at work for Tim’s family this week as well.

On Monday Tim’s younger brother, age 51, had a heart attack. He lives overseas in Luxembourg so we found out about it on Tuesday. It was such an emotional jolt. Since Tuesday Tim’s been trying to make contact with him at the hospital using Skype and finally this morning they connected and had a long conversation, comparing notes, etc. This is still more evidence of a genetic factor at work here, their maternal grandmother died of a heart attack at age 54 – the age Tim was when he had his – and their great-grandmother died of a heart attack at age 52. Tim has four more younger brothers and it’s pretty sobering contemplating the possibilities, although we can all be very grateful for the advances in medicine that no doubt have saved two lives so far.

Our inner selves understand the journey; a journey destined to carry us to new horizons; a journey that promises many stormy seasons. For to reach our destination, we must be willing to weather the storms. They are challenges, handpicked for us, designed to help us become all that we need to be in this earthly life.
~ Karen Casey
(Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women)

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…