Bonnie Shell's Life Stories

How far back can you trace your family ancestry?

I was lucky to know both sets of my grandparents. All four of my grandparents immigrated from Poland. My paternal grandmother, Mary (Zachara) Kania, was brought here by her older sister, Angela Drost. From what I hear, she was quite a handful.

I was told that one afternoon, Angela was invited to a wedding. Mary was not invited, but the wedding reception was in a backyard, which she could see from the third-floor porch where she lived. Mary went to the third floor of an apparently shaky porch, and after a few minutes, the porch collapsed. Mary slid down the wall of all three floors and landed with only a few scrapes. She also had three brothers in the Chicago area. I don't know if they all came together or not.

My grandfather, Michael Kania, served in the Polish Army Cavalry. I assume he came to the USA because Poland was devastated after WWI. He was quite a hard-working man. He worked in a factory and traveled by streetcar for over an hour each way. He dabbled in real estate, and in his last years, he worked for the City of Chicago as a garbage man.

After a few years of living in apartments, he bought a very nice house for his family. I have a feeling that his marriage to my grandmother was an arranged marriage. It was quite common in those days for friends to introduce their friends to their brothers and sisters. They usually had a lot in common. They spoke the same language, many of whom came from the same towns. They were very opposite. Grandma was high-strung and quite feisty. Grandpa was quiet, gentle, and soft-spoken. I heard stories that in the first years of their marriage when they lived in apartments if Grandma had an issue with the landlord, she would get word to a friend who had a wagon and move to another apartment. When Grandpa came home from work, his neighbors had to tell him where he was now living. They had four children. Sofie, Bernard (Ben), Frank and Louise. Grandpa Kania had one brother in Chicago.

I don't know much about my maternal grandparents' life in Poland. Walter Rejczyk was also a hard worker. He worked in construction. I heard that he went back to Poland once for a visit but came back and stayed for the rest of his life. He had one brother in Chicago, but I believe he had several brothers and sisters in Poland. I don't know how many places they lived in before he built a house for his family.

My Grandmother, Mary (Garbasz) Rejczyk, came from Poland and stayed in a boarding house run by a lady who rented to single girls who came here alone. My grandmother worked and wanted to go to school to learn to speak English. The boarding house lady discouraged the girls from attending school by telling them only bad girls went to school. She didn't want them to better themselves because they would move on, and she would be out the rent money. My grandmother was very smart. She told me that when she finished their high school equivalent, the teachers came to see her father and told him Mary should go to college. He disagreed. She was to get married and raise a family and didn't need higher education.

Mary married Walter, and they had eleven children: Casimir, Helen, Lucille, Harriet, Ann, Edwin, Aloysius, Adam, Josephine, Walter, and Theresa. My grandmother had two brothers and a sister who came to America. The two brothers returned to Poland, but her sister Sophie stayed and married Stanley Kurowski. The Kurowski's farmed in Wisconsin most of their lives. My Grandparents suffered much sadness and loss in their lives. Their oldest son, Casimir, died at the age of three from influenza. They had no phone, and Grandpa could not get the doctor until after work, or he would lose his job. There were no drugs for various ailments in those days. During WWII, they had three sons in the war. Edwin and Al died in action. Adam came home.

Mary and Walter were also opposites. Walter was always joking around. My cousin told me that Grandpa was a professional dancer in Poland. He also played the violin. Mary was a sweet and gentle woman. She loved children and was as excited to greet her 20th grandchild as she was to greet her first. Even though Grandma didn't speak English, she understood the language, and I was the same with Polish. We had a lot of conversations that not many would understand.

I don't know anything about any of my great-grandparents.

I loved all my grandparents but felt especially close to Grandpa Kania and Grandma Rejczyk.