Bonnie Shell's Life Stories

What were your grandparents like?

I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents long enough to know them. All my grandparents were Polish immigrants. They all had very different personalities.

My dad’s dad (Michael Kania) was a very kind and quiet man. He had many friends. He was a hard worker and was lucky to have a job during the depression. He worked in a factory, was a realtor, and his last job was as a sanitation worker. He came home from work, cleaned up, and liked having a beer before dinner. I loved visiting with him. He would put me on his lap and sing Polish songs to me. In the summer, he would take me to the park. I particularly remember him taking me to the May Day Parade in Chicago.

My grandmother (Mary Zachara Kania) was a very headstrong and feisty lady. Her mother died when she was very young, and her stepmother was very mean to her. Her sister Angela came to the states, worked, and earned enough money to bring grandma to join her. One story I heard was that her sister was invited to a wedding, and grandma was not. She went to the second-story porch of their house, trying to see the wedding, and the porch collapsed with her. She slid down the wall to the bottom and landed unhurt.

In the early days of their marriage, they lived in apartments, and when grandma disagreed with the landlord, she would call a friend of hers that had a truck and move to another apartment. When grandpa got home from work, neighbors would tell him that Mary had moved down the street. I understand that this happened several times until they bought their own home.

Grandma was very controlling of her four children. She insisted on approving their marriage partners. My grandma disapproved of my mom because her family had too many children. She worried there would not be enough of an inheritance. So my dad said he would make his own inheritance.

Because of grandma, my Aunt Sophie never married. I felt bad for her because she was wonderful, kind, and smart. I also know that grandma was a very particular housekeeper, a trait I’ve been accused of having.

My grandfather on my mother’s side (Walter Rejczyk) was very happy-go-lucky. He and grandma had eleven children. He was a carpenter and worked on construction jobs and in a chair factory. He had a thick mustache, which got shaven off when he got glue in it at the factory. Then he would regrow it.

Grandpa was the life of the party. He loved to dance and taught himself to play the violin. Unfortunately, the depression hit mom’s family quite hard. Grandpa lost his job, so my mom and her older sister had to quit school and go to work.

When grandpa was in his sixties, he bought some land in Wisconsin and built a summer cottage. We had many happy times spent there in the summer.

My grandmother (Mary Garbacz Rejczyk) was a quiet lady. She was very smart. She told me that she graduated from high school in Poland, and the teachers came to talk to her father to get permission to send her to the University. Her dad said no. Women did not need that kind of education to be wives and mothers.

Grandma loved children and got just as excited with her 19th grandchild as her first. I’m sure she was devastated when they lost their first son (Casimir) to some flu when he was three years old. Grandma could not call a doctor because they had no phone, and Grandpa could not contact the doctor until after work. Jobs were hard to get, and he would have lost his job if he had taken time off to get the doctor before work. By the time the doctor came after work, it was too late. They also lost two sons in WWII (Edwin and Aloysius).

My grandma was very sweet and loving. She always had a hug for us. Seeing her with at least three grandchildren on her lap was not unusual.