Thomas Michael Kuznicki, Sr., the son of Michael and Victoria (Drag) Kuznicki of Dunkirk, and Beatrice Maude Peterson, the daughter of John and Celestia (Merrill) Peterson of Fredonia, were married on June 14, 1941 in St. Hyacinth’s Church in Dunkirk, New York. The pair had met at a barn dance in nearby Fredonia, and, as they say, the rest is history. Thomas was handsome and daring and a smooth-talker; he worked at the family bar downtown and he’d had a few run-ins with the law in high school. Bea, on the other hand, was responsible, serious and a bit straight-laced, but Thomas made her laugh and she soon fell in love. Their first child, my grandfather, was born a little over a year after they were married, and they made their home in Fredonia to be closer to Bea’s parents and older sisters.
Thomas enlisted in the United States Navy on May 19, 1942 in Buffalo, New York and worked as a Carpenter’s Mate in Pearl Harbor. He was stationed in Hawaii for a year–where he took up competitive boxing–before joining a crew and sailing across the Pacific. Thomas sent postcards, letters and photos back home whenever he could, but he was only able to visit Bea and their son once during the war. Bea was tough, though: she started working in a local factory, and she and her older sisters helped each other make ends meet. The Peterson sisters–Frances, Tilly, Birdie, Marg and Bea–took turns watching the children during each other’s shifts at the factory, rejoiced when one of them received a letter abroad from their husband and alternated between houses for dinner each evening. They had family picnics, hosted pinochle nights and tried to keep their minds off the war.
Thomas’ and Bea’s second son, John, was born while Thomas was away in the Pacific, and Bea’s older sisters rallied around her to help take care of her two sons when she went back to work. Thomas couldn’t be there to meet John, to watch my grandfather grow up and to support Bea and the family; instead, when he came home from the war in 1945, he brought with him a box of china teacups and saucers, one from each country he had visited. He wanted Bea to know that he was thinking of her and the kids while he was away, and he chose the teacups he thought she would like best. The teacups were her most prized possessions: a gift from her husband to remind her of his love.