I turned 22 years old on August 8 this year, and in so many ways, 22 is not what I was expecting at all. I am happier and more content than I have ever been, and I am trying to spend as much time with my younger sisters as possible while they’re still kids (they are growing up too fast!). I have loved every minute of my new teaching job–even when my students are being a pain–and I am very lucky to be learning the ropes from a team of strong, fearless and hardworking women with decades of experience between them. This blog, as well, was the catalyst for it all: I’m writing for myself again, and the words of encouragement many of you send each week have made this project even more worthwhile. Ten years ago, I thought I’d be a doctor, a lawyer or a geneticist, and while my life has taken a completely different path, I know this is the right path for me.
This week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompt is “closest to your birthday,” and I immediately thought of my Uncle Louis (we share a birthday, after all). Jack Louis Marczynski, the son of Casimir and Mary (Fabich) Marczynski, was born on August 8, 1904 in Dunkirk, New York, four years after his family’s arrival at Ellis Island aboard the SS Patricia. Louis’ mother, Mary, contracted typhoid fever and died on February 14, 1907, four days after Louis’ three-month-old brother, Edmund, died of gastritis; Louis was only two years old when he became the youngest in the family. Casimir quickly remarried my great-great-grandmother, Mary Witkowski, in August of that year, and while Mary’s relationship with Casimir’s older children was always strained, she and Louis immediately clicked–attributable, at least in part, to how young he was when he lost his mother and brother.
One by one, Mary Fabich’s older children–Pauline (b. 1895), Catherine (b. 1897), Frank (b. 1897), Fred (b. 1899) and Josephine (b. 1902)–changed their surname to “Martin” and moved to Detroit, Michigan to find work and start their own families; Louis, though, spent almost his entire life in Dunkirk. At the age of 22, he was living with his father and stepmother at their home on St. Hedwig’s Avenue, ever the role model to his six younger half siblings. Louis then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and spent the mid- to late-1920s traveling through Amsterdam and Paris. By 1930, he was living in Detroit with his oldest sister, Pauline, and working as a die operator, but within a few years, he was back on St. Hedwig’s Avenue.
Louis married Monica Stella Struzynski, the daughter of Joseph and Edna Struzynski, on August 7, 1935 in St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church; he was 30 years old, and she was 22. The pair had two children–Carolyn (b. 1942) and Louis (b. 1943)–and they made their first home on Ermine Street in the city. My great-grandmother, Hattie (Marczynski) Zielinski, remembered Louis as a warm, kind and hardworking young man; he would stop by each of his sisters’ houses at the end of the week to complete all of the repairs–fixing leaky sinks, patching old roofs and changing burst lightbulbs–that they needed. Louis and Monie, as his wife was affectionately known, stood up in Hattie’s and Stanley’s wedding, and they helped my great-grandparents add an addition to their home when they were first married.
I know the most about Louis, though, from his daughter, Carolyn’s, personal memoirs: “There is very little I remember of my father. He had only an eighth grade education but was very intelligent. If he had the opportunity he would have accomplished much in school and college.
Dad paid a lot of attention to detail and often recorded dates and events in his little black book: things such as our illnesses, our car accidents, bill payments and grievances with the union at Allegheny Ludlum Steel Plant, where he worked a very strenuous job in order to support his family. I know he was a very kind and gentle man who loved my brother and me and my Mom very much. He loved little kids and would have been so pleased to be able to know his grandchildren. My friend Pat Letersky reminded me how much she would enjoy Dad because he was always teasing her. He also introduced her to mustard on pretzels, which she still enjoys today.
My earliest recollection of my Dad was a time when I fell and had a big “goose egg” on my forehead. He sat me on his knee in the kitchen and held a cold butter knife to the bump to bring it down. I can remember feeling safe in his big hands and arms. He taught me how to drive and I am sure I put a few gray hairs on his head. He painted a bull’s eye on the back wall of our garage so that I would not hit the sides of the garage as I pulled in. One time when I was dating someone other than Joe, my date stood me up. Dad was more upset than I was. He was so mad, but I could tell that he just didn’t want me to be hurt. I know he loved me very much.”
Louis passed away on July 10, 1962 at the age of 57: “Dad had a heart problem and probably high cholesterol, although in the 50’s they didn’t know what that was. I remember the day Dad died. It was a very hot July day. He had been sitting on the porch and his feet were swollen, but he got ready to go to work for the 4 PM shift at the steel plant. He said good-bye and walked out the door. Within an hour, we got a call telling us to go to the hospital because something had happened. Dad actually died at the steel plant but was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. It was a very sad day that is still vivid in my mind.”
At 22, Uncle Louis embarked on a journey across the Atlantic, traveling through Amsterdam and, later, Paris as a member of the Marine Corps. He arrived back in the United States a few years later and couch surfed between his sisters’ homes in Detroit, searching for odd jobs until something stuck. When he returned home–home to Dunkirk–he became a husband, a father and a devoted older brother. It seems as though, in retrospect, 22 truly was the start of Louis’ life, and I cannot wait to see what my 22nd year has in store for me, as well. Last week, one of my students told me that I “seem to be doing a good job at being an adult,” and that’s all the validation I need. Happy (belated) birthday, Uncle Louis; if I have one ounce of your kindness and courage some day, I’ll be in pretty good shape.