The spelling of the last name changed considerably depending on who wrote it. Uncle Carl, his son, Americanized it to Konesky in 1941 and the rest of the family used that spelling. But not my Granpap , he knew what his name was and he insisted it be that way! He was not an educated man through schooling, but he was very wise and shrewd. He knew how to read and write and I can still hear him say in Polish to his son, “Never you mind, I show you! You no change how spell my name!” Here they are in 1942, Teofil, is the shorter one and Carl.
Though he proudly claimed to be full Polish, his baptismal certificate indicates he was baptized in Zarsryn, Austria, born April 27, 1887 to Thecla Kochanecka (the spelling is hard to read in the Latin script) daughter of Adalberti Kochanecki and another name hard to decipher, Sunwae de Cictro Ober. He was baptized Theophilus; the Latin clearly includes a reference “illegitimus”. I wish I’d known about this when Granpap was alive, because he would have had a good story to tell. He had a brother, Charles ‘Krolicki” who died in Illinois in and a sister Nellie Buczek who lived in PA. I do not remember either of them.
My love of gardening stems from hanging out with Granpap. Among my favorite memories is sitting in the dirt smack dab in the garden with Granpap. I loved scraping up the dirt. He would hoe or shovel and I would crawl around with my own tiny shovel, spoons or my hands, sifting the dirt that he worked up into fine mulch. I developed my love of hot peppers right there in the dirt in Granpaps garden! I remember pulling peppers off the plants and biting into each one until we found the right taste of hot. This was to my grandmother’s horror! “PAP, DON’T YOU FEED THOSE PEPPERS TO Patty!” He’d laugh, “Never you mind, Rose, she’s help me find the hottest.” Oh we were a pair, Granpap and me. Grandma would scoop me up, scrub me clean and redirect my attention to my dolls inside the house. I remember when I was about five years old and she had me sparkling clean. Off I went because Granpap was outside in the garden, dragging Dolly along, both of us were back in the dirt. Granpap warned me, “Oooh Parujcka (Polish for my name) you gonna get it for sure now….never you mind, go on over there by the wood shed.” He then decided he was done stirring the dirt for the day, wiped me off as good as he could with his handkerchief and then said, “Well what I gonna tell Rose now? You gonna make lotsa trouble for us two!” And of course it was the funniest thing in the world to him.
Granpap was my salvation at church. We attended a Polish parish and in those days if the priests were not speaking Latin, it was Polish. As a child I understood neither and would get fidgety sitting there, bur Granpap would smile and tell me “just a little bit longer then we go home, and we gonna get ice cream on the way” which bought my quiet attention.
Teofil found his wife, my grandmother, Rose, in a bakery where she was working. They were married September 25, 1915 in New Kensington, PA. I found it strange that there was no Catholic wedding, but that could have been because of his past. I do recall my grandmother saying that they had gone to the priest later on that year to be really married. She was devout Catholic; Teofil was also Catholic but not as concerned. They had five children, Frank who died of the Spanish flu epidemic, Francis, Carl, Virginia and Helen, my mother. I never saw a wedding portrait, but I have a huge oil portrait of their faces which hangs in my study; my uncle said it was for an anniversary.
Granpap suffered many strokes and was always told he would not walk again. But he always outwitted the doctors. He would be up hobbling about with his cane to the surprise and delight of all. With a grin and poking his cane, “never you mind, I not gonna lay in no bed!” He had no intention of spending the rest of his life in bed, because Rose had enough to do without having to wait on him. I remember him walking all over town and up the hills to our home.
Often his walks ended up at the butcher shop where they always had a card game going on in the back and he often won. My grandmother walked to the butcher shop almost every day to buy meat. Looking back now, I wonder why she just didn’t have Granpap pick it up, but then I supposed she never knew how long he might be staying there. I remember a big to do one late summer afternoon when Granpap did not return home from his walk. I was staying at my grandparents, which I did often. So after calling around and finding out that he had left the butcher shop hours ago, my Grandmother got worried. She called Uncle Carl who came and called the police. A search was on for Teofil…This is one of the few times I ever saw my grandma cry. Later before it was fully dark, Grandpap came up the sidewalk, with his cane, whistling and humming, which he always did as he walked along. There were many anxious Polish words spoken and Teofil began to laugh and then scold them all,,,,,”Hmph! Never you mind! I come home you all crazy or what!” He’d been down near the river, got interested in digging around in the woods…lost track of time….
Family called him the “junkman” because on his walks, he would invariably find something discarded by someone, which he would drag home. He was the original recycler before the term was ever invented. Later he would drag these treasures to our home to my mother’s consternation. Granpap’s retort to criticism of his hauls were always the same short words, “Listen to me, this no cost you nothing, you no gotta feed it, someday you gonna want it and here it is…never you mind!” Today when I ponder whether or not to toss something, I recall Granpap’s advice, “well it costs nothing, don’t have to feed it, might be handy someday…” He left a legacy, prone to packrat.
He died in November 29, 1961 the way we would all like to go. After they ate lunch he told my Grandma that he felt a little bit tired and was going to go take a nap. He never awoke. I was in my senior year of high school and still remember my grandmother’s voice of grief when she called our home after she found him. She moved to our house immediately after that. Teofil was the love of her life.