Friday, March 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday Week 16 Click here to link to other Sepia Saturday posters

Teofil Kochanowski 1887--1961    

 This week I jump to another side of my family, my grandfather, Teofil Kochanowski , my mother’s father.

This 1943  photo is my grandmother, Rose, my mother, Helen, and my grandfather, Teofil. 

While there are few photos of Teofil I have lots of memories.

To me he was Granpap and to the rest of the family, Pap.

“Never you mind” was his frequent response. And he always hummed or whistled a Polish tune. 

His favorite Polish saying, which I give you in English, is "where there are people there are troubles." 
 To him it meant, no worries, it is all just life!

 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.

 He enjoyed his "piwa" (beer) as this photo from 1945 shows him (left) with his visitng brother-in-law, Al Mroz. Teofil danced a wild polka and the "Russian" dance where he squatted and did the  kicks while shouting and raising arms.  I tried to do that but never could.  He would laugh and tell me that was the man's dance and I could not do it because I was a girl.  The proudest moment of his life was when he became a US citizen; he would shake his head in wonder that a boy who stole a cow could be a citizen of this great country. My aunt and mother said they remember him sitting on the stairs practicing English and studying US history for his citizenship test. When they laughed at his pronunciation of something, he would become very annoyed with them and shout, “go to bed! Never you mind, someday I’m gonna be a citizen and you no laugh from me no more."

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.
Here he is in 1943 with one of his hunting dogs.  Granpap would tell me stories about the mines, the strikes, hunting, but my Grandmother was always cautious about these. I can hear her yelling, “Pap don’t you tell her that!” He would laugh and point his finger to his lips to be quiet and then go on in a hushed tone. I remember sitting on the front porch swing with him and asking him how to say phrases in Polish, like, “you’re crazy” or “get away”, etc.  He told me that he had stolen a cow and sold it so he could get money to come to America. After he began to earn money he sent it to the farmer in Poland, he said, to his mother to pay for the cow.  When he arrived in America he hopped the freight trains and headed for Chicago, where he knew someone and which was a magnet for  Polish immigrants. He was a young man, an immigrant who spoke no English but knew he could make a living in America. For the rest of his life, he had a soft spot in his heart for railroad bums and he and my grandmother fed them whenever they wandered up from the tracks to their home. I suppose their home was known as a place where a bum could get a good hot meal. I don’t know for sure, but I think my Granpap snuck them some spare change too. My grandparents were not wealthy, but they believed someone else was always worse off and would share what they had.

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 was a coal miner and he shared stories of working at the mines and being very grateful to the unions. He was proud that when the “scabs” came by to take their jobs when the miners went out on strike that he would knock them down and bloody their noses if they did not leave right away. This was amazing because Granpap was a small man and so kind. I could hardly imagine him in a fight, but I suppose he did that to defend his livelihood and the union. His miner’s papers taken out in 1913 note that he entered the country through New York on the Hamburg and record his weight at 145 pounds, height at 5 ‘5” blonde hair and blue eyes. Granpap told me that his hair had turned black working in the mines. I always remember him with dark hair and little silver or grey hair even when he died in 1961. I guess that mine coal dust stayed with him all his life! Now that my hair turns darker with each year, I wonder if I somehow have the strain of coal dust from Granpap.

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 always had dogs which were well trained whether they were a hunting dog or a pet. My uncle told how Granpap was so crazy about animals, and even when times were very lean in their lives Granpap always had dogs.  I found this 1956 photo where Granpap has a woodchuck on a leash. He’d once brought a woodchuck into the house, leaving it in a box overnight in the kitchen. The next morning it and the box were gone! I am sure my grandmother who kept an immaculate house came into the kitchen, saw that and out it went. Uncle Carl said, Granpap was annoyed but shrugged it off, “I no have proof, Rose, but I know you did something and I wanted that woodchuck for a pet!” He tried to snare birds to tame them without too much success; my Uncle Carl said he would sit in wait near a bush to snare birds that would come up to feed on crumbs he had set out. My grandparents always had a canary or two in a cage; he loved canaries likely associating them with use in the mines. I suspect that my love of Tweety bird today stems back to my granpap and his canaries. Canaries were used by the coal miners to gauge air quality in the mines but granpap would not sacrifice his birds for that. He would not sell them to miners whom he knew they only wanted the birds to test the air.

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.


  1. What a full and interesting life Teofil led! He was obviously a very determined and hard-working character who has a special place in your memories. The photographs are really good, especially the way they trace his life through the years.

  2. I would like to have known your grandfather! You have done a wonderful job making him live for us.

  3. really great history you've written about your grandfather.
    Makes me a bit sad, I don't think most young men are nearly as hard-working and kind today

  4. What an amazing life and an amazing man. My wife's maternal great grand father was also a miner in Scotland. He died of black lung disease. So we know about the hardships of working in mines. The miners really needed the Union to defend them.

  5. What a great thing to have so many memories. Your grandfather kept his name and it was changed to make it easier for us foreigners over here. I really liked all the photos that you shared.

  6. I wish I could remember my grandparents as well as you remember yours. Isn't it fascinating that through Sepia Saturday we find that everyone's family has wonderful stories.

  7. This man lived by sheer will power. What drive he had, coming to a strange land to make his way, not even speaking the language. Great stories to pass down.

  8. To Barbara and Meri, I am who I am today thanks to my wonderful grandparents and an aunt. I have been blessed to have had them in my life and treasure all their stories that I keep in my heart. I love sharing these on Sepia. I cannot even imagine integrating himself as my Granpap did...

  9. These memories make you ever so wealthy. What a rich world you strolled through!!! You can visit it any time you want to..

  10. What a wonderful and touching story. Teofil sounds like a great guy. I get the sense from all of these pictures that he was a lot of fun to be around, feisty, fun-spirited, and warm-hearted. You can just see the twinkle in his eye.

  11. Wonderfully informative post. What I like in particular is the pose your grandfather seems to adopt in all the photographs. It's a kind of visual interpretation of his favourite saying. I suppose the modern equivalent is "whatever". Strong, resolute and relaxed in the face of whatever life might throw at him.

  12. as I wrote about my granpap I recalled how very happy he was, no matter what...Thanks to the comment about 'whatever" from now on when I say, "whatever" I will remember his Polish proverb too! Actually as I recall all my old relatives were very happy people; they had little financial wealth but they enjoyed whatever came to their lives. They all worked very hard and perhaps were enriched that way to enjoy the moment before it passes.