About a month ago, I sent a list of questions to Cathy MacAlpine, my second cousin (and daughter of my great aunt Helen – my grandfather’s sister)… while I’m still hoping to meet Helen in person one of these days, I thought I would share the info she sent today:

“Before I start I need to explain that I am not so good on a computer so this will be in letter form. I asked all of the questions but she only remembered the answers to maybe a quarter of them. So here goes: Helen’s mom was from Krakow, Poland. Her mom’s maiden name was Helen Vidalski. She came alone to America. The story is that the sailor’s helped her and hid her on the boat. Helen ( my mom ) never met her grandparents nor any members of their family.Helen’s father was Jozef Tryba and lived from 1879-1958. He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetary in Webster. Helen’s father did have a sister in Webster. Her last name was Sacka. She lived on Dresser St. Helen’s father was a cement mason.He had a hand deformity or it was rumored that the missing fingers were eaten by pigs.elen herself: was born April 1918. She was born in Webster and lived on Harris Street. At school age she lived on Sibley Ave where Anna Fijal and Barbara now live. She had many brothers and sisters and now only she and Anna are living. They went in age: Joseph ( BUD) Mary, Veronica (VEE), Julia, Albert ( GEORGE ), John ( his wife called him SAM ) Andrew ( TEMP ) Helen (Temp’s wife called her HILDA ), Peter (SAILOR ), and Anna. Josaphine and Valentine were born after Anna but died of childhood illness, 4 or 5 years old, not in school yet. My mother called her brother Andrew, CRAWFISH when they playfully argued as children because they were close in age. Bud seemed to favor Helen and Anna and always took them shopping and gave them money for treats and the movies. Helen hated school. Geography and History were her worst subjects. Helen quit school after 8th grade. She stayed home and did housework. Her mother would not let her get a job at first. When she did get one she like the rest of the children, had to turn over their paycheck.When my mother planned her wedding she finally stood up to her mother and refused to give over most of it to save for her wedding dress, etc. My mom married my dad when she was 29 and he was 31.That’s basically all she remembers. Doris and John spent much time as adults with your grandparents Elsie and Bud. Hope you find this helpful.”

More to come on this story – but I’m very excited to share that I’ve just returned from a trip to Poland… and was able to find some of our cousins still living in the little hamlet (village?) of Cwikow (pronounced “Ch-vick-ov”). LOTS and lots to share… and photos too!… so stay tuned!!

I heard this information from my mother: two of Gigi’s sisters, Anna (late 80s) and Helen (91), are the last of his siblings still living, and currently reside in the Webster, MA area.

Kathy Thompson (Helen’s daughter) told my mother that Gigi’s mother’s name was Helen Fidelski; she came as a young girl to America by herself. In fact, she was so petite/tiny, that the sailors thought she was a kid and took care of her as she made the voyage over the Atlantic, feeding her beer when she was seasick.

Once here in the USA, she eventually met and married Josef Tryba, Gigi’s father – who also came to America on his own.

I remember my grandparents had a couple of English Setters.  First there was Lady, who was kept outside in a coop year-round… and I seem to remember that Cio Cio Laura (Bobchi’s sister) and Uncle Bob Poirier had another named Junior – and I believe they bred the two… the result of which was Shippan, one of the best dogs I’ve ever encountered.

I was very young when Shippan was born. I remember it was winter. Bobchi would bundle me up like a little Michelin man to go outdoors with Gigi, and I would trundle along behind him and ‘help’ him with his yard chores.

Lady had had an ill-timed litter tha winter, and it wasn’t until some time later that I realized that one of Gigi’s ‘chores’ was to crawl into the coop on his hands and knees, and carefully pull out the puppies that hadn’t survived the night.  He would lay them out on newspaper, wrap them up, then walk to the shed to place them inside (the ground was frozen solid, so he would have to wait until the weather warmed before he could bury them).

One fateful morning, Gigi and I were on our way to the shed, when I asked him what was in the newspaper. He explained the best way he could, but it was very upsetting for me.  I asked to see them, and he carefully opened one package to expose a little frame with blue-tinged skin.  Gigi set the last bundle down on top of the others and walked deeper into the shed to do something else.  I remember not being able to take my eyes off the newspaper.

Then one moved.

Just slightly.

I yelled for Gigi and told him that one had moved.  At the time, I’m sure he was just trying to humor me, but he came over and opened up the paper. The little figure moved again. Just barely.

I started to cry.

We just couldn’t leave this little puppy outside in the shed to die. He was the last one of the litter – and the runt.  Gigi tried to explain that he wasn’t likely to survive since his mother didn’t want to care for him. But I would not be consoled.  So he found an old box and some rags and brought the puppy into the house, placing him in front of the fireplace in the kitchen.  I’m sure he thought that it would only be for a night.  But that night turned into another day. Then another week. Then a month came and went… and it was clear that the little guy wasn’t going to give up so easily.

When it was clear that he was out of the woods, my grandmother asked me what we should call him.  I remember that it seemed obvious – crystal clear -what his name should be.


Later, Bobchi asked me where I came up with the name… to which I apparently replied “I dunno.  Off the top of my head.”

Shipan lived many years – not passing until I was away at college. He lived in the same coop after Lady had passed on, and though he’d never been fixed, he still never left his yard. Instead, patrolling the perimeter every day. Not a single dog was allowed to enter – until Ginger. 

And that’s another story.

Gigi was a bit older than Bobchi – and it seemed that he was in a rush to have kids… and then grandkids… as soon as possible.  My mother once told me that she thought it might be due to the fact that he’d almost died when he was younger (scarlet fever, if I remember correctly) and he was afraid that he would die before he had them.

So when my parents became pregnant with me, it apparently was a very exciting thing for Gigi.  And he just couldn’t wait to show me off to his friends when I finally arrived.

However, there was a catch:  he wanted to be able to bring me to where his friends were: the Polish club… which was a bar.  Alcohol and cigarette smoke be damned!

“Absolutely not!” my grandmother told him.  And when he persisted, my grandmother got exasperated and told him that he couldn’t take me to the Club until I could walk.  She should have known better…!

Several weeks passed, and my grandfather had come home from work from his third shift job and he told my mother to go lie down in the other room – that he would take care of me and breakfast.  So my mother went into the next room to rest.  A few minutes later, my grandfather came into the room… and it was then a few minutes after then that my mother started to wonder what he’d done with me.  As she sat up,  she asked him where I was – to which he replied “She’s in her high chair!”  As soon as she realized that he’d left the baby in the highchair by herself, my mother got up and started to head towards the kitchen.

It was at that moment that a pudgy little hand wrapped itself around the doorway… followed by a big grin on wobbly legs.

My mother and Gigi looked at each other.

“How did she get out of the highchair??? And she’s walking!!!”

“Oh, she’s been doing that for a few weeks now.”

Turns out, that every morning when my mother would rest after Gigi got home from work, he would take me upstairs to their bedroom and have me stand up against the bed, holding the covers.  He would then walk to the end of the bed and beckon me to “come on!”  Apparently, this went on for several weeks.

As soon as my grandmother got back from work that day, my mother told her the news: that Gigi had taught me to walk… and that my parents had completely missed their firstborn’s first steps.

Immediately after, Gigi exclaimed, “She can walk – so I can take her to the club now, right?”

Which he did.

Yet another “first grandchild” story:

I was born in January; it was just a couple of months later when my mother discovered that she was expecting my sister.  It was a complicated pregnancy, so my parents moved back in with my grandparents so that my mother could have some help with me, “old ton of fun”.

My grandfather used to work third shift, so when he got home, he liked to spend time with me and have breakfast.  Eggs, bacon… it didn’t matter that I didn’t have any teeth yet.  Or that my mother had already fed me. (Again, thus the nickname!) But Gigi was always known for dancing to his own beat… and that included his ideas for entertaining his first grandchild.

When the weather was warmer, one of the things that he used to do was put me in my highchair, and pull it right up against one of the windows in the kitchen. Then he’d pull up a chair next to me, open the window – and sprinkle bird seed along the windowsill.  It was then only a matter of time before a variety of birds would show up and indulge in the seeds until they were all gone.

It amazes me that, between the open window and the squeals of delight from the chubby baby, the birds never actually made it into the house. But I’m sure it kept me entertained for hours – and it created a special memory for him.

There’s also the story from my childhood that everyone seems to bring up… I was the first grandchild on my father’s side, and Gigi had been in a big rush for grandchildren.  So he took a lot of liberties with me that he probably shouldn’t have.  One of the more outrageous things happened when I was about 2 years old.  My parents were sitting in the kitchen with my sister and my grandmother – and my grandfather took me outside for some air.  A little while passed, and the adults in the house started to wonder where we’d gotten off to.  So my father came outside and walked around the house… he could hear us talking (well, I wouldn’t say I had the firmest grasp of the language at that point), but he couldn’t figure out where we were, so he came back into the house.  Then, they started to hear my grandfather’s ‘Tarzan’ calls (Aaaah-OOOOOOO-ahhhh!) and my giggles… so they came back outside and tried to locate us.  They’d just about given up again, but happened to be standing under the huge maple tree in the front yard… when Gigi let loose another Tarzan cry… which came from directly above. 

He had climbed up the tree with me – by placing me on a branch, asking me to “stay”, and then scrambling up to where I was.  By placing me on progressively higher branches, we managed to get about 8-10 feet up… and were sitting there until my parents and grandmother located us.

Suffice it to say, they were not pleased.  But I’m told that I was having a blast!  But Gigi was convinced to hand me down to my father… and then my father had to help Gigi down, too.

I believe the Tryba and Ciesla side of the family both come from the Southeastern region of Poland, the Tatra mountain area. This is beautiful country and I highly recommend you visit if you can. These are the Alpine-esque mountains where the poor used to rob from the traveling rich and redistribute among the villagers.

The relative that Lynn met on the family farm was P. Czeslaw Ciesla (Babci’s side of the family), who is most likely passed on by now, as he seemed to be about 70 when she met him about 20 years ago. Address was 33264 Cwikow 13 (Cwikow is the name of the village.), Woj. Tarnow, Poland.

There was the time when Gigi almost burned the house down after the holidays… he decided to burn the tree – and simply stuffed the entire tree up the chimney and lit it from the bottom.  Then walked away.  After someone heard a sound much like a vacuum cleaner, they realized that flames were shooting up vertically from the chimney above the house.  Fortunately, the tree was so dry and the chimney was cold – so that the tree just burned up completely.  Even before the firemen could get there!

Here’s the first of many stories I have about Bobchi – though this version has probably been romanticized over time:

Bobchi’s mother was originally promised/betrothed to another gentleman than our great-grandfather.  The story that Bobchi told me was that, one day, her mother was in the front yard of their home when a young man walked past the fence. Their eyes met, and it was love at first sight. Bobchi’s mother apparently then turned to her father and said, “Father, that is the man I am to marry.” and pleaded with him to release her from her arrangement. He relented and released her from the previous obligation and blessed her marriage to the man who became our great-grandfather.