Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Marcin Sikorski

Marcin Sikorski (1794 Półczno - 1854 Kłączno)
Konstancja Wika Czarnowska (1794 Półczno - 1828 Półczno)
Anna Janta Połczyńska (1809 Czapiewice - 1866 Rekowo)

It has taken a little time, but I believe I have the Sikorski families of Winona. This is particularly important because two separate Sikorskis - Teofil Jakob Sikorski (1840-1913) and Ludwik "Louis" Sikorski (1845-1902) - were prominent early leaders among Winona's Kashubian community. Although both were born in the Bytow region, their branches of the Sikorski family seem to have been connected only by marriage. Since the most numerous branch was that of Teofil (also known as "Theodore," "Jacob," and even "T.J.") I will deal here with the branch headed by his father, Marcin Sikorski.

None of Marcin Sikorski's five children by his first wife, Konstancja Wika Czarnowska, emigrated to the United States. Their third son, Wilhelm Onufry Sikorski (1822-1870) married Michalina Sikorska (1828-?); three of Wilhelm's sons emigrated to Winona. Antoni Sikorski (1856-1908) married first Wiktoria Orlikowska (1859-1885) and then Marianna Pellowska (1866-1937). Jan Pawel Sikorski (1867-1922) married Mary Lepsch (1860-1940). Maksymilian "Max" Sikorski (1869-1912) married Augustyna Rompa (1870-1952).

Marcin Sikorski had nine children with his second wife, Anna Janta Połczyńska; two emigrated to Winona. Teofil Jakob Sikorski married Jozefina Rogalla (1851-1932) in 1867 at Winona. Jozefina's surname strongly suggests Silesian descent but is actually Kashubian, per Father Rekowski's list. Teofil and Jozefina had eleven children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. Teofil served three terms as alderman and was elected to the Minnesota State legislature in 1900; he also played an important role in the "Battle of St. Stan's" in the early 1890s. Maciej Sikorski (1846-1830) also married a Silesian Pole, Tekla Malik (1854-1936) at Winona in 1872. Maciej and Tekla had ten children; I have not yet had the time to investigate their family further. In any event, it is a very safe bet that there are numerous descendants of Marcin Sikorski living among the Kashubian American community to this very day!

Monday, July 22, 2013

These Things Take Time

I could have visited the Pellowski farm at Szwedzki Ostrów on my very first trip to Kashubia in 2011. I had been thinking about it; I know that if I had made it a priority, my dear friend Małgorzata Mazur would certainly have made it happen. Visiting Leśno was a far wiser choice for my first trip. Leśno is an actual town still served by the gorgeous 17th century wooden church where generations of Bambeneks and Stoltmanns were baptized, married, and sent on to their eternal rest. Even without this family connection, just seeing the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was worth the drive out from Gdansk. Speaking with the priest and his chatty neighbor was a treat, as was the walk through the cemetery afterward. The Stoltmanns and Bambeneks resting there may or may not have been my relatives, but I felt very much at home nevertheless.

Szwedzki Ostrów, on the other hand, is literally in the middle of nowhere. A very beautiful nowhere, surrounded (as the map shows) by lakes and hills and ponds and forests. The surrounding area is known, with good reason, as the "Switzerland of Kashubia." Even when one makes the correct turn (Wyrówno) off the beaten path (Route 295), Szwedzki Ostrow is not easily found. Our guide today -  my 52nd birthday - is Reverend Władysław Szulist, the celebrated priest and historian from Lipusz. Father Szulist has been here before: several years ago, he guided the Kashubian-American novelist and activist Anne Pellowski (my late mother's first cousin and high school classmate) to the site of the cottage where our ancestor Franciszek Pellowski was born on January 26, 1829. Still, Father Szulist himself feels called upon to stop at a farmhouse for directions, just to make sure we reach Szwedzki Ostrów. Of course, the locals confirm that we are headed in the right direction.

Father Szulist is not the type who leaves things to chance. At least half of his flat in Lipusz is taken up with his office and library. Before guiding us to the Pellowski farm, Father Szulist has insisted on treating the birthday boy to a simple but abundant lunch of sausages and breads, with sweets and even Napoleon brandy. He also had a present for me: a copy of his very latest book, Lipusz: dawniej i dziś. On page 59 of this book, he has included pictures of our last visit to Lipusz in September 2012. Małgorzata whipped up a birthday cake from a huge, delicious chocolate sweet. And sporting my new Kashubian hat (a gift from Małgorzata  and her husband Eddie), I was treated to the Polish birthday classic, "Sto Lat." With that part of the birthday celebration complete, we left with Eddie's cousin, Edmund Zielke at the wheel of his VW Jetta wagon. Once Father Szulist has confirmed we are going the right way, we arrive in just minutes.

Down a little hill is a two story farmhouse; modern, but simple. Across the road are a couple of outbuildings. Three men and a woman are sitting at a table in front of the house. The men are brown as trees: they work outside. A lot. The Stempnikowskis are very friendly, and they are familiar with the old Pellowski cottage which once stood on the hill up from the pond. They are pleased that people have come from the city to visit. Edmund decides to sit and visit with the Stempnikowskis while Malgorzata, Fr. Szulist, Eddie, and I walk up to the site of the old cottage. Absolutely nothing remains to indicate human habitation. But if Fr. Szulist says my great-great grandfather Franciszek Pellowski was born on this spot, that is more than sufficient for me.

The view from the cottage site is literally breathtaking. To the south is the lake Wyrówno, with thickly wooded hills on the western horizon, and a wheat field in the foreground where the Pellowski family once literally grew its daily bread. To the north is a stand of trees and a pond, large enough to cross in a boat. It suddenly strikes me how painful it must have been to leave this little corner of heaven. I can't help but ask the question out loud - how could anybody have left such a beautiful home, to find their fortune across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States? I don't recall who responded to me, or in what language. Malgorzata and Eddie both speak excellent English, and Fr. Szulist understands it well, even though he does not speak it. But I will remember the answer forever: Poverty.

I doubt this revelation would have produced anywhere near the same effect on me two years ago. I have since read and even written a good deal more about the Kashubian American experience since then. And while I have been so far been spared poverty, I have certainly acquired more experience in dealing with the long term emotional trauma which results from a permanent parting. To live the rest of one's life with a landscape such as this in one's heart, knowing that one would never return there, or return to the family members and other loved ones who remained there... it must have been a terrible cross to bear. Imagining how strange the new life in Winona or Pine Creek must have seemed to the Kashubian immigrants has become much easier for me now. My admiration for their courage in making their way to America and their determination to succeed in the new country has only increased. I am all the prouder and more grateful to be Kashubian American myself, and I am all the more determined to help preserve the legacy left by these brave, pioneering families. Yet Szwedzki Ostrów has also taught me a lesson about patience. One cannot have experiences like this every day, or even every year.

These things take time.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pòmiwôk, or A Pilgrimage

For every day of her seventy years on this planet, my beloved Mom was proud to be a 100% Polish-American from Winona, Minnesota. She had no idea that she was really of Kashubian Polish descent, but that's all right. Her parents didn't know they were Kashubians either. At any rate, Mom took great pains to make sure her three children took pride in their Polish heritage. For example, she taught us to sing the first verse and the chorus of the Polish national anthem, which began with the stirring line
Jeschka Polska nezha gee-whah; Kiddie mezhee emmy...
March, march, Sikorski! Zhunday dunday Polski!
Zhot voyee-vzha vodem - Shoshem zeener odem!
At the time, the words themselves meant nothing to any of us, not even Mom. Had she known that Poland was not yet dead, she would have told us and we would have remembered it. Still, after all this time I am pleased that the Old Country gibberish I learned as a kid was in fact pretty close to what patriotic Poles sing proudly today. Mom also used certain "Polish" expressions and words, one of which I still remember. In our household, a kitchen washcloth was always referred to as a poomyvook. To this day, I still use a poomyvook to wash my dishes. It makes me feel closer to my Mom.

I also felt closer to my Mom last week as I marched with fellow members of the Kashubian-Pomeranian Organization at this year's World Kashubian Meeting. I am proud and happy to be a Kashubian. I embrace being a Kashubian. I was in Poland to be with my fellow Kashubians and, hopefully, to find out what being a Kashubian American means. There are many Kashubian Poles to tell the Kashubian Polish story; I would soon be meeting again with one of the most famous, Father Wladyslaw Szulist of Lipusz. There are Kashubian Canadians who have written extensively about the Kashubian Canadian story. There exists no English-language book which comes close to telling the story of Kashubian emigrants to the United States. And even if there were, I have come to Kashubia on a pilgrimage - to learn the things about being Kashubian which cannot be taught by books.

As I wandered down the streets of Wladyslawowo after the parade, I was approached by two friendly men wearing gold and black shirts. One was an older man with distinguished looking gray hair. He was wearing a black and gold shirt inscribed "KASHUBIAN GRIFFINS." He excused himself and politely asked in English if I was Professor Hughes. "Yes, I am," I said. "Who might you be?" I thought to myself. He introduced himself as Marian Jelinski of Zukowo. He had read my Wikipedia articles on Kashubian subjects and found out on Facebook that I would be attending this year's World Kashubian Meeting. He had brought me a gift. I was now the owner of the Polish-English-Kashubian Dictionary compiled by Marian Jelinski and David Shulist. I had been trying to find and purchase this book for more than a year. And just now one of the authors had walked up to me on the street in Poland, introduced himself, and presented me with an inscribed copy!

Unexpectedly receiving a copy of this coveted book was the first of several epiphanies I would have on my trip. The concise, no-nonsense version of my experiences can be found in the trip report I posted earlier this week. The full effect of my experiences will have to rattle around in my mind a little bit more before I commit them to words. But I left Kashubia, and left Poland with a firm sense that these crazy Kashubians were truly my people, and that I was truly one of them. Moreover, if anybody was going to tell the story in English of the Kashubians who came to the United States, it would have to start with me. The entire story will require someone younger, trained as a historian, and who possesses fluency in Polish. But a history of the Kashubian Americans of Winona is within my reach. More than that, it is within my heart.

I packed up quite a few pounds' worth of books on this trip to Poland. My checked baggage clocked in at 22.7 kilograms - that's 49.9 lbs: maybe an ounce and a half under the limit. My new dictionary traveled with me on the plane. It sits on the table next to my bed, where I often look at it before I fall asleep. Not that I will ever learn Polish in this lifetime, much less Kashubian - which is considered more difficult. But I like to pronounce random Kashubian words to myself as I fall asleep, hoping someday I may at least get that much right. Two nights ago I saw, in the upper right hand corner of page 22, an old childhood memory. In "good" Polish, the word for washcloth is myjka or ściereczka. The Kashubian word for washcloth is... pòmiwôk.

Poomyvook. Pòmiwôk. So my Mom had been speaking some Kashubian to us kids after all. Without even knowing it, admittedly. Even so, she had successfully passed the torch to her firstborn. It is his turn to pass it on to someone else... brighter and stronger. The humble washcloth has given point to my pilgrimage.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Holiday in Kashubia

As much as I’ve enjoyed my three previous trips to Kashubia, my fourth trip has been simply amazing. The adventure began on the afternoon of Friday, July 5, when my guide and dear friend Malgorzata Mazur picked me up at the Gdansk airport and called us a cab into town. She very graciously kept me awake and walking around until 6 pm, when I checked in to the Mercure Hevelius Hotel for a good night’s sleep. Thanks to my “Kashubian family” - Malgorzata, her husband Eddie, and Eddie’s cousin Edmund Zielke - I was in for a hectic but inspiring week of sightseeing and meeting other Kashubians.

Saturday, July 6 was the day of the XV World Meeting of Kashubians in Wladyslawowo. The streets of this resort city on the Baltic Sea were packed with delegations from every region of Kashubia and even one from Canada. Several people asked me why there was no delegation of Kashubians from Winona. I promised I would try to do something about this! Sunday, July 7 was a day of rest until Malgorzata, Eddie, and I took a ferry to Sopot, which is a resort town on the Baltic Sea between the ports of Gdansk and Gdynia. We enjoyed coffee on the longest wooden pier in Poland and then a wonderful fresh fish dinner at one of the many restaurants along the beach.

On Monday, July 8, Malgorzata, Eddie and I visited the library at Gdansk’s branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences. There Dr. Maria Otto, who is affiliated with both the Academy of Sciences and the University of Gdansk, showed us several very rare print editions of ancient classics and some original works by Gdansk’s own great astronomer, Jan Heveliusz. We then visited the Polish Academy of Science’s map library, where we viewed maps of Kashubia made from the 16th century to today. Malgorzata and I spent Tuesday, July 9 on a trip to Torun, three hours away, where we wandered through this beautifully preserved Gothic town and visited sites associated with the other great Polish astronomer, Mikolaj Copernicus. On Wednesday, July 10 we visited the newly restored fortress and watchtower built in the 16th century to guard the mouth of the Vistula River.

Thursday, July 11 was my birthday – the high point of the whole trip. With Edmund as our chauffeur, we drove out to visit the great historian of Kashubian America, Fr. Wladyslaw Szulist, in his Lipusz flat. Fr. Wladyslaw graciously welcomed us with an elaborate lunch, and joined us in a chocolate birthday cake. He then guided us to Szwedzki Ostrow, the beautiful little settlement where my great-great grandfather Franciszek Pelowski was born in 1829. After returning Fr. Wladyslaw to his flat, we visited Bytow. There we had the chance to meet three people well known to Winona: Mayor Ryszard Sylka, Council Chair Leszek Wichiewicz, and Ms. Joanna Malek. Our meeting went well past the hour they carved out of their busy schedule for us – it was literally too much fun! Friday, July 12 was a day of rest – for me, at least. After her morning tour group, Malgorzata took me to see the remains of the massive Prussian fortifications still to be found around Gdansk.

On Saturday, July 13 Malgorzata and I visited the Faktoria in Pruszcz Gdanski, just south of Gdansk: a reconstructed trading post where Romans came to buy amber from the local Goths. We also had a guided tour of the museum from Ms. Agata Kierunska and an opportunity to try some “ancient” food prepared fresh on the site over open fires. We then met up with Eddie and their son Kamil, and took a taxi to Warzno, where the Kashubian-Pomeranian Organization’s Karczemki chapter was ready to celebrate the birthday of its only American member. As president of the Karczemski chapter, Cousin Edmund made sure that everyone had a great time – complete with food and drink, dancing and singing, and an extremely rare Kashubian picture book given me as a present. Sadly, I had to leave early. Sunday, July 14 brought a 4:00 am wakeup call for a 6:40 flight back home – home to the United States, that is.

Proud as I am to be an American, this trip has made it clear to me that Kashubia is no longer just a place I visit whenever I can. It is my second home. All of the Kashubians I met during my trip were very interested to meet a real live Kashubian American, and were just as interested to hear about the Kashubian community of Winona. Together with my ever growing Kashubian family, I encourage everyone who reads this to come and visit Kashubia for yourself. The land is beautiful and the people are incredibly welcoming. Arranging for flights and accommodation is less expensive and less of a hassle than one might imagine. And the memories will be priceless. I have already promised to return for next July’s XVI World Kashubian Meeting in Pruszcz Gdanski. Might you be interested in joining me there?