Learning from the past, living in the moment, and leaving footprints for the future. Stories of lov

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Surname Saturday - Remembering Babunia

Antonia  Chicanowicz, a Polish woman, was born in Vilna, Russia in 1894.  From 1795 to 1918 the area was under the Imperial Russian Rule and it had a strong grip on the Polish people.  They were not allowed to speak Polish on the streets and the stores could only post signs in the Russian language. 

Russia during this time was made up of Lithuanians, Jews and Pols.  All three were striving for cultural domination. The languages spoken were Yiddish, Polish, and Lithuanian.  The man she would eventually marry, John Kopcych, was also born in Vilna, Russia in 1892 and immigrated to America in 1910, at the age of 18, due to the strong hand of Russian rule and cultural unrest and most assuredly searching for a better life.

At the start of WWI in 1914, at the age of 20, Antonia immigrated to America.  It was here that she married John Kopcych and together purchased land on Hayward Place, in Bridgewater, Massachusetts and began a life of farming.  Their first child was a daughter, Stella born in 1916 followed by another daughter, Mary Rose born in 1917.  A son Anthony was born in 1919 known to me as Uncle Tony for he married my father's sister, Bertha. Their fourth and last child, a son was named Joseph after John’s father.

I came to know Antonia, a widow, at this time, now living next door to my parents. Her home was built on land owned by her son Anthony. We called her Babunia, which is grandma in Polish. She made great cookies.  I remember sneaking one from her kitchen as a child.

She loved her booze and did imbibe a little too much at times.  I remember her picking up about a two foot long log from her wood pile that she kept for her wood stove and then would carry it out to the edge of the street and set it on end. Being a stout woman, she would firmly plant herself down with feet apart on the ground for balance and yell “hey” as she waved to the cars as they drove by. A practice we saw more than once, that we found somewhat humorous.

It is believed that a wood stove caused her home to catch fire.  Her son, my Uncle Tony, lived on the other side of our house. 

In the middle of the night, my father's cousin, Eddie, who lived two houses down, woke my parents by banging on their bedroom window.  My mother was startled and screamed for the reflection from the fire made it look like our house was on fire. 

Her son, Tony, who lived in the house between us and Eddie, ran to his mother's home. In an attempt to save her he broke the glass in the window to get to her. He believes he heard her yell for help. It was a valiant effort in futility for the house was totally engulfed and the flames too hot.  Tony cut his hand on the windowpane and was bleeding heavily.  Knowing he was not able to save his mother, he walked over to our house leaving a trail of blood though the snow.  My mother while sitting on the back steps wrapped his hand in a towel to stop the bleeding as the fire trucks and police arrived.

Sadly, Antonia died in that fire in 1955, most likely from smoke inhalation as she slept.  I was eleven years old as I looked out our living room window at all the activity and the night air red with fire.  I watched as she was taken away in a black body bag. 

Only the foundation of her home remained.  It stayed that way for decades as weeds and trees grew hiding the caving cement walls before the land was sold and a new home was built.
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