A Grandmother's Autobiography

My grandmother's autobio that I'm typing up and editing. If you could give me feedback, that'd be great!

Chapter 1

Chapter One

My mother Sophia Kuczir (Kyrez) was born to Joseph and Anna Popadinis Dosiak. (Popadinis may be spelled differently: This went by sound only.) She was born February 23, 1906 in Poland and her parents were Ukrainian.
Wasyl Kuczir was born to Peter and Anna Preskusnak Kuczir February 22, 1911 in Poland. His parents were Ukrainian and were displaced by wars, same as Sophia.
On June 22, 1942 in Germany in the Catholic (Greek) Church she married Wasyl Kuczir (William in English). They were first married in December the previous year by the government official as that was required by law as a church wedding was not recognized by the Nazi government.
Each of my parents were one of nine children. Some did not survive past childhood and I have no idea how many did. Dad had one sister (out of nine) who died in childhood. Mom was the only daughter in her family.
Neither one of my parents attended schools as they had to help on their individual families farms.
My dad was young when his dad died at age 42. It was up to the boys to provide for themselves and their mother. Back then, they had to till the ground the old-fashioned way, something similar to the Amish of old. Except Dad's family was poor and didn't have horses to help with the hard work of raising enough food to keep them alive year to year. Due to their poverty, Dad didn't have shoes until winter and they were hand-me-downs and cold. Dad used to wrap his feet in papers to help insulate them to keep them from freezing. Since Dad was one of the younger ones when he grew up, he had to leave home and find a job. The oldest boy always stayed with the parents and take care of them for the rest of their life and thus inherited the family's home and land.
Dad went to Germany and worked in a couple different factories. In one of them, he worked on locks and for the rest of his life he could take any lock apart and fix it so it would work. In the last factory he worked in, he met my mother.
My mother's dad died in some war while Mom was small. Her dad wasn't a good man; he drank a lot and lost the farm that was a gift for my grandma at her wedding and the family had to work hard for the landlord and themselves. None of them had an easy life. My grandma wanted my mother to marry when she grew up but Mom was a 4'11” ball of thunder, who did as she pleased. She told her mother, “I won't marry until after you die!”
My mother kept her word. Her mom died at age 66. (Not sure if due to kidney failure or heart problems.) After that, Mom went to Germany to work in the factory. I don't know for sure, but I think at least one of her brothers worked there, too, because after Mom and Dad met, my uncle Michael taught my dad how to read and write. My dad was a quick learner, and in less than 6 months, he learned enough to get by for the rest of his life. (Not so with my mother. She was about 70 before she learned to write her name.)
My mother was going out with my dad and another man and she wasn't sure who she should marry so she asked her brother Michael and he answered my dad, so it was. My mother respected Michael and looked up to him for advice.
After I was born, July 31, 1942, the war got worse (World War II). My parents packed up two suitcases and fled on foot. They traveled through woods and one night were captured. Another they stumbled into a home of soldiers and a woman. The woman wanted my mother to leave me there. My mother refused but did get some milk for me and the soldiers told Mom and Dad the path to take to safety. Dad didn't listen and he went partly on that path until out of their sight then they turned in the opposite direction. Much later, Dad heard that if he'd been on that path we all might have been dead, as it was bombed later that night.
We finally ended up in an Allies camp. We were lucky because we were assigned a little room by ourselves. It had one cot to sleep on. We took turns sleeping on it, or else we'd sleep on the floor. Some families were assigned space in a larger room with curtains (solid) separating them from other families. We were thankful for privacy and minimal amount of noise. I don't know how long we were at this camp. I know Dad worked all day and Mom stayed with me. We were given rations of food.
Because the officials got meat and cheese and other, better food, we were left with flour, oatmeal and other cooked cereal. Although it was illegal, my mother at times traded some of these with farmers in the area for eggs, butter, meat, and at times, cash. With cash Mom would shop in stores for things we enjoyed eating.
The one time Mom bough me a doll with a porcelain head. I enjoyed it until its head broke. I cried and cried so Mom got me another one. She warned me that it was the last one she'd buy. There was a girl that I played with and explored the camp with. She wanted to hold my doll so I let her and warned her to be careful, but on purpose, she broke it. No matter how much I cried Mom stayed firm. So I had a plastic small doll from earlier days I could play with but she didn't have moving eyes and a pretty dress. I still have it although my girls broke her hands.
While at this camp we were safe and provided for by American contributions. My dad wanted us to get to a safe country to live, but the list to America was long and it would be years before we could go so Dad applied for Belgium, which didn't take long for us to go.
Dad left us in Germany while he went to Belgium to work in a coal mine for six years. It seemed like forever. Finally my mother and I boarded the train on our way to Dad. When the train stopped at the station and I saw Dad and I was excited to get to him. Mom opened the window so I could get into his arms.
We had a 2 room apartment. One room to sleep in, the other was the kitchen, dining, and living room. The bath was in the outhouse. Running water was up the road at the commune well. Mom carried the water in two pails down to the house and it was used to wash clothes, and was heated on the coal burning stove, then poured into a wash tub. The clothes were scrubbed on a washboard. So she always washed the whites first because all of the clothes had to be washed in the same water. Then water was dumped and fresh cold water was brought down for rinsing.
We had no refrigeration so we went shopping almost every day for our food. We had fruits and vegetables that were in season only. We had a large garden every year. It had mostly potatoes, beets, and carrots as they'd keep through the winter.
In the winter, the stove was set up in the bedroom and that's where we lived through the cold months. The bath was the outhouse and we had a pail in the cold room for nights that Mom emptied in the morning. I never looked at any of this as a hardship. Mom, Dad, and I were content.
Dad worked in the coal mines about six years. In that time he contacted the Catholic charities to help us get to the United States. Working in the coal mine we had the benefit of coal for the stove, and train tickets for a week to vacation that let us travel all over Belgium. We used to go visit my mother's niece and my other cousins. (Irene was the closest to my age.)
We walked to most places even when we wanted to get to a street car. We sometimes had to walk a mile or more.
Dad had a longer walk to go when he went to the coal mine every day for six days a week. He had a set of clothes that he wore in the mine and a set he wore out to town. He took his shower each day when he got back above ground. Mining was very dangerous!
Belgium was a strong Catholic nation and every year they carried a large statue of Mary through the streets singing and praying. In procession were some children dressed in white with baskets full of flower petals which they scattered in front of the procession.
During this time of year, every year, there were mining accidents with death and injuries. I remember one time Mom and I walked to the mine where Dad worked and anxiously waited for hours until the first few cars came to the surface and we watched for Dad. When he finally came up we were very relieved and thanked God. We were glad to leave the country and that dangerous job!
I was about 4 years old when we came to Belgium in the first place we lived and we were close to a store. One day, Mom needed something for supper. (It was a hot summer day.) She let me stay in the house where it was cooler. While she was gone, I got thirsty. I looked for something to drink and the pail was dry so I looked until I saw a small bottle behind Dad's chair. I saw it was a liquid so I opened it and drank a little. It was sweet so I drank some more.
When Mom got home, she found me passed out. She called the neighbor to see what she though was wrong with me. She told Mom, “Don't worry, she's just drunk!”
I was coming out of it and I could see Dad sitting in his chair smiling at me. He asked, “How do you like my rum?”
The neighbor lady told my mother to give me sauerkraut juice to drink and that would cure me. So Mom did. I vomited a lot. I was mad at that woman for a long time and I was glad when we moved from there! After that, Mom didn't leave me alone again.
I liked our new neighborhood. Every neighbor was Italian and they were nice to me. I also liked the view from our door. There was a field before the mounts of fake coal. I always liked open spaces with miles of view. The miners mined for coal and had to break through rocks and etc. to get to the coal so everything in the way was hauled up and dumped out on the mounts.
I loved to hear the Italian people sing. The melodies were so beautiful. Usually, they sang on weekends after getting drunk, but they still sang beautifully!
My mother was very protective of me. I wasn't allowed to go anywhere, not even to the neighbor's yard to play with the kids. Some days the kids came into our yard, though it was not often. So when I started school, I loved that there were a lot of kids! But I was a disturbance in class. I did all kinds of antics to make the other kids laugh. The teacher talked to my mother about it. I don't remember if it did any good. (I was quite a cut-up.)
I was in a Catholic school then. I remember one day when we had to walk around the court and bow before the statue of Mary, Mother of Jesus and pray. Well, I said, “What's all the big fuss? I'm as good as Mary.”
As I walked I stumbled and hurt my back so I couldn't straighten up for a while! A lesson in arrogance I never forgot! So in adult life, I have tried harder to be humble, have respect for God's servants, and never again compare myself to God's chosen.
I was a brat in many ways. Well, I lied about the Catholic teacher. Mom believed me and caused quite a scene that was quite embarassing.
Then, I switched to a Protestant school where one day a week a lady came and tough us Bible stories. Some I heard for the first time and they left me thinking about God. I said I was a brat- and I was- which led me to many unpleasant encounters with the teacher.
I even argued one time with her that I was not talking but listening to the student behind me. The teacher sent me to the corner where again I said, “But I wasn't talking.”
So she made me get down on my knees on a hard tile floor.
I wanted her to understand so I continued my argument which led to holding my hands over my head and finally to kneeling on dry peas. I guess I wanted to stand up for what was true, even though it hurt! One time, at recess, the whole class ganged up on me. I don't remember why, but I was scared. I closed my eyes and started swinging. I broke a boy's glasses. One other time I had a bad nosebleed. By the time I was walking home I was very weak, but I made it.
I can't remember all the subjects of school in Belgium, but I do remember we had to learn how to embroider, crochet, and knit. Boys and girls learned how to do so.
By second grade, we all learned how to sew. Girls made a black coat that was kind of like a lab coat, so that we could wear our dresses while in school.
That year we also learned how to set up the letter to print a paper. The old form of doing it was with rolling printers that had ink over them before laying the paper carefully and pressing it.
Sundays we went to a Ukrainian church a couple towns away, so we took a street car. In bad weather, we'd go to a mission chapel down the street which wasn't Catholic.
When Mom and I went to the market, Mom always negotiated on the prices of things. I liked going to the market. Many times, Mom would buy me a cone (it was made out of paper, like the ones for Snow-Cones) full of French fries with a dab of mustard. They were nice and hot and real tasty to a kid like me.

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