Christmas in Poland, 1929 - Wordless Wednesday

(Photograph Privately Held by Cynthia Shenette; Text Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) This is a photo of Tomasz Walkowski and family of Kepno, Poland.  The photo was taken in Kepno.  I do not believe the Walkowskis are related to my family but are friends of my grandmother's family who did live in Kepno.  According to family letters the Walkowskis had a son and a daughter.  The children in the photo are dressed very similarly.  Can you tell who is the boy and who is the girl?  I'm not sure, but I'll hazard a guess. My answer is at the end of this post.  I love the detail in the photo--the children's toys, the clothing styles, the decorations on the tree, the rug, the wallpaper.  The back of the photo is stamped with a photographer's stamp: Zaklad Fotograficzny / Jan Nawrocki / Kepno, Wlkp. Warszawska 23.

My Answer: The boy is the child on the left on the rocking horse, and the girl is the child on the right holding a doll.  What do you think?

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What the Dickens 2, Or More Tales from Hell's Kitchen - Advent Calendar, Grab Bag

(Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette)

"Do you know the Poulterer's, in the next street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.

"I should hope I did," replied the lad.

"An intelligent boy!'' said Scrooge. "A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they've sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey; the big one?"

"What, the one as big as me?" returned the boy.

Bigger isn't always better, especially when it involves a turkey.  I learned this the hard way.

Yes, Gentle Reader, It's Holiday Time Again!

Due to the popularity of last year's holiday post, What the Dickens, Or How to Blow Up a Duck, I have decided to return to Christmas Past to share more holiday tales of food preparation gone wrong.

I realize that whenever you do Part 2 of something it never seems to live up to the audience's expectations  of Part 1.  Even when Part 2 is good it never quite achieves the same level of greatness as Part 1.  So, Gentle Reader, with that said it's time to lower your expectations and once again journey with me back in time as I try to shamelessly capitalize on the popularity of the initial post to Christmas Past...

Christmas 1985, Or How to Lose Your Cookies

Several friends and I had a brilliant idea!  Let's have a Christmas cookie baking party!  I was dating this guy at the time who offered to host the party at his apartment.  Each of us brought a cookie ingredient (flour, sugar, eggs) and a recipe for batch of cookies.  The plan was to make a huge batch of cookies which we would all share.  One friend who was a bartender thought it would be fun to mix up a couple of pitchers of Blue Hawaiians to liven things up a little.

Well it didn't take long for my friends and I to realize that we really hadn't thought through the logistics of our cookie baking activity.  A small apartment, multiple batches of cookies, one oven, limited counter space, and a large batch of Blue Hawaiians were not exactly the ingredients for success.  We were quickly overwhelmed by dirty dishes, empty cookie sheets, full cookie sheets, cookie dough, and all of the already baked cookies.  There were cookies everywhere--cookies on the counters, cookies on the table, cookies on top of the refrigerator!  To put it in perspective think Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory with peanut butter blossoms instead of bonbons.

As the evening wore on my friends and I were getting desperate (plus I suspect the Blue Hawaiians were starting to kick in).  What to do, what to do?  An idea!  Why couldn't we rest some of the hot cookies still on cookie sheets on a window sill to cool?  They would be out of the way and cool off at the same time.  Did I mention my boyfriend's apartment was in a three-decker?  Yep, you guessed it.  The cookies fell out the window.  I don't remember how many flights.  Let's just say the cookie incident kind of foreshadowed my relationship with the boyfriend (which was also out the window) a few weeks later.

Christmas 2010, Or You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid

My husband and son LOVE cranberry sauce.  So do I, so every year I make home-made cranberry-orange relish.  My son is somewhat spoiled and won't eat the stuff from the can which is fine with me.  I'm always looking for ways to remove high fructose corn syrup from our diets.  I'm happy to make my own which only contains three simple ingredients--cranberries, oranges, and sugar.  How can you go wrong with only three ingredients?

I've come to think of kitchen appliances as power tools for the kitchen.  A food processor is not for the faint of heart.  I hadn't really thought too much about it until last year's mishap.  I pulled out my food processor (which I rarely use I might add) put the cranberries in, put the cover on, and turned the power on.  Unfortunately I forgot one thing.  You know that cap that goes over the little tube you feed stuff into?  I forgot to put that on.  Oops. The result--a rapid-fire cranberry machine gun shooting cranberries all over the kitchen!  My cranberries could have given Ralphie's Red Ryder BB Gun a run for it's money any day.

Thanksgiving 1989, Or More Problems With Poultry

Now, Gentle Reader, I know you are asking, "So what happened with the turkey?"  I kind of alluded to what I have come to think of as "the unfortunate flaming turkey incident" at the end of my duck story.  To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what happened other than the turkey was really big and Mom was using one of those cooking bags again.  Clearly we learned nothing from the exploding duck episode.  All I know is Mom opened the oven door, and flames shot out!  Still being the nervous type, I went for the kitchen fire extinguisher, again.  Mom, still not being the nervous type, told me to put away the fire extinguisher, again. She closed the oven door, and the flames went out.  After the fire was out Mom said in a calm voice, "Once you cut off the oxygen the fire will go out."  Good to know.  The turkey was fine, but I wasn't doing so well, again.  And yes, we did have that turkey for dinner.

Do you have a Christmas tale of culinary chaos? A souffle that flopped? A fondue that didn't?  Do you fear Christmas Dinner Yet to Come?  Feel free to leave a comment. After all, misery loves company.  Now I'm off to Home Depot to buy safety goggles.  I need to make cranberry sauce...

God Bless Us, Everyone

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A Charlie Brown Tree, All Grown Up - Wordless Wednesday

Cynthia Shenette and Henry Shenette
(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) What the heck is going on with that tree?  It kind of reminds me of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree except bigger.  I look as if I'm about two in the photo. We didn't have any pets at time so I can't blame the mess with the tinsel on a cat or a dog. Hmm.  I wonder what got into the tree?  Me perhaps? That might explain the grumpy little look on my face.  An attitude adjustment definitely seems to be in order.

Clearly I am much happier in this photo.  There's nothing like a new set of wheels to put a smile on one's face!

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What The Dickens, Or How to Blow Up a Duck - Advent Calendar, Holiday Foods
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Retail, Restaurants, Food, and More - Follow Friday, December 9, 2011

(Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) I love reading all of the Follow Friday posts by my fellow geneabloggers, but I will admit haven't written a Follow Friday post of my own in well over a year.  I've come across a number of blogs lately that are interesting, fun, or specific to Massachusetts that I'd like to share.  Please check them out!

Shopping Days in Retro Boston is a fun blog.  I spent 11 years working at the Jordan Marsh in Worcester where I started out as Christmas help in 1977. I've also done my share of shopping in good old Boston so it's been a fun walk down memory lane.  Be sure to check out the photos and advertisements in the post, Christmas in Boston 1956.

Speaking of good old Boston, the blog And This Is Good Old Boston always has something interesting to share. Recent posts include topics such as the old Boston baseball team the Boston Braves, the infamous Coconut Grove fire, and the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Great visuals--photos, Sanborn map images, and more--accompany almost every post.

Fruitcake is the Cake of the Gods?  Huh?  Check out the Kitchen Retro blog, and decide for yourself.  I bet you can guess how I'm coming down on the fruitcake issue.  Also, if you are a parent or grandparent of young children you might want to learn why Seven Up soda is good for babies. Read Seven Months? Seven Up!  (Whoever came up with this idea should be made to sit in a hermetically sealed room with 20 six-year-olds on a sugary birthday cake and fruit punch high.)  I shudder at the thought... 

For those of you with Worcester, MA connections, check out the Denholms Blog for another walk down memory lane.  Denholms was THE place to shop for decades in Worcester.  It was also THE place to go to see Santa and the Easter Bunny.  For my "bunny shot" at Denholms see here.  I use to make my mother nuts by running around in the revolving door at Denholms. I even got stuck in it once.  If you are so inclined, you can see a picture of the revolving door here (second photo down).  Let me add that while I might look cute in the bunny photo I was absolutely evil once I hit that door.

Now I know why washing dishes was such a threat back in the old days for folks who couldn't pay their restaurant check after a meal out.  Read Washing Up at Restaurant-ing Through History.  It's interesting and informative, as is the rest of the blog.

That's about it for this addition of Follow Friday, though I do have one more thing to add on a serious note.   If you know a firefighter or are related to a firefighter, say thank you to him or her for doing what they do. Yesterday Worcester lost yet another firefighter who was killed in the line of duty.  You can read about it here.  Forget about what they say about sports figures and movie stars being heroes.  Firefighters are REAL heroes.

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What the Dickens, Or How to Blow Up a Duck - Advent Calendar, Holiday Foods

(This is a re post of a piece written for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories in December 2010.)

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) "God Bless Us, Everyone." So says Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' famous tale, A Christmas Carol. A fitting wrap up to a heart-warming story. Feast and food play an important part in the tale--the giant turkey, the plum pudding, the roast goose. I get the tingles just thinking about it. But not in a good way.

I read A Christmas Carol for the first time in eighth grade English class. Oh, that story made such an impression on me. One of the other English classes, not mine of course, actually got to stage a Dickens-style feast, complete with costumes, in our junior high cafeteria. Why couldn't my class do that? No Salisbury steak, instant mashed potatoes, and gray green beans in the cafeteria that day, but a real honest to goodness Dickens-style feast. I was so jealous.

I must have mentioned my disappointment to my mom. She came up with a brilliant idea. Why couldn't we stage our own Dickens feast right at home? She would make a goose and a couple of the other traditional English dishes for our celebration. Sounds good on paper right?

Well off mom went to the grocery store, but apparently back in the mid-1970s goose was hard to come by in Worcester, MA. No luck on the goose front. She did find a duck though. Mom figured that would be acceptable. I agreed. Mr. Dickens would most heartily approve. So home we went with our duck ready and willing to prepare our feast.

Mom, not knowing anything about duck, decided to prepare the duck the way she usually prepared turkey. This was back in the day when those turkey cooking bags were new to the grocery market. Mom was all for making things easier in the kitchen, so in went the duck, into a cooking bag. Mom also had heard that ducks can be kind of greasy, so she decided to put a trivet underneath the duck, inside the cooking bag so the grease could drip off into the bottom of the pan. Mom tied up the bag, and put the entire bag and it's contents into a pan, and faster than you can say Bleak House, the duck was in the oven. Our Dickens of a feast would be on the table in no time.

There was one fatal flaw in this plan. You knew there had to be one, right? Mom forgot to cut holes in the cooking bag to let steam out. Oops. While the duck was cooking away in the oven I was in the kitchen helping mom to prepare the rest of the meal. All of a sudden boom! An explosion! I looked over to the stove. Through the glass oven door I saw the duck, bag, trivet and all, blow up, hit the top of the oven, and plop back down in the pan! Being the nervous type I went for the kitchen fire extinguisher. Mom, not being the nervous type, told me to put away the fire extinguisher. The duck was fine. I wasn't doing so well.

Later on that evening, we did have our feast. Duck and all. Even after it blew up it turned out fine. I know this may come as a surprise, but we never had duck again. Lesson learned. NEVER forget to cut holes in the cooking bag.

Aah, those warm holiday memories of Christmas Past. Now let me tell you about the time my mom set fire to the turkey...

God Bless Us, Everyone.

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Holidays Are Like People...

Dinner at My House, Thanksgiving 2002
(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette)  When I started thinking about our Carnival of Genealogy topic for December, Thanksgiving traditions, it occurred to me that my Thanksgiving holiday celebrations have changed over the years.

When I was little my family and I always had dinner at my aunt Helen Bulak's house.  Auntie Helen and my grandmother shared a duplex house in their later years.  Thanksgiving was always on Auntie's side of the house, and Easter was always on my grandmother's side of the house. Thanksgiving dinner included extended family and involved a fancy dinner table set with Auntie's Lenox china.  There was turkey, of course, a special Polish poultry dressing made with turkey or chicken livers (which for the longest time I did not like), mashed potatoes, glazed sweet potatoes, broccoli with Polish crumbs, gravy, cranberry sauce from a can, and apple pie with ice cream for dessert.  Auntie Helen always made the turkey while my mom and my grandmother supplied everything else.

One of my favorite things was and still is broccoli with Polish crumbs or "garnish Polonaise," as I heard Julia Child call it once.  Things always sound better in French, don't they?  Polish crum...oops...I mean "garnish Polonaise" is a garnish made from dried bread crumbs which are browned in butter in a pan on the stove top until they take on a toasted flavor and a crunchy texture.  Sprinkled over broccoli or most other vegetables they are delicious.  It's amazing how something so simple can liven up a dish!

As long as my dad and my grandmother were still with us we continued to celebrate Thanksgiving at home.  By 1990 Dad and Gram were both gone, and I was busy with work and graduate school.  Rather than cook dinner at home Mom and I decided to start having Thanksgiving dinner out, a tradition which we carried on for a number of years.  

After I had a family of my own I cooked dinner at our house.  I made the traditional favorites--turkey, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry-orange relish, and my personal favorite, stuffing.  Mom joined us for Thanksgiving for as long as she was physically able.  Mom died three years ago, so now we join my husband's family in upstate New York for the holiday.

Grandmother's House (My Mother-in-Law's Family Homestead, Photo Circa 1900)
I love Thanksgiving with my in-laws.  We usually have dinner at my sister-in-law's house.  She and her family still live on the old family homestead. My mother-in-law's Ladd ancestors built the house around 1800, and the Ladd family has lived there ever since.  Again, we have all the traditional dishes--turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry-orange relish.  My mother-in-law is a pie baker of awesome talent.  She makes apple pie and butternut squash pie for dessert.  This year my son had fun helping Grandma make cranberry-orange relish!

I often think back to the wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood.  I miss my parents and grandmother profoundly during the holidays.  My life has changed, but I enjoy Thanksgiving with my son and my husband and his family.  My in-laws are incredibly kind and welcoming. I feel like I'm part of their family now. 

Holidays are like people.  Time passes, and people change.  I've changed.  My Thanksgivings now aren't any better or any worse.  They are just different.

Submitted for the 112th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

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Photo Story: The End, For Now

Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko and Cynthia Shenette
(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) This is where my story ends, at least for now.  It's been an interesting journey, and I've learned a lot.  History isn't simple and can't be defined only by the famous.  More often than not history is made up of ordinary people doing ordinary things, though sometimes life circumstances result in ordinary people being called upon to do extraordinary things.  We are all unique, and thank goodness for that.

You've read my story.  What's yours?

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Photo Story: A New Career for Dad

Henry A. Shenette, 1960 Yearbook Photo 
(Stockbridge School of Agriculture Yearbook Privately Held by Cynthia Shenette; Text Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) Dad fought in 11 major battles during World War II and managed to come out unscathed.  After all he had been through during the war, ironically he was severely injured in a training accident while teaching at the Naval School in Newport.  While working with a new recruit Dad got his hand almost completely torn off in a piece of gun machinery on ship.  Thankfully, there was a doctor at the Newport Naval hospital who my mom praised as one of the pioneers of reconstructive surgery.  The doctor managed to reattach the torn part of my dad's hand, and despite a infection and long hospitalization Dad recovered use of his hand.  Unfortunately, he did not recover enough to be able continue as a gunner with the Navy.

Dad retired from the military in 1957 after six years in the U.S. Army and 15 years in the Navy.  Mom said Dad was somewhat at a loss as to do with the rest of his life.  While he was in the Navy my mom had encourage him to complete his high school equivalency.  Dad decided to continue his education at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture where he majored in floriculture.  He graduated in 1960 and became the first person in his family to obtain a college degree.  He eventually operated his own successful landscaping business.  He was still actively working as a landscaper when he died in 1985 at the age of 69.

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Photo Story: Passages

My Grandparents, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko and Adolf Szerejko
(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) The 1950s was a decade of joy and sorrow in the extreme for my family.  My mother and her siblings were married and my grandparents were enjoying their new role as grandparents.  My grandfather was soon due to retire at 65.  He and my grandmother had purchase a property in 1940 with three acres of land in a still rural part of Worcester.  Their intention was to start a plant and flower business for their retirement years.  Gardening was one of their joys in life. You can see one of my favorite photos of my grandparents and their flowers here.

Their plans were disrupted and their joy turned to grief with the sudden, tragic death of one of my mother's siblings in 1955.  I truly believe it was a loss neither my grandmother nor my mother for that matter, recovered from.  Grief also took it's toll on my grandfather.  My mother said she always believed the stress of that loss contributed to my grandfather's death at the age of 64 in 1959 just before his retirement.  In addition to the losses on my mother's side of the family, my Dad's mother, Marie (Comeau) Shenette LeMay also died in 1959.

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Photo Story: Mom and Dad Get Married

Left to Right: Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, Henry Shenette, Marie (Comeau) Shenette
(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette)  My parents met through mutual friends while my mom was working for the United States Department of Agriculture in Worcester.  The other secretary in the USDA office, Shirley Johnson, was a good friend of my mother, and her husband Wallace was a childhood friend of my dad.

Left to Right: Unidentified, Margaret Chenette, Unidentified, Rosalie (Wagner) Massey, Edward Chenette,
Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, Henry Shenette, Wallace Johnson?
Mom and Dad were married on June 13, 1953 at Our Lady of Czestochowa in Worcester, MA.  A reception followed at the Sterling Inn in Sterling, MA. There was some question as to whether the reception would go on as scheduled, because a massive tornado blew through town four days before my parents wedding, devastating the northern end of the city.  Guests managed to find a route around the destruction, and the reception went on as scheduled.  After the wedding my parents took a honeymoon to Montreal and visited relatives on their trip home.

Left to Right: Unidentified, Helen Bulak, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, Henry Shenette
My mom moved from Worcester to Newport where Dad was stationed with the Navy.  Mom said they were lucky, because they didn't have to move every two years like most Navy families.  Dad was an instructor at the Naval School in Newport, so they stayed in Newport until he retired from the Navy in 1957.

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Photo Story: Seeing the World

USS Charles R. Ware in Port, Rouen, France
(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) I am certain my love of travel comes from my parents.  I was always fascinated by my dad's stories about his travels with the Navy.  He traveled everywhere--Australia, the Far East, Africa, Europe, Cuba, South America.  Everywhere.  After World War II Dad served on the destroyer, USS Charles R. Ware (DD-865) which traveled to the Arctic circle, Europe, and the Mediterranean.  For a photo of my dad on ship in the Arctic, see here.

My mom also loved to travel, though her travels were less exotic than my dad's.  Mom would save up her vacation until she accrued a total of three or four weeks time and take a trip somewhere in the United States.  One time she traveled by train in a sleeper car to New Orleans with my aunt Helen Bulak, but most of the time she went by bus by herself.  She took a bus across country stopping in Chicago and Salt Lake City.  Mom slept on the bus which made a rest stop each morning for people to freshen up. Apparently travelers could rent a pillow on the bus to make sleeping more comfortable.  From Salt Lake she continued on to California where stayed with friends of my grandparents and visited Yosemite National Park. On the way home she stopped in Arizona at the Grand Canyon.  You can see a photo of her riding to the bottom of the canyon with a mule train here.

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Photo Story: Peace and Changes

My Mother's Cousin Celina (Szerejko) Gzell and Son, Warsaw, Poland, Late 1940s 
(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) Cynthia ShenetteFor the family in Poland post World War II was a time of change and upheaval.  My grandfather Adolf's brother Feliks and his wife were civilian casualties of the war.   Their children survived however.  One son served in the Polish Army and was captured by the Germans.  He eventually ended up in a DP camp in Germany after the war and stayed there until he was allowed to immigrate to the United States.

My grandfather's brothers Henryk and Jan survived the war.  Jan lost one son to Soviet violence shortly after the war.  The Soviets were not friends of the Polish people.  A letter from one of  my grandfather's relatives said that to remain in Soviet occupied Poland would be "a slow starvation." Given the family letters that I've read I've always felt that post traumatic stress disorder was probably epidemic within the civilian population after World War II and not just a problem for those in the military.

My Dad and his three brothers who served overseas returned to the United States.  Their father Frank Shenette died in June of 1945 just before the end of the war.  My mom told me that my dad participated in one of the ticker tape parades in New York City.  Apparently he was qualified to operate a tank from his training in the Army and was chosen to drive a tank during the parade.  After the war Dad reenlisted into the Navy where he served until he retired from the military in 1957.

Mom's job at the Ration Board ended with the conclusion of the war.  She found work at the local office of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Federal Building in downtown Worcester where she worked until she married my dad in 1953.

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Photo Story: The Occupation of Tokyo Bay

Henry A. Shenette
Certificate Awarded to Third Fleet Landing Force, Task Force 31
(Certificate Privately Held by Cynthia Shenette; Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) At the end of World War II my dad was attached to the United States Marines and served with the United States Third Fleet's Task Force 31 which was involved in the occupation of Tokyo Bay.  He was part of the Yokosuka landing force which was deployed on August 30, 1945. My dad was a gunnery expert and his role was to dismantle the guns the Japanese had hidden in the caves in and around the Yokosuka Naval Base.  

The Indiana was part of the occupation force of  Tokyo Bay after the formal Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. The USS Indiana sailed for the States on September 9, 1945.  She arrived in San Francisco Bay on September 29, 1945 and was the first ship to return to the States from Tokyo Bay.

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Photo Story: Dad, the Navy, and the USS Indiana

The USS Indiana Bombarding Kamaishi, Japan, July 14, 1945
Plank Owner's Certificate for the USS Indiana
(Photo of the USS Indiana is available at Wikipedia and is in the public domain. Plank Owner's Certificate Privately Held by Cynthia Shenette; Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) Dad joined the Navy in February of 1942.  He was assigned to the battleship the USS Indiana and served in the Pacific Theatre.  It may sound naive to say I knew a battleship was big, but I had no idea how big until I started researching the Indiana to learn more about my dad.  Five thousand, six hundred, fifty-three (5, 653) men served on the Indiana.  To put it into perspective the total number of sailors on the Indiana was one third the entire population of the town I currently live in.  For more information about the USS Indiana check out the USS Indiana BB-58 Homeport website which has wonderful photos and information, including the ship's log, about the ship.  You can also see a photo of my dad with other members of the Gunnery Department here.

My dad received the plank owner's certificate above on April 30, 1942 as one of the 2,109 men on board when the ship was put into commission.   Plank owners didn't actually "own" a plank of the deck.  It was an honorary title and part of a tradition which dates back to the time of wooden sailing vessels.  The Homeport website has a list of the plank owners.  My dad's name appears here.

My dad participated in 11 major battles in the Pacific Theatre.  He spoke very little about the actual battles, but I do remember him talking about a major fire on the ship.  When I started researching the Indiana I learned that the fire was caused by a collision between the Indiana and another ship, the USS Washington, which you can read about here.

My dad received two silver stars and two bronze stars for his service. Again, he never talked about what he did to receive his honors.  While he was proud of his service he never bragged about what he had done. He didn't "trot out his glory bars" as he use to say.  He was just doing his job. I did learn from someone years ago that he received one of his silver stars for throwing a live shell that had misfired off the deck and into the ocean. He was just doing his job.

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Photo Story: Changes and World War II Begins

Mom's 1940 Yearbook Photo
(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette)  The end of the 1930s and the early 1940s was a time of change for my family.  In 1939 my grandfather's brother Feliks was killed in the bombing of Warsaw on the first day of World War II, and my great-grandfather Antoni died during the winter of 1940.  Mom graduated from high school in the spring of 1940 and went on to continue her education at a two year business college.  

After college Mom worked at the Worcester War Price and Rationing Board for the duration of the war.  She enjoyed working at the Ration Board and said it was the best job she ever had.  She must have done a pretty good job, because she was eventually put in charge of the food and shoe departments.  

Dad returned from the Philippines and was separated from the service in California on November 19, 1941.  Pearl Harbor was bombed eighteen days later on December 7, 1941.  Dad knew it was a matter of time before he was drafted, so he reenlisted in February of 1942.  This time around he chose to serve in the Navy.  He figured if he reenlisted he would get to choose which branch of the military to serve in.  If he waited for the draft he would be assigned to a branch.  He always said if worse came to worse he'd rather go down with the ship than die in a foxhole.  He was in the Navy for 15 years and never learned how to swim...  

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Reflecting on My American Experience this Thanksgiving

(This is a re post of a piece written for Thanksgiving 2010.  Warm wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers, family, and friends.)

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) I've been thinking about how my son's collective ancestry typifies a large part of what I think of as the American experience as defined by many of the major events in history since the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620. As a genealogist and family historian sometimes I think it's easy to look at individuals rather than our ancestry as a sum of many parts.

While my son's ancestors didn't come to America on the Mayflower, they did arrive in Rhode Island in 1633. They survived cold New England winters, disease, and deprivation. They later fought in the American Revolution and as the old saying goes saw the whites of the Red Coat's eyes at Bunker Hill, and after the colonies won their independence, settled along the Mohawk River Valley in New York where they farmed the land for the next two hundred years. As time progressed they watched Scots Irish immigrants come into the area to help construct the the Erie Canal with mule teams and watched factories spring up in the towns and cities that dotted the length of the Mohawk River.

Other ancestors populated Acadia, or Nova Scotia, during the seventeenth century until they were forcibly removed by the British during the Seven Years War or what Americans call the French and Indian War. Some of the ancestors expelled from Acadia eventually ended up in Louisiana, others managed to find their way back to French speaking Canada to resettle in Quebec. During the mid-nineteenth century some made their way to California to seek their fortune during the Gold Rush. Ancestors fought, were wounded, or died of disease during the Civil War. They participated in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. After the Civil War ancestors joined the great migration of immigrants from Canada to New England to work in the lumber camps of the Green Mountains and the mills of Massachusetts.

At the end of the nineteenth century another set of ancestors left their homeland in Europe. They left their families--mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters--behind and set off in search of a better life in America. They endured difficult conditions on ship and arrived at Ellis Island with the rest of the "yearning masses" also hoping for a better life in their new land. Immigrant ancestors found their way to the Midwest, to Chicago to work in low wage jobs in the steel industry. When they lost their home due to fire they made their way to Massachusetts to join other family members, also immigrants, in the steel mills. They worked long hours in difficult conditions to pursue the American dream.

During the twentieth century ancestors fought in World War I, World War II, and Korea. When both parents in one family died within two days of one another during the great flu pandemic of 1918, their children were adopted by family to become part of an extended family. Ancestors were affected by the crash of the stock market in 1929 and struggled with varying levels of success through the Great Depression. They participated in the Civilian Conservation Corps and joined the military.

One ancestor served his time in the military in the late 1930s and early 1940s, only to be discharged in November of 1941, eighteen days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He reenlisted in February of 1942, served in the Pacific theatre, and participated in the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, the Marshall Islands, and Okinawa. He survived. Another family member fought with Patton's army in the European theatre. He witnessed the liberation of Buchenwald. After World War II family displaced by the chaos of the war in Europe, lingered in a DP camp for years until they were finally able to make their way to a new life in the United States.

Our ancestors survived war, deprivation, and hardship. They survived childbirth when health care was rudimentary or nonexistent, and during times when mothers knew death from childbirth was an ever-present possibility. They suffered from small pox, rheumatic fever, whooping cough, flu, measles, mumps, and a host of diseases our children, thankfully, will never know. There were bad times, but there were of good times as well. They lived life the best they could given their circumstances. That's four hundred years of history in my son's ancestry. He IS my American experience. That's a lot of weight to carry on those little shoulders.

When you sit down to dinner with your family this Thanksgiving, think about the people that came before you. It doesn't matter if they were French, Irish, Polish, Italian, or African American. It's doesn't matter if they came on the Mayflower or not. They were the ultimate survivors. We are here because of them, and our lives are better because of them. I know I have a lot to be thankful for.

What's your American experience? Take some time to write about it, and then share it with your family over Thanksgiving dinner. Almost four hundred years of history should give you something to talk about. Now, please pass the gravy...

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Photo Story: 1939 World's Fair

The Trylon and Perisphere
(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) My mom and her family visited the 1939 World's Fair in New York.  Even sixty years later she commented on how amazed they all were by it.  Mom said it was the first place she ever saw a television.  Can you figure out which day in 1939 my mom and her family visited the fair?  There are clues in the images.  Leave a comment at the end.  Also check out this really cool vintage film footage of the Polish Pavilion.  Enjoy the fair!

The Electric Utilities Pavilion

The Italian Pavilion

The Polish Pavilion

Menu from the Polish Restaurant at the Polish Pavilion

Menu from the Polish Restaurant at the Polish Pavilion

Daily Specials: Should I have the calf's brains or the boiled tongue?
Decisions, decisions... 

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Photo Story: Auntie Helen's 1937 Trip to Poland

Left to Right: Feliks Szerejko, Leokadia (Szymanska) Szerejko, and their son Aleksander Szerejko
(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette)  My grandmother's sister Helen never married but became a successful business woman.  She ran a what began as a millinery shop in 1918 and retired, closing her shop Helen's on Milbury St. in Worcester, some 55 years later.

Even in the 1930s when times were tough Auntie Helen had enough money to take a two and a half month trip to Poland.  While she was there she toured the country and visited with my grandfather's family in Warsaw. She kept a travel diary during her visit.  Here is an excerpt from her diary. The diary is written in quick note form.  I've included slashes to indicate line breaks to make it more readable.  The spelling is a direct transcription.

Lazienki Palace
Date  July 4, 1937 Sunday
Place  Warsaw, Feliks Home

Up at 8 A.M. went to Mass for / 9 with Oles' [Aleksander] home for breakfast / Went to Lazienki Park havent seen anything so beautifull / Park recieved its name from the / Lazienski make them. The Palace / of Zymont 2 Poniatowski who / lived their not very large but / beautifull.

Leokadia and Helen Bulak in front of the Chopin Statue 
In the park are beautifull Statues of the great / Music Composer Chopin also /

Helen, Feliks, and Leokadia in front of the Statue of Jan Sobieski
Jan Sobieski fighting Turks / The streets and alleys are something / unusual such tall trees and weeping / willows, blue spruce.  The / Palace decorated with white petunias / and red geraniums the colors of / Poland. Took snapshots / Mr. + Mrs Oles and myself. / Orchestra Playing in the Park / surrounded by Garden of Tables / where lunch can be served. /

My grandfather's aunt, Julia Bielska (Abt. 1879-Aft. 1947)
Drove home through Aleje Ujazdowskie / had dinner rested a few minutes / and went visiting to Pani Julia / Bielska. found her a very / pleasant person and very lively / for 58 yrs of age. Had lunch / their after 7. P.M. Mrs. Szerejko came / had lunch also. then we all / talked and made merry until / 9.30 left for home and bed / @ 11.30 P.M.

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Leokadia (Szymanska) and Feliks Szerejko - Wordless Wednesday

Photo Story: Two Years in the Philippines

(Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) These two images are from my dad's collection of photos from the Philippines.  Dad was stationed in the Philippines for two years in the late 1930s.  He didn't seem to be unhappy with his time  there, but it didn't sound like a garden spot to me.  I can only imagine how difficult it was in camp with the heat, the humidity, and the bugs.  He use to talk about having to turn his boots upside down every morning before putting them on to make sure there weren't scorpions or other critters inside them.

Dad said he was on the last ship out of the Philippines before the Japanese invasion at the beginning of World War II.  According to his records he separated from the service in California on November 19, 1941.  Less than a month later the Japanese invaded the Philippines ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I've always wondered how the other guys that dad served with in the 31st Infantry made out.  The 31st was involved in the defense of the Philippines.  The end result--the Bataan Death March four months later in April of 1942.  I wonder if Dad had one of those, "There but the grace of God go I" moments...

Please check out some of my other links regarding my dad's time in the Philippines below.

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