Every year until I was in high school, my family would make the twelve-hour drive to Buffalo, New York to visit my maternal grandparents, Tom and Janice (Zielinski) Kuznicki. We would stay for a week or two at a time, and my sister and I would beg my grandmother to tell us stories the entire visit; she’s always been a talented storyteller. Grandma had six aunts and uncles growing up, as well as too many cousins to count; with so many family members, she has a lot of stories to share. Our favorite stories, though, were always about Grandma’s adventures (and misadventures) with her cousin, Joyce.
Joyce Ann Bielecki was born on December 20, 1942 in Dunkirk, New York to Henry John Bielecki and Victoria Ruby Marczynski. Victoria was my grandmother’s aunt–my great-grandmother’s younger sister–and the two sisters had their daughters six months apart, one in June and one in December. Janice and Joyce, unsurprisingly, were inseparable from the start: the Zielinski and Bielecki families both lived on St. Hedwig’s Avenue; their children attended the same Catholic school in town; and they met up for church every Sunday morning, never missing a service. My grandmother tells stories of spending entire weekends at her cousin’s house, meeting up after school to wander the city and making mischief almost everywhere they went.
There’s the time Janice and Joyce cracked eggs on the hot summer sidewalk and ate them sunny side up, earning them a lecture from Janice’s mother; the time that the girls ate potato bugs from the bottom of a gasoline can in the Zielinski’s garage, earning them a lecture from Janice’s father; and the time that they sneaked into the local church at night and lit all of the devotional candles, earning them a lecture from one of the nuns. (Seeing a pattern here?) My grandmother and her cousin would tie bed sheets around their necks like Superman’s cape and jump off of the Zielinski’s backyard shed, and they’d follow Janice’s older brother around and tease him and his friends after school.
These stories always made my sister and I double over with laughter, but my favorite stories were about the ways my grandmother would stick up for her younger cousin. When the boys at school were teasing Joyce and throwing rocks at her, my grandmother marched to their houses, one-by-one, and threw rocks back, threatening to beat them up next time just to make her point. When Joyce fell in a puddle of mud and stained her white–and very expensive–Easter dress one year, my grandmother convinced her mother to help them scrub out all of the mud and to keep it a secret from Joyce’s parents. Janice loved her cousin very much; years later, she asked Joyce to be her matron of honor, and she became my mother’s and aunt’s godmother, too.
Joyce passed away on December 22, 2008 at the young age of 66, ten years ago this month. My grandmother misses her favorite cousin, for sure, and we’re lucky to have these stories to remember Joyce by. This week’s 52 Ancestors theme is “Naughty,” and, without-a-doubt, Joyce and Janice’s adventures (and misadventures) earned them a spot on the “Naughty List” over the years–I think there’s a story about one of them receiving coal in their stocking on Christmas morning, too. They stuck up for each other, though, when it was needed the most; maybe they weren’t entirely “naughty,” after all.