Edward John Marczynski–or Uncle Eddie, as I know him–was the only son in a family of eight children. He was born on November 5, 1915 in Dunkirk, New York to Casimir and Mary (Witkowski) Marczynski, and he was always close to his sister Hattie, my great-grandmother. My grandmother remembers Eddie as a warm and kind individual, as well as a loving brother, son, uncle and father. Each year, around Christmastime, she tells the same family stories about Uncle Eddie: stories about his generosity and strength, and about the importance of putting others before yourself.
The first of my grandmother’s stories takes place during the Great Depression. Eddie’s father, Casimir, owned and operated a penny-candy store in Dunkirk, and while his business was successful for a few years–allowing him to pay for his brother and sister-in-law’s passage to America–he was hit hard after the Stock Market Crash in 1929. With eight children living at home, the money that Casimir and Mary had saved over the years dried up fast. The family, as a whole, made the decision that the Marczynski sons would leave home to ease the financial strain: Louis, Eddie’s half-brother, left to live with his older sisters in Detroit, and Eddie left for St. Mary’s Orphanage on Bennett Road.
I cannot imagine how it must have felt to visit home every day and to be the only sibling that needed to leave for the night. St. Mary’s provided Eddie with a warm bed, clothes and, most importantly, food during the Depression (Casimir and Mary’s inability to provide food for all of their children was the main reason their sons left home), but it must have taken a tremendous degree of strength to remain at St. Mary’s for a few months. And, according to my grandmother, it was only a few months: Casimir and Mary couldn’t stand sending their son to the orphanage, and as soon as they could, they brought him home. Eddie’s sisters all left school and found work to allow the money to stretch further: my great-grandmother, Hattie, only had a sixth-grade education.
My grandmother tells us that she doesn’t know much about Eddie’s years in the war, but according to my research, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 28, 1941 in Detroit as a Private. I couldn’t tell you why he was living in Detroit at the time, but my guess is that he had left to find work and was living with his half-sisters and half-brother in the city. At the time of his enlistment, he was working in “textile manufacturing,” and he served in the European Theater until his “release” from the Army on October 26, 1945. My grandmother remembers the family throwing Eddie a “Welcome Home” party that year; everyone was glad to have him home safely.
The final story my grandmother shares each year is a Christmas story. One year, when Eddie and his siblings were all married and had young children of their own, he saved up to gift his sisters twenty dollars apiece for their families, a large sum in the 1950s. Eddie’s younger sister, Blanche (Marczynski) Goss, lost her twenty dollars, and he replaced it without a thought, gifting another large sum that he probably couldn’t afford to give. But that was Eddie: a kind, caring and resilient man who put his family and friend’s needs and welfare before his own. I can think of no one better for this week’s 52 Ancestor prompt; Eddie was “nice” through-and-through.