Serafin Zielinski, according to my grandmother, was quite the catch. He was born in 1909 in Dunkirk, New York to John Michael Zielinski and Pauline Louise Gostomski, two Polish immigrants who arrived in America at the turn-of-the-century and purchased land in nearby Springville, New York. John worked as a machinist at Brooks Locomotive Works–a profession he shared with practically every man in my family tree–and Pauline would catch the morning bus into the city each day to clean houses for a living. Despite the challenge of beginning anew in America, the Zielinski’s always made time for their children, and their love for Stanley, Agnes, Serafin and Frank is evidenced in the compassion that each child showed toward others throughout their life.
And Serafin was no exception. He would save his earnings at Brooks each week to give Pauline the best Mother’s Day gifts (her favorite was the cameo locket with a photo of the two of them side-by-side), and he’d stop by his sister-in-law’s house to help with the farm when his brother was too busy at work. My grandmother’s cousins tell me that their Uncle Serafin was always up for a game of tag or hide-and-go-seek with his nieces and nephews, and he would often bring bouquets of wildflowers to his mother, sister and sister-in-law “for no reason at all.” Serafin was admired for his kindness and strength and consideration for others; my grandmother was almost named Serafina in the hopes that she would follow in her uncle’s footsteps, after all. (Almost, but not quite: Serafina is a bit of a mouthful, and they decided on Janice instead.)
This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is “Bachelor Uncle,” and although he was quite the catch–kind, thoughtful, hardworking and brave–Serafin never married. The reason? Serafin developed diabetes at some point during his childhood, and he was largely unwell for the remainder of his life; it was almost as if he believed could not–should not–get married. Instead, he chose to live with his mother (and, later, his brother’s family) and to spend as much time with his nieces and nephews as possible. And after Serafin’s passing in 1940 at the young age of 31, the family continued to share stories and memories about him at picnics and weddings and reunions; to me, that’s a testament to his character and to the impact that he had on the lives of others.
I wish this story wasn’t so short this week; I wish I could tell you more about Serafin’s life. My grandmother was born almost two years after her uncle’s passing, though, and many of her parents’ and grandparents’ stories and memories about him have been lost to time. All she can really tell me–all I can really share with confidence here–is that he was a kind and generous man–and that he was very loved. It’s another story in the same vein as the stories of my schoolteacher ancestors; another ancestor’s life cut much too short. But I hope this post plays a part in preserving those few stories and memories left (and does Serafin’s memory justice, too).