Oral History from Janice Niedzialkowski

My Uncle Fred Niedzialkowski married Janice Quintin in 1948 and they spent the rest of their lives together.  Uncle Fred died on 23 January 2005.

Aunt Janice was big on genealogy.  She had a huge chart of her own ancestry hanging on a wall in her house and at least two huge binders full of documents relating to her family.

Janice Niedzialkowski

Janice Virginia (Quintin) Niedzialkowski, 1925-2005

In February 2005, a month after Uncle Fred died, I was in Massachusetts for a weeklong genealogy research trip.  I stopped in to visit Aunt Janice while I was there and she and I talked quite a bit about family history.  She told me a lot of family stories I had never heard before.  Since I didn’t have a voice recorder, I took notes.  Here are some of the stories Janice told me on 20 February 2005.  To make things a bit easier, let me note here that my Niedzialkowski grandparents were known to everyone as “Ma” and “Pa”.  All notes in square brackets are my own comments.

Ma’s sister Stefania was a nun – she lived in Worcester.  Ma went to clean Stefania’s house twice a week.  Ma always had tape on her fingers – she cleaned rooms at the hotel – it was called the Bancroft Hotel then – and her fingers were cracked and bandaged.  With her earnings from the hotel, Ma paid for the house on Barnes Ave. herself.

Pa worked at Worcester Pressed Steel.  He carried a big long wrench with him all day, but I don’t know what he did.  He wore a white shirt and bib overalls.

He called his car his “Budick” [Buick].  He couldn’t afford antifreeze, so in the winter he drained the radiator every night and put fresh water in the next day.

When asked about her life in the old country, Ma said “I never want to go back there again.  There was so much misery” and when pressed on what life was like in Poland, Ma just said “Don’t talk foolish!”  Ma said that in Poland they had dirt floors in their house.  Ma said her father had a horse and wagon.  It tipped over and he was afraid that the horse was injured.  Ma’s scalp was a mess.  She said in Poland that she kept her hair in braids – Ma had clips in the braids.  She got too close to the fire and her hair caught fire.

When Ma came to the United States, she traveled in steerage and when she arrived at Ellis Island, she was too sick to even care about her belongings.  Ma had a place to stay her in Worcester when she came – Pa stayed at Sky Farm.

Ma and Pa had a grocery store on Prescott Street, and the family lived upstairs from the store.  If Pa had two customers in the store he would bang on the pipes to get Ma to come down to help him.  They went out of business because they extended credit to everyone during the depression, but nobody could pay.

Ma said she lost a child before Nat and another after Henry.

[The next entries refer to Pa’s Niedzialkoski cousins from Sky Farm]

Joe Niedzialkoski married a school teacher.  They had kids.  Joe was deaf.

Andrew was a good guy – he came to Ma’s funeral and Pa’s funeral.

John borrowed $20,000 from the government to start his own farm.  He walked off his father’s farm because his parents wouldn’t accept his girlfriend who was Swedish.  When he went out, he took the cow with him and left.  He never went back except for his parents’ funerals.

When John Sr. died, John Jr. inherited the house.  His mother still lives there.  They put in an artificial pond and another house with horses.  He’s done well.  He’s the only boy.

Fred worked at Sky Farm.  He wasn’t paid, but he ate well.  They had ducks, geese, chickens, lambs, and Elsa [Janice’s sister] would take her children up there.  They had no heat in the house [at Sky Farm] and no indoor plumbing.  The mother ruled the roost.  The kids would get dressed and run out to the barn to get warm between the cows.  Fred would go on the milk route.  He never got paid but he got a good breakfast.

[Janice now began to talk about her own family]

Fred was born on Endicott Street.  I was born at home at 8:15 AM.  I was 22 and Fred was 23 when we got married.  Fred tried to go to Art School in New York, but couldn’t get in.  He won $100 for designing a toilet cover in plastics at Worcester Art Museum when he went to school.  The curator of the Art Museum said “Never let him put his brushes down”, but Fred never picked up a brush again.  My brother could do woodworking, and Fred learned to do woodworking.

We had a flat that was alive with cockroaches.  It took 14 pounds of plaster to repair the walls.  It was a $12 per month cold water flat.  It had a collapsible bathtub.  We heated water on the stove.  That’s where we learned how to paper walls.  From 1948-1949 we lived at 10 Denny Street in Worcester, then we moved to 41 Cutler Street, then to 719 Main Street in Clinton.  A train used to go by overhead on Main Street in Clinton.  Then we moved to Gifford Drive.

The time the tornado came through, there was no wind, no birds, the sky was yellow.  I called my mother who said “Fred will be home all right”.  He got home at 9 PM.  The tornado took all the paint off the car.  We bought it brand new – it was a ’49 Plymouth.  The car lasted through all that.

I couldn’t wait to get away from the stairs at the old house on Gifford Drive.  We started to clean the multiple layers of paint off the woodwork.  My mother would take care of the kids and I’d strip the paint off and sand it.  It was colonial maple.  Part of that time, Fred was in the hospital with TB.  The only thing that wasn’t refinished was the bathroom.  When we bought the house on Gifford Drive, we put $10 down on a dirty table in their kitchen.

We had a sweet little kitten.  Jimmy [Fred and Janice’s son] went fishing and left the pole in the hall.  The cat bit into the hook.  I took the cat to the vet.  The vet said “Come back in an hour”.  I went back for kitty, and the cat was a rag from the anesthetic.  I paid the vet bill and put kitty on the back seat.  The floor of the car was rusted through and the cat fell through the floor.  Fred went out and beat the bushes to find the cat, but all he found was poison ivy.

[Janice now switched to talking about Fred’s brothers and sisters]

Mary [the wife of Fred’s brother Ray Niedzialkowski] was one of 11 children.  Her father graduated from high school in Dorchester or somewhere near.  For a graduation present he got a trip to Ireland.  He met Hannah [his future wife] there and married her within weeks.  They came back to the United States after Mary was born.

Nat worked for a lawyer – she always looked nice.  One of Ralph’s [Nat’s husband] sister’s sons died early from cancer.

Jane would go downtown at Christmastime with a buck and spend 19 cents for a toy Christmas present.  Ray would go to the dump and find something with wheels on it to make a toy with.

[and finally, Janice talked about the last time she saw Fred before he died]

When Fred was taken out of the house the last time on a stretcher, he said “I’ve got the Power and Light bill paid but it needs a stamp on it”.  I said “I’ll put two”.  Fred said “No, just one”.

Aunt Janice died on 05 April 2005, just a little over a month after I wrote all this down.

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3 Responses to Oral History from Janice Niedzialkowski

  1. Tom Godin says:

    Thank you for the wonderful memories of Fred and Jan, I knew them back in the early seventies when I was in college and close with their daughter Diane. The flood of memories comes back like it was yesterday espescialy hearing Jan tell her story in her words. They were wonderful people who I will never forget. Thank you again,
    Tom G

  2. Thanks for your comments, Tom! I hadn’t seen Fred and Jan for many years while I was in college and beginning my career, but for the last few years of their lives I visited them about once a year. Fred never let me leave the house until I had heard many stories about the family, and Jan never let me leave the house without a full stomach! When I saw Fred in the summer of 2004, I didn’t realize that it would be the last time I would see him. When I spoke with Jan in February 2005, I knew it might be the last time I would be able to speak with her.

  3. Paul Niedzialkowski says:

    My name’s Paul Niedzialkowski, I’m french. My father is Daniel Niedzialkowski. My grandfather was Pawel Niedzialkowski, he came in France at the end of the 2nd WW. My great grandfather was Kasimir Niedzialkowski. We don’t know many thinks about our family. Perhaps could you know informations about our ancestors.
    Thank you,

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