Aloha, Olean Kwiatkowskis! This marks the last of the Kwiatkowski Cousin Connections for a while. Time to focus on other branches of the family tree, especially Rothsprack; I’m completely stumped on that one. But first, let me introduce you to my Hawaiian cousins. I’ve got plenty of them, thanks to a cousin named Leo (or Leon, as he told it).
While Cousins in New York experienced a typically white Christmas snuggled warmly at home away from outside temperatures well below freezing, cousins in Hawaii had temperatures right around 80 degrees fahrenheit. A great day for some Christmas hula. And since the temperature won’t be changing much this weekend, I’m betting plenty more hula is planned for the New Year as well, even if the Hawaii Kwiatkowskis don’t plan to attend.
Michael Thaddeus “Tod” Kwiatkowski, and Philibert Francis “Ski” Kwiatkowski are respectively the oldest and youngest of five children born to Leo Michael Kwiatkowski and his wife Catherine Ku’uleilani Guerreiro in Honolulu. Although they are in my father’s social generation, the three men have never met in person. All five of Catherine and Leo’s children were born in Hawaii, and Dad had moved from Olean before the cousins from HI visited in 1952.
My first question to both Tod and Ski, was “How did this group of Kwiatkowskis end up in Hawaii?” The answer is pretty simple, really: the U.S. Army. As Tod tells it,
My father joined the Army and was shipped to Honolulu, sometime in 1935, or so. There, he met my mother, Catherine Ku’uleilani Guerreiro of Waialua, Territory of Hawaii. They were married in 1937, I think, and he mustered out of the Army in Honolulu, rather than mustering out in New York.”
All five of Leo and Catherine’s children were born on the “Big Island” (Honolulu), except for a very short stint in 1952 after Catherine died. She was just 43 years old. It was a very rough time for the family. Tod explains,
We saw our first snowfall in Olean, on October 12, 1952. Because of the burden five children placed on my grandmother and my Aunt Jenny, we all returned to Hawaii sometime in October or November of 1952. That was a tragic and confusing time for five children, ages 14 to 5, and a single Father with no job, and no income. That episode will fill a book.
Because he was so young at the time. Ski has a more colorful memory of his short time in New York:
Family connections to the mainland U.S. Kwiatkowskis that lived in Olean, N.Y. are very sketchy for me. . . I was 5 at the time and remember meeting many cousins, uncles and aunts, but most of them faded from memory aside from photographs that we would get from time to time. I remember “Bu” quite well and my dad’s sister, Aunt Jenny. My dad’s brother, John and his other sister Helen I also remember. I remember Olean as a very typical foothill town of East New York state, not a large town, but a quaint one with all the trappings of a 1950’s town. I remember going down to the “crick” near the railroad trestle to skip stones in the water and things like that, but for the most part, faded memories.
We stayed about 3 months on that trip as we were planning to live in Olean. Many obstacles came up, one of which was racial and the others I was too young to remember. My experiences in St. Augustine Elementary were different than Michael as I was sent home for punching a ninny of a nun because she wanted to whack my hands. I was having none of that, so I punched her in the stomach. That was the beginning of a few lickings.
I got a kick out of that last part. My father’s stories of his childhood in Olean are very similar. The family was staunchly Catholic, but that didn’t stop kids from being kids and nuns from doing what nuns did at the time. I went to public school myself, but my father and husband were both raised Catholic, along with several of my friends. All of their stories have a very similar ring to them. One of these days I’ll have to tell the story of the time my husband and his schoolmates spiked the holy water with red Kool-Aid.
Now that I know the reasons for the Hawaii cousins remaining in Hawaii, it makes sense. By their Hawaiian heritage bestowed by their mother, these Kwiatkowskis are firmly Hawaiian. Hawaii was the last state to join the Union in 1959, long after the children’s return from their last family trip to the mainland. Ski, who is the youngest, has been making traditional Hawaiian woodwork for many years. He even makes ukuleles.
As a mainlander who’s never been to Hawaii, I can only base my knowledge of Hawaiians on what I’ve learned through school and the media. Which isn’t much. Aside from my new-found cousins, Pearl Harbor is always the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Hawaii, and since their father came to the islands with the U.S. Army, I had to ask.
Ski was very obliging with details.
My dad told it to me that he was home when the attack on Pearl Harbor began. He was a policeman and we did not have a phone yet so the police department called the neighbor (the contact number) neighbor told him about the attack and to go immediately to the police headquarters. When he got there, he and one other officer were given a shotgun each and a box of shells and told to report to the area somewhere near an area called Iwilei. Up the street from them was the OR & L train depot and roundhouse, but they were told to go to the pier and supposedly hold off any Japanese invasion of the harbor with a shotgun apiece, a box of shells and their .38 caliber service revolvers. Once at the pier my dad recalled a Zero coming in on them and strafing the pier with bullets. He said that it was close enough that splinters from the wood were hitting them. It was at that time that he and his partner decided they would be better protected by staging at the OR&L depot, which they did. There were several more strafing runs in that area and my dad said that he emptied his revolver on one Zero, but knew that it was like shooting spitballs at a tank.
At least he got to shoot at them, which is more than others did.
Tod provided another interesting Hawaiian link to the Olean Kwiatkowskis. It turns out that my cousin Bernie’s uncle, Bernie, was brother not only to Bernie’s mother, but Leo as well, which makes their Cousin Connection chart nearly identical to Bernie’s. Not only that, but it seems that Leo’s brother spent some time in the island as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps while Leo was on the Honolulu police force.
So now I have even more questions for Bernie, Tod, and Ski. I definitely want to ask about “Uncle Bernie’s” Pearl Harbor experience, so I’ll have to plan a new post for next Dec. 7.
Even more curious for me, though, is that all three cousins claim that their grandmother’s maiden name (“Babci Mary“), Conkle, actually derives from the surname Krysztofiak. Conkle is a Germanic surname, but Krysztofiak is definitely Slavic. So which is it, Conkle or Krystofiak? The geographical boundaries are blurred in Poland and Germany by the rise and fall of the Prussian empire, and I think there may be some answers in the geography. This is going to take a bit of digging, but I’ve got eleven months to do it. It will be fun to see what I come up with.
In the meantime, Happy New Year, and STAY WARM! (Hawaii Cousins can ignore that last part.)