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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

My father, Walter Sigimund Cilwa, was born at 14 Delancy Street, Manhattan, New York, on December 12, 1901, and died November 11, 1958 when I was 7.

My paternal grandmother, my father's mother, was named Marianna Sosnovska (semi-anglicized to Sosnowski in some sources). She was born on Christmas, 1880, in Grodno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland. She emigrated to the United States in 1892 at the age of 12, at which time she was already married to Wladyslaw Sigimund Cilwa. Interestingly, according to her immigration record, she could already speak (at least a little) English when she arrived.

Marianna Sosnovska at 20 (1900).

Wladyslaw, at 28, was substantially older than his child bride, having been born (also in Poland) in 1864.

Wladyslaw and Marianna Cilwa

As you've probably heard, Ellis Island, the arrival point for all European immigrants in those days, was not what we would today call culturally sensitive. Specifically, many of the civil servants doing the processing of the newcomers, often took it upon themselves to anglicize the immigrants' names. Hence, Wladyslaw Sigimund became Walter Sigmund, the name passed on to my father. Marianna became Mary Ann. (Not knowing this at the time, I nevertheless married a woman named Mary Ann.)

By the time Wladyslaw died at 64, in 1928, the family had moved to Towacco, New Jersey. By this time there were five children: Alfreda, my dad Walter, his favorite sister Louise, followed by Rose and Jenevieve (called Gene).

By 1940, widowed child bride Marianna was devoting her life to her now-grown children, as was typical of women in that period.

And here she is with her children, including Aunt Al's husband, Frank Strelleck. (Notice Uncle Frank's apparent age compared to that of his bride. Clearly, this was a common pattern for that era and/or culture.)

Top row, L2R: Frank Strelleck, Alfreda Cilwa Strelleck,Rose Cilwa Ryan,Walter Cilwa.

Bottom row, L2R: Louise Cilwa, Marianna Cilwa.

Dad was married twice. His first marriage was to Lena Hendershot. I have no photos of her, nor do I have a date for their divorce. But at the 1948 family gathering, she isn't pictured, though Dad and his first set of kids are.

I also have a couple of shots of Dad from 1948 at some sort of swimming pool.

And apparently he was part of a wedding party that same year.

I'm guessing it was somewhere around this time that Dad received the following note from his daughter, Shirley.

By 1949, Dad was going to the beach (probably Cape Cod) with a woman I came to know as Aunt Norma, who was one of my mom's two best friends. It was through Aunt Norma that Mom met dad.

According to my mom, Dad was dating Aunt Norma, so despite there having been sparks the moment their eyes fell on each other, Mom was intent on not being interested, given that he was dating her best friend. Norma finally had to tell mom she had no interest in Walter, and if Mom did, she should grab him.

In 1950, Mom made a pilgramage to the Holy Land with Cardinal Spellman of New York. Dad sent her a letter.

When she returned, they were married. Mom was already pregnant with me, and in true 1950s fashion, therefore did not wear a white gown.

But she was now a member of the family.

…Despite being omitted from a second photo of the Cilwa siblings and their long-term spouses.