Edward and Helen Novak Okonski
Edward Louis Okonski was born August 8, 1906 in the “Old Okonski Home” on Tidwell Prairie, Robertson County , Bremond , Texas . Edward was the fifth child born to his father Joseph Okonski and Mother Victoria Szturemski Okonski, who also raised all their eight children in the “Old Okonski Home”. Edward’s father Joseph came from Prussia- Poland through New York on an ocean vessel when he was 20 months old.
Edward’s older brothers were Frank 13, Mike 11, Stanley 8, and Bruno 5 in August 1906. His other brothers and sisters were Florence born in 1909, Marion born in 1914, and Pauline born in 1918.
Edward’s education consisted of primarily home schooling and 2-3 years of elementary school on Tidwell Prairie. His formal education was limited due to having to assist his parents and older brothers with all the chores required to raise a large family. Raising the farm animals (cattle, horses, goats, hogs, ducks, geese, chickens, guineas, turkeys, dogs, cats, etc.) while growing an acre or more of spring and fall gardens, working and harvesting the orchards and working the many acres of corn, tomatoes, cotton, watermelons, peas, tobacco, ribbon cane and sorghum hay utilizing horses, mules and all the various horse drawn equipment.
By the time Edward reached his teens, he was fairly skilled with horses and the various horse drawn equipment. He loved fishing and hunting in his small amount of spare time. Every member of the large family participated in the timely gathering of all the fruits and vegetables and canning process required to have ample amount of food all year long.
In 1921, Edward about 15 years old, is sitting on the steps with his dog, his parents, Joseph and Victoria and brother and sisters Florence, Marion and Pauline. Edward always had several dogs to hunt at night and also in the daytime. He had 2 dogs that were trained to track people after they got a head start of a couple of hours running through several neighborhood farms for a few miles. The dogs never failed in catching up with them and they usually needed Edward to be their to halt the barking dogs.
The Okonski family attended mass at St Mary’s Church which was about five miles using the horses and wagon or their Model T Ford at a later time.
In 1925, Edwards brother, Mike Okonski born June 23, 1895, returned from military service, World War I, with TB. Mike was very sick but still insisted in helping his younger brother Edward and his parents break a new set of mules for riding and pulling horse drawn equipment. Just a few hundred feet from the “Old Okonski Home”, Mike was thrown and dragged by the mules and was seriously injured. Having difficulty with breathing from the injury and TB, Mike passed away in a few days.
In 1926, Edward, 20 years old, began dating Helen Novak, born March 5 1912
Edward rode his horse bareback for a couple of miles through a couple of creeks to see Helen Novak. Helen was also from a very large family (11 brothers and sisters) who worked about a 100 acres and made their living from farming. Helen’s parents, Michael and Sophia Novak (see separate family story) were also immigrants from Poznan Poland in the 1880’s. One of Helen’s sisters, Victoria was already married to Bruno Okonski who was one of Edward’s older brothers. Bruno and Victoria lived less than a half a mile away and only 2 farms away. Vicky would visit Helen for many years especially on a Sunday afternoon and always would bring some goodies or some fresh canned vegetables or fruits. Helen and Vicky also enjoyed swinging on the porch and trading recipes and latest stories while enjoying some homemade ice cream.
Edward married Helen Novak on November 12, 1929 at St Mary’s Catholic Church. The wedding was a very large one and on a Wednesday (Father Schmeinski would not allow weddings on Saturdays or at least 24 hours before Sunday masses. Beef and pork were cooked for a couple of days in large black pots. Bread, cakes and pies were baked for several days. A large wooden platform was built for dancing. A lot of home brew and alcohol were also made by several neighbors. The calves and hogs were butchered a week in advance. Polish sausage was everyone’s favorite with a piece of homemade bread. Most of the weddings occurred during the cooler months to avoid food from spoiling. Many Robertson county families attended the wedding riding their fancy horse or mule drawn buggy and wagons. Several came in their new Model T Fords and other sport cars. Members of the band would meet families arriving and play a favorite waltz or polka and collect their coins for performing that day.
Edward and Helen stayed at the “Old Okonski Home”. Joseph and Victoria with youngest son and daughter, Marion and Pauline, moved a half a mile closer to Bremond on same road. Edward and Helen continued to operate the 100 acre farm much as his parents did the previous 35 – 40 years.
The first child, Edward E Okonski, born March 28, 1933. Times were very difficult in the early 1930’s due to the Depression.
Edward E Jr had to play mostly with the dogs and cats until his next brother was born five years later. A fenced yard was built with gates to hold Edward E Jr in the yard and most of the animals outside the yard. Quickly, latches were added high enough to keep the rascal in. One day, mother was missing Edward E Jr. All gates were latched. She finally discovered that some of the dogs must have gotten in the yard and dug a hole underneath the fence to escape and follow the workers that left with horses to plow some fields. Helen the mother noticed some tiny feet tracks in the sand on the outside of the yard next to the hole in the fenced yard. She ran for a couple of hours looking for him around the barns, under the corn crib, down the road, into the fields and pastures close by. Several other neighbors joined in the search. Finally, the worker plowing the field almost half a mile away saw a child jumping and falling from row to row. He immediately picked up Edward E Jr and crossed the creek, up the hill, around many grassburrs, next to some cows with small calves that chased people and delivered him to Helen. Helen was crying and was very happy to find him after several hours of being missed. Not very long afterwards, Edward E Jr was sent by his Dad to pick some potatoes underneath their house. Shortly Edward E Jr was attacked by a large Gender Goose who was whipping his wings until he began crying very loudly. Edward E Jr went into the wrong door to pick the potatoes
Edward Louis, father, developed TB in 1931 and was sent to a Sanitarian in San Angelo , Texas for several months to receive medical attention and some cure for TB. Helen depended on her brothers and sisters and Edward’s brothers and sisters for assistance with every day duties on the farm and raising her 4 year old son. Helen had to finally move back with her parent until Edward Louis returned somewhat better from San Angelo.
The second child, Joseph M Okonski was born April 12, 1938.
Finally, the older brother Edward E Jr. has someone to play with. The parents finally had some potato planters and garden helpers. They quickly learned to pick the chicken eggs and milk the cows. They learned how to play and work together very quickly or else they were disciplined the old time way. They helped their mother looking for turkeys far away before any storms appeared. They took turns sitting on the homemade ice cream machine while the other cranked with both hands. They enjoyed going fishing with their mother and just playing catch and other games. As getting older with neighbors Jack Bartula, Ike and Billy Pietrowicz, they formed teams to play each other. Some games included making sling shots and using china berries for their Indian/Cowboy games. Riding horses bareback or using sleds and wagons were also a favorite past time. Attending the St Mary’s Catholic School and learning English, Polish and Catachisim were challenges. Hunting at night with dogs was also a favorite experience. Drawing well water, gathering stove kindle, cutting wood for cooking and heating were other growing up chores never forgotten.
The third child, Gene B Okonski was born February 12, 1947.
Older brothers, Edward E Jr is 14 and Joseph M is 9. Their fun time reduced tremendously, since they now were having to be adult-like. Their fishing time with mother was reduced a lot since Gene was required to be put to sleep on Sundays after church. Gene would act as if he were asleep on the swing and waited until they were past the barn before he started to cry. Father would get out of bed and run to the porch to make sure they returned to place Gene to sleep. Gene usually wound up with several pinch marks on legs after they returned.
Gene’s picture was taken on the lap of Sadie Okonski from Chicago in August 1947 on the front porch. In October 2007 or 60 years later, Gene is holding Sadie Okonski on his lap on the same porch with the same door and window .
In 1949, a new tin roof was placed on the “Old Okonski Home”. Work was done by Joe Yezak on the wooden piers with some replaced to concrete. All rotten boards were replaced and house was painted. At 2, Gene fell into a hole from the porch to underneath the house. He saw the worker place 1949 on a concrete pier, so he made some scratches on the same pier. The 1949 concrete pier still exists in 2008 or some 59 years later. Electricity was added to the house with lights for each room and porch and sockets for the radio and refrigerator. The first electric appliance purchase was a large white Delco radio. News, Polka time, Lone Ranger and Amos and Andy were the most listened to radio announcements.
The fourth child, Dolores Okonski was born February 11, 1949.
Older brothers Edward E Jr is 16, Joseph M is 11, Gene B is 2. Edward is driving and playing football. Joseph is fully skilled on working the horses and the various horse drawn equipment. Garden, tomato, watermelon, peanut patches were getting bigger requiring more food for a growing family. The Model T Ford continued to get a workout especially in hauling tomatoes to the plant in Bremond. One day everyone worked very hard to fill 20 baskets of nice green tomatoes. The model T Ford had boards on side and double stacked to sell at the plant. The tomato market collapsed and Ed returned with 21 baskets of tomatoes and $1.00 check. Daddy was very disappointed and frustrated and most of the tomatoes were poured in the stable and given as feed to hogs and all poultry for several days. Dad knew that as soon as the boys began to graduate from Bremond High School, they needed to find a job in a large city and perhaps assist them with some money to help feed the remaining growing family. A refrigerator was purchased and things for preparing meals, having cold milk and watermelon, and keeping more beef and other meats were definitely a drastic change to life on a farm. Cooling off the fresh fruit and vegetables reduced the waist and became very tasty especially during the summer months. Gene began to hear Dad play his violin, Ed play his guitar and singing Blue Berry Hill, and Mama play her harmonica especially on Sunday afternoon after the Caldwell Polka Hour ended on the Delco radio.
The fifth child, Lawrence F Okonski was born July 22, 1951.
Edward is 18, Joe is 13, Gene is 4, and Dolores is 2. Edward is ready for his senior year in Bremond High School, Joseph is learning to drive, Gene is picking up eggs and driving horses pulling the wagon while adults are pulling corn. Bigger garden, a long row of dewberries, a couple rows of grapes are added to the very large garden. Ice cream is made every Sunday after St Mary’s Catholic Church mass and dinner. Everyone has individual chores and fried chicken at dinner and supper time must now be divided by Mom or Dad so everyone has plenty to eat.
Every 2 weeks someone had to drive to pick up the beef or pork from the rented locker in Hearne Locker Plant. During heavy harvest time, some vegetables were taken to freeze and enough meat was brought back to tightly fill the refrigerator and have a good meal of beef or pork for supper. Having some steak with potatoes and gravy and all the other fresh or canned vegetables was just about first class especially with homemade bread and plenty of dessert.
The sixth child, Mary Ann Okonski was born February 8, 1954.
Edward is 20 and working in Houston, Joseph is 15 ready for his drivers license, Gene is 6 in First Grade in St Mary’s Catholic School, Dolores is 4 ready to pick chicken eggs and wash dishes. Going to the Sunday masses now requires someone to sit on other laps. Joe was learning to drive on the dirt road. Gene was learning to make a couple of trays of frozen cubes made from some strawberry or grape punch or ice cream from milk and vanilla extract and occasionally with powdered chocolate. Making ice cold tea and lemonade were also a regular addition to the family diet in the 1950’s and 1960,s.
The seventh child, Helen Okonski, was born May 30, 1955
Edward is 21 and working in Houston, Joseph is 16 and playing Bremond High School football, Gene is 7 and is needing glasses, Dolores is 5 and doing more than picking eggs and eating the leftover cookie dough out of the large bowl, Mary Ann is 1 and trying to crawl everywhere. Sitting on the porch on Sunday and eating home made ice cream, or under the Elm tree and eating watermelon or cantelope and eating parched peanuts are begging to be frequent memorable events
Ed and Helen Okonski lived on the Old Home Place until August 8,1986. On his 80th birthday, he moved to a house in Bremond. Many years of somewhat tough living continued on the farm. All seven children graduated form Bremond High School and left town to find employment. The majority of family visited the Old Home Place on a regular basis to assist parents with whatever was necessary. The parents sold the farm to the four brothers in 1978. They began enjoying life by taking short vacations to various Texas places. Grandchildren were increasing in numbers and everyone was anxious to go to the country Old Home Place and enjoy Mama's fresh vegetables, fruits, meals and whatever she cooked. Some of the memories are:
Ed & Helen Okonski celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on November 12, 1979. Keith and Kristin Rekeita stayed with parents and assisted with daily chores, as much as possible, while going to school.
Ed Okonski suffered a heart attack while parking in a clinic in Bryan, TX and died November 6, 1990 after only four years in the house in town. A major adjustment occurred for Helen Okonski. She took turns staying with various children. Family visited almost every weekend. Kristin and Keith stayed with with Helen as much as possible. Some of the various memories were:
Helen Nowak Okonski died May 21, 2002 after suffering several strokes and stayed at Bremond Nursing Home for several months. Her parents (Nowaks) family story will be under Michael and Sophie Nowak. Although the parents are gone forever, the children and grandchildren continue to get together for functions on the Old Home Place several times a year.