Upon walking into Harry Kozikowski’s house, the prettiest Victorian house on North Main Street, I smelled a deep rich aroma wafting from the kitchen. Beef stew, I thought as I waited for Harry.
Harry’s mother, a Polish immigrant, was a domestic on the Phillips farm on East Street. His father, also from Poland, became a farmhand for the Phillips after he married Harry’s mother in 1922. They were married in Suffield’s first St. Joseph’s Church which was a renovated horse barn before the current church was built. Eight of the children were born on the Phillips farm. Harry came later.
Harry’s real name is Hipolit, often shortened to Hip, a name he shared with several cousins and uncles. One boy in each family carried the name. Sadly, Harry is the last Hipolit in his family because in his generation, daughters not sons were born and other sons had no children.
In the summer of 1930, Harry’s parents bought a 160-acre farm on Hill Street from the George Harmon estate. Harry’s mother had two requests – water piped into the house and a telephone. She got both. She also got Harry who was born in 1932. The children worked the farm alongside their parents. Four white workhorses, Tom, Dick, Harry and Frank, helped out as well. There were livestock, poultry, vegetables, hay, tobacco, and an orchard to tend. Mushrooms were picked in the field. Ice was harvested from the pond. Other hard work occurred in the kitchen with the cooking and canning. Harry, probably his mother’s favorite, often helped her.
Entertainment included walking to neighbors for socializing and card games. Relatives from surrounding towns often descended upon the farm. Harry’s mother was an excellent cook and a genial hostess who never turned anyone away from her table – neither family nor itinerant peddler.
Most of the shopping was done in Thompsonville at J.C. Penney, W.T. Grant, Polish meat markets, Vincent’s clothing store, and Brown’s furniture. Papafil’s store near the Thompsonville bridge was a stop for cookies on the way home. Other shopping venues were the A&P and Martinez store in Suffield center, where one stood at the counter waiting for the grocer to collect the items one-by-one. Each week, Harry’s mother telephoned for a cold cut delivery from Szoka’s meat market in West Suffield, which always had a candy treat on top. The ragman from Hartford and other peddlers came, including one who came looking for cats to butcher.
Although only English was spoken in the house, the children learned to speak Polish – first by reciting their prayers in Polish, although they didn’t know what they meant, and by listening to Polish neighbors and relatives. Harry’s father became a naturalized citizen in 1940, his mother in 1943. When Harry’s father went to Hartford to fill out citizenship papers, it was the day of the 1938 hurricane. His father made it back safely but trees blocked the road a mile from the house. Walking the rest of the way home, he saw that many of his farm buildings had collapsed, but the house was intact. It was the same scenario forty-one years later when the 1979 tornado struck the farm.
In the Christmas season, Harry’s family attended mass and services twice a week. On Easter Saturday, the priest came to bless the family’s food. Prior to his visit, chaos ensued. The house had to be cleaned, and if needed, rooms were painted or wallpapered. Families telephoned each other, warning of the priest’s whereabouts so all would be ready for his arrival. Easter attire was special. One year Harry wore a white satin suit with short pants. At the church, the parishioners marched around the church three times, although Harry doesn’t know what that signified. Then there was the food – horseradish, ham, kielbasa, eggs colored in onion skins, babka, and suet pudding.
In town, Harry felt discriminated against as a Polish person. One teacher, Miss Baun, also a next-door neighbor, routinely made Polish children repeat the first grade. Luckily, she was not Harry’s teacher. He fondly remembers his Bridge Street School teachers. Miss Palosi, his first and second grade teacher, who often gave him an extra chocolate milk; Mrs. Bates, a sixth grade teacher, who jumped out the window of her lower level classroom instead of exiting by the door; and short, wigged Mrs. Gallup, a fifth grade teacher who was also the principal.
Life had its ups and downs. At the age of 14, Harry’s brother Paul died of mastoiditis, a bacterial infection, treatable by antibiotics if they had been invented. One sister was a runner-up in the Suffield Tobacco Queen contest. Two brothers entered the army in the Korean War. Harry went to the University of Connecticut. He and a sister, who became a nurse, were the only ones from his family to go beyond high school. All but two graduated from high school. After college, Harry was drafted into the army even though the Korean War was over. At that time, one man from each of the towns was drafted, and Harry was the one from Suffield. Harry had received top honors in typing and shorthand while in high school, so he was able to convince the army to utilize his skills. Instead of placing him in the infantry, he became a secretary to a general in Carmel by the Sea, California, a location and a job he loved. Upon his return, Harry worked for Hamilton Standard and then Kollmorgen in Northampton.
Harry Is interested in his roots. He traveled to Poland four times, meeting his mother’s younger sister and brother and he is active in the Suffield Polish community. He loves antiques, classical music, landscaping, movies and was a ballroom dancer.
Harry was unable to buy the old farm on Hill Street but bought his current house from the Suffield Academy in 1990. He replaced the old asbestos furnace, fixed the leaky roof and refurbished it with furniture and collectibles from family and auctions including a pool table, couch, roll-top secretary desk, a safe and other items from the Phillips homestead. Other acquisitions of which he is particularly proud are his Willis Seaver Adams and assorted Mason Nye paintings.
Willis Seaver Adams was born in Suffield in 1844 in a house next door to the Phillips farm. The Phillips thought him an odd fellow who walked around on hot summer days in an overcoat. Adams was influenced by James Whistler, a friend and mentor. Adams mostly painted landscapes with a muted palette and was part of the Tonalism movement. His paintings are moody, dark and atmospheric. Mason Nye was a faculty member at the Suffield Academy and lived with his family in Harry’s house for many years. Harry found a stash of Mason’s paintings in the attic when he moved in. The Nye children took many of their father’s paintings but left some to grace the walls in Harry’s house. They are perhaps the only modern pieces in the house.
When the interview was over, Harry told me that I smelled not beef stew, but borscht, a Polish beet soup. Harry does not have his mother’s recipe. Instead he uses a recipe from Viola and Walter Carney. Although different from his mother’s recipe, it is still delicious.