Friday, January 14, 2011

Helena Jospehine Samsel Smyczynski (aka My Granny)

This is my favorite
picture of Granny
1.10.1906 to 3.10.1992
Since this week was Granny’s birthday, I will write about her!  Granny would have been 105 this past Monday!  Helena Josephine Samsel was born on January 10, 1906 to Polish-Catholic immigrant parents in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.  Her parents, Ignatius Samsel and Julianna Gadomska(Gadomski), both came to this country from Poland.  Helen was the oldest girl of the 8 siblings in her family.  If I remember correctly there were also 3 or 4 siblings who died when they were babies.  Helena was christened on January 21st at St Adalbert's Roman Catholic Church on Allegheny Avenue.
While it appears that the Samsel family stayed in the Port Richmond area throughout Helen’s life, I am unable to locate them in the 1910 or 1920 censuses. 
In 1918, Helen made her First Holy Communion at St Adalberts. She attended school there until 8th grade.  She then had to help the family by going to work.  By 1930, Helen was 24 and living with friends of the family, the Pachuckis at 2532 Gillingham Street.  It looks as though this was in the Bridesburg section of Philly.  She worked as a reeler in a woolen factory. 

Two Helens
Granny is on the right holding her dog, Esso.
She is with her sister-in-law.

On January 27th, 1932, she married Zygmunt James Smyczynski (he went by Jimmy) at St Ann’s Church in Frackville, PA, which is northwest of Pottsville.  Helen’s cousin SJ Gartska was the minister.  This is why they went out there to marry.
Helen and Jimmy (Sonny Boy, as he was known to his family) had their first child, Leonard Vincent Smyczynski on April 27th, 1934.  He was born at Northeastern Hospital.  I knew him as Uncle Lenny.  Helen and Jimmy then had their little girl, Constance Helena Smyczynska.  She was born on Mother’s Day, May 14th, 1939.
The Smyczynski families often used Smith as a last name.  They did this to avoid discrimination and misspellings.  It does make it quite difficult to track them all down!  The children seem to have always been Smyczynski, but Helena and Zygmunt Smyczynski frequently went by Helen and James Smith.
Helen and James opened a candy store to help pay the tuition for Connie to attend Nazareth Academy High School for girls.  She started there in 1953 and graduated with High Honors in 1957. They were very proud of her accomplishments while there. 
Both children married and had families of their own.
Granny with my sister,
Donna Rae in Merchantville, NJ.
James died in 1970 from a heart attack.  It was quite sudden.  I never met my Grandpop, since I wasn’t born until 1973.  I know that my Mom and Granny really struggled with the adjustment.  My Mom frequently told me how great my Dad was at the time.  He really helped her cope.  I found a note that My Mom sent to My Granny in 1976, 6 years after his passing.  Having realized that we often take people for granted until its too late, she wanted to thank her mother for all that she did.
She remained very close to Connie and her family.  Unfortunately, money came between her and Lenny’s family.  I remember him from when I was very young.  Then we never really saw them. 
I spent so much time with Granny.  I absolutely adored her.  She lived at Belgrade and Ontario Streets in Port Richmond.  I visited her on most weekends.  I would sleep over Saturday to Sunday, or Monday if I was lucky enough to be forgotten when my dad was heading home from the city! My Dad would arrive home from working in the city and my Mom would say, “Did you forget something?”  Whoops!  We would get the call that he forgot me and we would both celebrate!  I was “Her Becky”!
Granny, Donna Rae and Me
Easter 1982
I spent 2 weeks with her most summers.  Occasionally, my girlfriend, Tracey, would join me!  We loved to play in her tiny back yard.  It was all concrete, but fun and secluded.  She would set up a little pool for us and we’d let our barbies swim!
Thinking about this now makes me sad, not so much for me, but for my kids!  I would have loved for them to have developed a similar relationship with my Mom.  I think my eldest nieces were lucky enough to have had something similar with her.  I think my kids have a chance at that with their Dram!
Granny was at our house for all of the holidays.  I was always excited when my dad would bring her up from the city.  My dog, Freckles, got very excited to see her, as well.  He ate like a king when she was around!  She cooked special meals for him.  Bacon, just for him, or Meatballs, for the pup!  Spoiled!
Granny in 1991
Granny passed away shortly after I went away to college.  She had been suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease for quite some time.  It was terrible to see.  My Mom took great care of her at our house.  I remember the day of her funeral, us grandkids wanted to be the pallbearers.  I couldn’t do it…I was crying too pathetically.  My Uncle Jim jumped in to take my place! 
I love and miss you Granny, and Happy Birthday Week!


  1. You have such great stories. I didn't have much family around when I was growing up so I like looking at other people's old pictures and hearing about their family histories.

  2. That's a wonderful story! You are a wonderful storyteller. Your Granny and mom are still watching over you and the kiddos though.

  3. Thanks! It gets me choked up, but in a good way!