Lupe Rodriguez Billingsley
Lupe Rodriguez Billingsley was one of my first interviews back in 2015. I have just had the opportunity to write it.
Lupe grew up at St. Hedwig Church and lived on East Fourth Street.
Her grandparents were Hipolit and Sophia (Sophie) Czartoryski Donikowski and they came from Poland.
They had five children, Wanda, Paul, Edward, Marion and Lupe’s mother Mary.
They owned and operated “Donikowski’s Corner Store” on East Fourth and Wallace.
Hipolite died of pneumonia before Lupe was born and her grandmother Sophie had to run the store on her own. The meat people taught her how to cut the meat and she had to learn how to keep the books.
The store was open at the crack of dawn till about 5 or 6 pm; but, her grandmother would open it up again if someone still needed a quart of milk or some eggs.
Busia kept a book of who owed her money but would never let anyone go hungry. She made sure her customers were fed by giving them soup bones with enough meat on them to feed the family. “Weź to, weź to!” she would say. “Take it, take it!”
Lupe and her family lived upstairs from the store. On Fridays she would sleep over in Grandma’s bed covered with her big comforter. At 5 am, the deliveries would start coming and she can still remember the tinkling of the milk bottles.
They never went to the Doctor, rather they took care of themselves. They regarded hospitals as a place to die. When Lupe cut her knuckle trying to cut bologna, Busia wrapped her finger with a piece of bacon and was told to hold her finger up high.
The store closed five years before Sophie died. She was having vision problems and other issues. Still, it was open to the neighborhood for other activities. Her son Eddie made erector sets and trains sets and many boys from the neighborhood would hang out there.
Sophie’s other son Paul would take “numbers” for the neighborhood from Mike Carter. They met in the back room.
Lupe’s mother was Mary "Ginger" Donikowski Rodriguez Hatkevich.
Mary met her first husband Edmund Rodriguez ll at East High School. He was born in Mexico. At first it was hard on her mother Sophie because he was not Polish, but everything changed when their first child Lola was born, followed by Lupe, Edmund lll, and Roberta.
Edmund died young of tuberculosis.
Lupe called her mother Mary a “Survivor.” She was the first of Sophie’s children to graduate from High School. After Mary’s husband died, she got her beauty license and turned her front parlor into a beauty shop. She did steam perms for the older ladies. Mary also got a realtor’s license. She never went on welfare.
Mary was also the President of the St. Hedwig’s Rosary Society for many years. This was a focal point of the ladies social life. She started the many fashion shows at St. Hedwig’s over the years.
Lupe attended the old St. Hedwig School, lovingly called “The Tin Bucket.” You would walk in and there were three or four steps like marble; then there was a hallway and in the back on the right side was kindergarten and on the left was first and second grade. The higher grades were upstairs. The desks were nailed to the floor and they had ink wells.
The floors were black linoleum and on Fridays the boys would polish them with rags on their feet. They received government orange juice in big tubs and the children would dip their cups in and drink from it.
She remembers her kindergarten teacher was Sister Valesia and the kids were taller than she was.
They were taught half the day in Polish and half in English. There was a lot of rote learning. Some of the Sisters were refugees from Poland and they were very special.
The school put on Christmas Plays in Church Hall. She remembers the Sisters making huge angel wings out of cardboard and tinsel. They also had plays for the end of the year, probably for the Pastor’s anniversary day.
The Sisters would make little bars of soap, like a sachet and the kids would have to sell those for them. They also had paper drives, collecting them in big wagons, taking them to the Sisters and they would have them weighed. This is the way the Sisters would make money.
They had their School Picnics at the Waldameer. They bought strips of tickets, packed their lunches and stayed all day. Hardly any parents would attend.
They had a Girl Scout group. They did not go to camp, but got together to make crafts and sing songs.
The Priests would come and talk to the children every Friday. First there was Msgr. Robaczewski. He was heavy and his sermons were filled with fire and brimstone. He would speak in Polish. Everybody was going to hell.
Then there was Fr. Louie Kozlowski. She remembered him as kind and nice. He had a cottage that he would take the Altar Boys to for a picnic in the summer.
The church organist was Mary Szymczak. The children would sing in the choir.
Lupe’s grandparents Hipolit and Sophie Donikowski bought the church Tabernacle.
Lupe recalled the Easter Sunrise Mass. The children would get up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. They would carry lilies and process around the church from the First Communion children on up. The smaller kids were the angels.
For May Crowning she wore a Mary medal with a blue ribbon.
St. Hedwig Church also held an annal bazaar for two days in front of the Tin Bucket. They served Ox Roast, beautiful raffles and a Ferris Wheel.
When I asked about some of the people Lupe remembered from the old neighborhood these are her memories of them:
-Joe Yankowski (Jankowski) who had a gold tooth. He would play cards on Saturday. Busia would feed him peas and the kids were amazed that he could line them up on his knife to eat them and they never spilled!
-Frank the Ragman would come ride the neighborhoods on his cart and horse saying “Rags!”
-The Iceman with his blocks of ice.
-Milewski who was a fisherman.
-Joe the Plumber who lived across the street from the Church. He had a lady friend and was looked down on from that.
-George Mielnik (my great grandfather (Dziadzi,) who lived just a couple of doors away. He always had painted white rocks in front of his house. One time during the night, some kids took them and lined them up in front of my grandmother’s house and store. She woke up and looked out the window and was so excited to see those rocks. She said, look what he did for me! But Dziadzi took them all back!
-Josephine Mielnik (my great grandmother, Busi.) Lupe always remembered her watering her garden of roses. One day a bunny came by and Busi watered him. He shook himself off and sat back down with her.
I would like to thank Lupe for sharing these wonderful memories of long ago. I am sorry this took so long to write.