FOCUS ON HISTORY: We’ll call the baby Henry

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Descendants of Albert and Katie Sikora have preserved fascinating accounts of daily life during the 1920s and 1930s in Amsterdam. 

The nine-member Polish American family lived on Clark Avenue, which runs between Forest and Sloane avenues. In 1931, Albert Sikora is described in a City Directory as a spinner at Mohawk Carpet Mills.

One of Albert and Katie’s daughters, Paula Sikora Martin, wrote down memories of the birth of her youngest brother in 1928. The pregnancy was not discussed with the children and a “birthing lady” attended their mother. 

At first shooed out of the house into the rain by their father, the children eventually were brought inside and told to get sheets for the birthing lady to use.

“[Sister] Kay and I ran through the house and started pulling the sheets off the bed,” Paula wrote. “We tried to give them to the birthing lady but she hollered at us — she wanted unused sheets. 

“Then all of a sudden we were allowed to go to Mom’s room and she introduced us to our new little fat wrinkled baby brother. I had a new doll to play with! He was so cute. Mom was back. All was well again.”

The baby’s father wanted to name him Alexander, after a Polish prince. Paula’s name, for example, was in reality Pelagia Julianna, the name of a Polish princess. However, his mother prevailed and the baby was named Henry, after the American automaker Henry Ford. 

The family always called him Harry, though, and he legally changed his name to Harry when he came of age. 

Harry Sikora, who died in 2008, served in the U.S. Army, went to Union College and Syracuse University and became an industrial engineer at IBM. His later years were spent at a farm in Bradford, Pennsylvania and a winter home in Clearwater, Florida.

“Was four years old when I started school in the first grade,” Harry wrote. “Mom lied about my age to get me into school early. Believe she had enough of children by the time I arrived.”

The school was about seven blocks from their home and his mother told Harry to follow the other children to get there.

Paula recalled when the family had no refrigerator, no washing machine and no radio. Eventually, a windup Victrola came their way. 

Their father finished building a home in 1923 on a Clark Avenue lot across from the flat they were renting in a four family house. The Sikoras rented out an upstairs flat in their new home.

“Our renter had a radio—wow,” Paula wrote. The tenant played the radio loudly and the Sikora children would gather on the hall steps to hear Fibber McGee and Molly.

Paula married in 1937 but Harry did not want to attend the wedding, saying he would break his six-year perfect school attendance record. 

Harry wrote, “Heat came from a wood/coal stove, which heated the kitchen and living room area. Bedrooms were cold during the winter and hot during the summer. Coal bin was located in the basement. Had to be carried upstairs and ashes emptied daily.

“We had two sour cherry trees. One year, dad made cherry wine in the basement. When he wasn’t looking, I tasted some of it.”

Ray Knapik and his mom rented the upstairs flat in Sikoras’ home from 1943 to 1950.

Knapik wrote, “In the back of the house was the community playground known as the Rockton Diamonds. Had a lot of good friends in Rockton and that was our hangout place. Learned how to ice-skate on the sidewalk in front of the house.”

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, Opinion

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