A Romantic New Year's Eve Story

A New Year's Eve to Remember

News clipping from New York Daily News. Jan. 1, 1941. Frances Sliwa and Stephen Popick last couple to be wed in 1941.
News clipping from New York Daily News. Jan. 1, 1941. Frances Sliwa and Stephen Popick last couple to be wed in 1941.

1940 - Uncertain times for romance

1940 was a year to remember. The war in Europe was escalating, and everyone was anxious. It was only a matter of time before the United States jumped into the fray. Everyone was living on the edge. The U.S. instituted the first peace time draft, and young men were called to military service. Young people, not knowing what would happen next, wondered if they would be sent off to war before their budding romances had a chance to bloom. The uncertainty of the times lent a feeling of urgency to lovers and many married quickly before the inevitable call to war.

It was in these uncertain times that Steve and Frannie's romance began.

Russian Immigrants raise a family in New York City

Stephen, called Steve by his family, was born in New York City in 1916 to Russian/Polish parents who emigrated to the United States in their teens. They lived in a small apartment in a Russian/Polish neighborhood, and enrolled their children in a Russian Orthodox school. Prokopi was a hard worker and thrifty. When Steve was in 4th grade, Prokopii had saved enought to buy a farm in Kingwood, New Jersey and moved his wife, Stella, and his children, Steve, Stella, Lillian and Elizabeth out of the city. Prokopi continued to work in New York City as a presser for a tailor. During the week he stayed in their NYC apartment; on weekends he took the train home to the country.


Marriage Bureau booms in 1940

News clipping from Jan. 1 1941. Marriages increase as couples anticipate wartime separation.
News clipping from Jan. 1 1941. Marriages increase as couples anticipate wartime separation.

From City Boy to Country Boy

On the farm, Stella and the children took care of the cow, a few geese, some chickens and the garden. Steve and his sisters went to a one-room schoolhouse in Kingwood where they learned English and all about country life. They spoke Russian and Polish at home and English in school. Many of their neighbors were also of Russian or Polish heritage, so the family felt quite at home in the small community. The neighboring families socialized, traded produce and helped each other with their harvests. Stephen grew up working the farm, playing in the fields and woods with his sisters and the neighboring children. When he graduated from 8th grade, his parents decided that it was time for him to take more responsibility on the farm, and Steve left school for good.

Three generations before the return to Poland

1922 family picture of Francesca and Stanislav, Sophie, Frances, Stanley, Jr. with Francesca's mother, my great grandmother.
1922 family picture of Francesca and Stanislav, Sophie, Frances, Stanley, Jr. with Francesca's mother, my great grandmother. | Source

Facts on 1940

  • Average household wages per year $1725.
  • Average house rent $30 per month
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president
  • World War II was in progress.
  • Walt Disney released his first feature film, Pinocchio.
  • Charlie Chaplin stars in “The Great Dictator”
  • Swing music was the mostpopular music and Frank Sinatra was every girl’s dream.
  • Glenn Miller’s popular hits include “In the Mood” and “Pennsylvania 5-5000”
  • Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart were the popular movie stars.
  • Ernest Hemmingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls.
  • A gallon of gas was 11¢ and a new car cost around $850.
  • $100 in 1940 was the equivalent of about $15,000 today.
  • Germany started its bombing blitz on London
  • Germany invades Denmark, France and Belgium.
  • Italy declares war on France and the United Kingdom
  • Germany bombs Paris and London.
  • The Narrows Suspension Bridge Collapses at Tacoma, Washington
  • The U.S. institutes the first peacetime draft as the war in Europe escalates.
  • Nylon stockings go on sale for the first time. They cost 20¢ a pair.

Polish immigrants also raise a family in NYC

Meanwhile in a nearby NYC neighborhood, Frances, called Francie by her family, was born in 1917 to Polish immigrant parents, Stanley and Frances. Frances's mother had come with her daughter from Poland, but was never happy so far from her homeland even though she lived with Frances, Stanley and her grandchildren. When Francie was seven years old, Frances' mother was so unhappy and finally convinced Frances to travel back to Poland with her and the three young children, Francie, Sophie and Stash. The plan was that Stanley would work in the U.S. as a shoemaker for a couple of more years, then return to Poland with a nest egg for the family.

The return to Poland

However, when Frances and the children reached Poland, things were not as she remembered. Times were harder and the village was less welcoming. Her mother drowned in the river after they arrived back in Poland. She missed Stanley as well as life in the U.S. Through the slow mail system, they decided that she would bring the children back to the U.S. Unfortunately, her visa ran out while she was out of the U.S. and she was unable to return. It took five years to arrange passage back to the U.S. Meanwhile, Francie and her siblings, although U.S. citizens, started school in Poland and learned to read and write in Polish. They forgot most of the little English that they knew.

Returning to the U.S.

When Frances returned to the US with the children, little Francie was twelve years old and did not speak English. The passage back was rough, and the Francie was terribly seasick. It was a huge relief to finally sight land and be reunited with the father she barely remembered.


Life in New York City

Francie and her brother and sister were enrolled in the New York City schools where they had to relearn English and try to catch up to their grade levels. Even though they had all been born in the U.S., their lack of English and recent arrival from Poland made them immigrants in the eyes of their teachers and classmates. It was very difficult for Francie, and she turned to books as her solace. She had learned to read Polish, but not English,and discovered that the New York City library had books in Polish. There were no children's books in Polish, but there were all the classics, so, at twelve years old, Francie read the classics in Polish while she struggled to learn English in school.

Francie’s life as a city girl was much different from Steve's life on the farm. Her mother worked in the Horn and Hardart cafeteria and was gone much of the time. Her father was a shoemaker with his own little shop in the neighborhood. Francie and her brother and sister were on their own much of the time, free to play games in the streets or explore the city. They lived in a Polish section of the city and were surrounded by other immigrant families. Parents felt safe letting their children play in the neighborhood or to navigate the subway and bus systems of the city on their own.


Visiting the farm

Francie (right) and her friend Olga on the farm.
Francie (right) and her friend Olga on the farm. | Source

A Fresh Air Kid goes to New Jersey for the summer

When Francie was in her early teens, she was lucky enough to be able to spend her summer in the country as a Fresh Air Kid and was sent to a farm family in Kingwood, New Jersey. She saw fields and cows and forests for the first time. The family she visited had a daughter her age, and she and Olga became fast friends.

Frannie and Steve meet

Steve’s family lived about a mile from Olga’s. He and his sisters went to school with Olga and her sister, and knew each other well. The families socialized, and the younger generation picnicked and often hiked to a popular swimming hole called High Falls. In the summer, the older kids were drafted to help load the hay wagons and bring in the harvests. The city girl, Francie, joined the family in their farm work, and so Steve and Francie met.


Summer ends

At summer’s end, Francie went back to the city to continue school, but at 16, she quit school to enter the workforce in the garment district. It was exciting for her to earn her own money and to be able to contribute to the family income. A young woman of the city, she dated boys in her neighborhood, went skating in Rockerfeller Center, went to the movies and visited Coney Island with her friends. She and Olga continued their friendship, and visited back and forth.

Meanwhile, Steve stayed on the farm, taking on more responsibility in his father’s absence, expanding the crop farming and the dairy herd. He looked forward to Francie’s visits to Kingwood each summer. Sometimes, he accompanied his father into the city where he would meet Francie for a movie and dinner.


Francie and Steve fall in love

The summer of 1940 Francie visited Kingwood and their friendship turned to romance.
The summer of 1940 Francie visited Kingwood and their friendship turned to romance. | Source

Summer 1940 a romance blooms

It wasn’t until the summer of 1940 that the friendship blossomed into a romance. Neither family was thrilled with the idea. Francie’s family thought Steve was a country bumpkin and that his prospects as a farmer were bleak. Francie’s mother, a devout Catholic, objected to his Russian Orthodox background. They didn’t want their daughter to move away from the city. Steve’s family thought that Francie was a bit standoffish and didn’t think the “city girl” would fit in on the farm. They didn’t like that she was Catholic and would probably want to convert him. In spite of this, Francie and Steve became secretly engaged.


A Romantic New Year's Eve

Francie and Steve on New Year's Eve 1940.
Francie and Steve on New Year's Eve 1940. | Source

A Plan to Elope

After a rather romantic Christmas Eve, Steve and Francie were reluctant to part again. At 23 and 24 respectively, they were ready to be married and be together permanently. Before Steve left to go back to Kingwood on Christmas Day, they decided it was time to get married. They would elope. In the city it was easy to get a marriage license and walk into City Hall and get married.


Last Couple Married in NYC in 1940

Photograph of my parents appeared in the New York Daily News on New Year's Day surprising my grandparents!
Photograph of my parents appeared in the New York Daily News on New Year's Day surprising my grandparents!

Last couple married in 1940

On December 31, 1940, Steve caught the train back to the city. Dressed in their best clothes, Steve and Francie hurried to City Hall, telling Francie’s parents that they would be going to dinner and then to Times Square for the New Years celebration. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, just before the offices closed, Francie and Steve were married by a New York City Justice of the Peace in City Hall. They were the last couple to be married in 1940, and a photographer captured their kiss on film as they were pronounced husband and wife.

A front page wedding announcement

The next morning, New Year’s Day 1941, the NYC Daily News featured a picture of the last couple to get married in 1940 on their front page. And so, Francie's father, glancing at the paper before heading off to church with his family, saw a picture of his daughter and new son-in-law as they sealed their wedding vows with a kiss.

Thus, Francie and Steve’s marriage was announced to her parents, their friends and relatives.Their first day as husband and wife was filled with tears, recriminations and rantings in three languages as parents and newly weds confronted each other. Frances and Stanley were livid with their daughter and refused to recognize the marriage since it was outside of the church. They confined Francie to her house until the sinners could be properly remarried by a priest.



Newly weds move to the farm

Francie and Steve eventually moved to Kingwood to live on the farm.
Francie and Steve eventually moved to Kingwood to live on the farm. | Source

Back on the farm

Steve was sent home to await arrangements for a church wedding. Without a telephone on the farm, Steve's parents didn't learn of the marriage until the next day, so were blessedly out of the ruckus.

Back on the farm, Steve's parents were also surprised, but he was their favored child and they soon accepted his decision. They invited all the neighbors and threw a good old fashioned Russian party for their neighbors with freely flowing vodka and whiskey for all.

A church wedding

In late January, Francie and Steve were married by a priest. They moved out New Jersey to the farm, but the city soon drew them back. The U.S. entered the war, and Steve was anxious to do his patriotic duty. After their first child, Stephanie, was born in 1942, they moved back to the city with it's lure of better jobs. Steve was rejected by the military because he failed the physical. He was blind in one eye from a childhood sledding accident and he had also lost a finger on his right hand due to blood poisoning. Devastated, he got a job in the Brooklyn Navy Yard building ships for the war. Their second child, Robert, was born in the city.

Footnote:

Francie and Steve eventually moved to New Jersey where they raised their four children, but they always had a bit of wanderlust in their blood, moving from house to house in central NJ their whole lives. They carried on many of the traditions of their Polish/Russian heritage and passed them down to their children and grandchildren. Francie and Steve were married for 58 years. Every New Year's Eve, they threw a party to celebrate their first romantic New Year's Eve and told their story again as they celebrated their very special New Year's Eve anniversary.

Author's Note

Francie and Steve were my parents, and this is a true story as it was told to me by my mother. Since there was never any written family history, there are a few gaps in the story and a few guesses as to the sequence of events, but the basic facts are accurate.

I hope you enjoyed this story of a romantic New Year's Eve in 1940.

`````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````

©copyright 2012 by Stephanie Henkel

More by this Author


Comments 45 comments

Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

Stephanie,

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your parents' story with us. This article was absolutely wonderful.


Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

Oh I absolutely loved the story of how your parents, met, fell in love and married. Thank you so very much Stephanie for writing this and sharing. I was hooked from the very beginning right up to the end. Such a beautiful story and very much a wonderful love story. Have voted way up and shared all over, too!!!


Suzie HQ profile image

Suzie HQ 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Hi Stephanie,

What a gorgeous story of your mum and dads life. I was glued to every word. How amazing for them to be the last couple married in 1940, what a piece of history with the press cuttings. Beautifully written, voted up, interesting, awesome. Congratulations on a wonderful article with lovely family photos.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Daisy Mariposa - Thank you! I always thought this was an interesting and kind of funny story, though I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time! I did enjoy sharing it and I'm glad you enjoyed reading it!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Janine Huldie - I'm so glad you enjoyed my parents' story, Janine! It was something I've wanted to write about before the details were lost, and I'm so happy that other people are enjoying it, too. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Suzie HQ - Even as a little girl, I remember seeing those newspaper clippings in my mother's scrapbook and I loved hearing the story of how my grandparents learned of their marriage. It was fun to share the story...I'm so glad you enjoyed it!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

Hi Steph! What a wonderful, beautiful, amazing story! I was lost in your parents journey and enjoyed it immensely!!! What a way to bring in the New Year and I could only imagine the expression on your grandparents faces when they saw the newspaper photo! Thank you so much for sharing! Happy New Year!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Sunshine625 - I used to make my mom retell the story of my grandfather seeing the picture...it was so funny to me. I'm sure no one thought it was funny at the time, though! Both of my parents have been gone for many years, but I do enjoy the memory of laughing about this with my Mom and remembering the New Year's Eve celebrations they used to have when I was a kid. Happy New Year to you, too, Linda!


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

What a romantic take. Thank you for relating it. Now that it is on the internet it will never die.


FreezeFrame34 profile image

FreezeFrame34 3 years ago from Charleston SC

What a great story to pass on! Happy New Year!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

Lovely story of love and commitment which i envy as my parents divorced when I was 12 and mum died when i was 26: dad was not dad material.

So nice to grow up in the USA in these years

Bob


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Stephanie......A sweet, wonderful, loving story of an exceptionally "Romantic" New Years' Eve marriage. The era, the Orthodox background and the B&W photos, brought some great memories of my own parents. Oddly enough, Stephanie, my parents were married at City Hall, as well, because my Dad was off to report for Military duty and wanted to do so as "married."

Rest assured, my maternal grandparents sent their oldest son to "chaperone," and bring my mother home directly! The actual Church marriage took place when my Dad returned.

Oh...how things have changed! This is a lovely story and I thank you for sharing it with us.

Our mutual friend, Sunshine, truly enjoyed the visit with you!! Paula/Effer.........................UP++++


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

What a delightful story, Stephanie! I can imagine your grandfather's surprise at seeing your parents' photo in the newspaper--a picture which prematurely "let the cat out of the bag" about their elopement. Thanks for sharing this romantic story from your family's history with your readers.

Jaye


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Mhatter99 - So many of our family stories are passed on by word of mouth. I do feel good about getting this one written down. Thanks so much for your comments!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

FreezeFrame34 - Of course, New Year's always reminds me of my parents' romantic New Year's Eve story. Happy New Year to you too!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Diogenes - My parents did have their ups and downs, but had a deep commitment to each other for all those years together. I did feel lucky to have grown up in the USA during the era I did. Thanks for your comments, Bob. Nice to hear from you!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

fpherj48 - How interesting that we share such a similar bit of family history right down to the marriage in City Hall. It's hard to believe that a 23 year old woman would stand for her parents separating her from her legal husband because she didn't have a church wedding, but I guess my parents weren't unique in this. Yes, thing have certainly changed! How nice to hear from you, especially after Sunshine spoke so highly of you! Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

JayeWisdom - It's fun to retell this story so many years later, but I'm sure at the time that my grandfather didn't thing it was delightful! :) Thanks so much for stopping in to comment, Jaye!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Well I am not much for sentiment but I must admit it really got me, lol. I am about as near to tears as I have been in a long while. You tell a great story and I knew somehow who you were speaking of from the beginning. Probably a rare thing if both sets of parents do approve of a marriage, don't you think? Glad yours were determined.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Jackie Lynnley - It always seems that the year's end brings on nostalgic reflections, and this is one story that has special meaning. Now that I've published it, some other family members are sending me more information which makes it even more special. Thanks for reading and for your lovely comment!


tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 3 years ago from USA

You look so much like your mother. I was about half way through the story when I noticed the resemblances. What a wonderful story to grow up with. I could only imagine the look on your grandfather's face as he read the news. This does put an interesting and fun spin on ringing in the New Year. This is what legends are made of. Thanks for sharing a bit of your history.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Tipoague - I never noticed my resemblance to my mother when I was younger, but I do as I get older. I always enjoyed hearing this story as I was growing up, though I'm not sure my grandparents ever thought it was funny. Thanks so much for your comments!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

What a wonderful story and knowing that it is true and that it is about your parents makes it all the better. Thanks for sharing it with us. They certainly had a nice long marriage and probably loved every New Year's Eve as it came along. It is great to have those old newspaper clippings, although your grandparents were probably not too thrilled at the time. Up, interesting and beautiful votes and sharing this nice story with others.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Peggy W - I do wish I had better copies of the old newspaper clippings as part of mine have disintegrated, but I do enjoy looking at them and remembering their story. Thanks so much for your nice comments and for sharing this story with others.


old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hello Stephanie. Congratulations on this heartfelt story of love and loyalty. I enjoyed it so much. Excellent.

voted up and all and following and shared.

Graham.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Old Albion - I'm so glad you enjoyed my parents' story. They have both been gone for years, but New Year's Eve is always a reminder for me of their romance and marriage. Thanks so much for your comments and share!


Askme profile image

Askme 3 years ago

Loved it. Wonderful story. I am always drawn to the WW II years and enjoy hearing family history-even if it is not mine-as it helps humanize history.

Voted up and useful!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Askme - Those turbulent and uncertain times had such an impact on our parents and grandparents - it's hard to imagine. I think that knowing some of the personal stories does make history more real and,as you say, humanize, it. Thanks you for coming by to comment!


Frangipanni profile image

Frangipanni 3 years ago

Oh what a love story. How nice to know your family history like that!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Frangipanni - This story will be passed down to our children and grandchildren, and gives so much insight into their grandparents' history. Thank you for stopping by and for your comments!


prettynutjob30 profile image

prettynutjob30 3 years ago from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet.

This story is beautiful, voted up, shared and much more.


pinto2011 profile image

pinto2011 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

I think you have explored your true writing potential through writing this nice and beautiful family history.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

prettynutjob39 - This is one of my favorite stories of our family's history. Thanks so much for reading and for your very nice comments.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Pinto2011 - This is a story that I always love to tell. By writing it here, I've preserved a bit of family history. Thank you so much for your kind comments!


DexisView profile image

DexisView 3 years ago from New England

What a beautiful love story! Thanks for sharing. Nice way to start my day :)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

DexisView - I'm so glad you enjoyed this romantic bit of my family history! Thanks for reading and commenting!


Levertis Steele profile image

Levertis Steele 3 years ago from Southern Clime

I love clean, romantic stories! Even though the parents opposed the marriage initially, something was right about it. It lasted 58 years! When I think about the many divorces of today, I wonder what present-day couples could learn from marriages of those days gone by.

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Levertis Steele - I'm so glad you enjoyed this romantic story. I think that we could all learn something from couples like this who have had long-lived marriages. A willingness to work through rough patches rather than giving up is one reason they lasted so long. Thanks for stopping in to comment!


Schoolmom24 profile image

Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

Wow...wonderful! I am always drawn to love stories and also am a huge history buff, so you can imagine how much I was into this hub! :) I was loving reading it even before I found out at the end that they were your parents. The newspaper photograph is priceless! But what a way for the family to find out! ;)

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Schoolmom24 - My mother would tell this story on every anniversary and I never tired of hearing it. I'm so glad that she saved the news clipping so that I could preserve it here. Thanks so much for your lovely comments!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

Wow! It's difficult to believe a year has past since you wrote this beautiful story. Thank you again for sharing. Happy New Year!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA Author

HI Sunshine! Time has certainly flown! Thank you for all of your support this past year. Best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year for you and your lovely family!


swilliams profile image

swilliams 2 years ago from Arizona

What a beautiful story Stephanie! I loved the pictures. Great Article!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA Author

Swilliams - Thanks you for your comments and for the read. I think of my parents' story each New Year's Eve, and I'm so happy to hear that others enjoy reading it.


swilliams profile image

swilliams 2 years ago from Arizona

You wrote the kind of article that movies are made of! Keep up the great work!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working