Monday, March 29, 2010

Magpie 7 Click here to go to Magpie Post site for other writers' offerings

I could not resist a touch of memoir for this week’s Magpie. When we lived in Northern California the winters were predominantly grey fog and rain with some scattered sunshine. It was quite different from my childhood of four seasons in PA, or here in MN. We became accustomed to having two seasons, hot and foggy but spring was always a welcome green time of the year which vanished all too soon into the CA hillsides brown from heat and drought.

Across the American River Canyon, from us in Amador County outside of Sutter Creek was the charming Daffodil Hill. Many of these towns which were founded by the miners and followers during the 1840’s California Gold Rush were tiny places, almost vanishing but then revived into tourist attractions with shops and eateries. But Daffodil Hill had its own special gold attraction, the bloom of over 300,000 daffodil bulbs which had been planted over the acreage beginning in 1887 when Arthur and Lizzie McLaughlin arrived from New York. To merely say the hills were covered with the majesty of the golden blooms does not fully portray the glory of the golden glow of those acres of yellow, sunshine in bloom.

I had acquaintances whose parents lived in Sutter Creek and who introduced me to Daffodil Hill. This was before it became a tourist attraction, when it was a tranquil spot in the hills, a serene sight of golden flowers. Later as would happen all too frequently in CA , the thundering throngs of people in cars and motor cycles invaded the area by the thousands each weekend beginning in late March to view this phenomena. Trouble was this populace invasion, destroyed the ambience and disturbed the peace with traffic galore. So we no longer visited Daffodil Hill, avoiding the congestion of the crowds. Sitting in a car along a two lane meandering back hills road which has been transformed into a miles long parking lot going nowhere has never been my idea of a good time!

Believing that as one door closes another window opens, I decided that I would create my own private daffodil hill on our seven acres. That started my 20+ year tradition of planting daffodil bulbs each November around my birthday. First I planted an assortment of various bulbs, favoring exotic tulips. But come spring I was disappointed with sparse results. Here and there I had scattered ranunculus, Dutch iris and daffodils but zero tulips. When I took shovel in hand and dug up the area to inspect and determine the cause, I found not a trace of any tulip bulb, where I’d so carefully laid those months back. After more study and questioning lifelong foothill gardeners, I learned that the tulips were prime eating for the voracious gophers that ravaged our lawn and cultivated areas. I had provided them a wintry gourmet feast which they totally devoured. I was advised to dig deeper the next year and install a layer of wire mesh, aka chicken wire, and then add soil and amendments and then the bulbs. Then our elderly friend and previous owner of the hillside advised me that she had given up on tulips 40 years prior for this same reason and because they needed to be dug out and replanted each year.

With that lesson learned, but resolute to having my personal spring bulb bloom, that November I passed on tulips and planted more Dutch iris and daffodils. That Monday when I returned home from a routine long work day in the bureaucracy, Jerry remarked that I probably had not noticed excavation along my mini bulb hill along the front bank. No indeed I had not noticed that, because at that time of year I left in the dark and returned in the dark, but I went outside, turned on the garage lights, armed with flashlight to inspect. What a sorry sight awaited me with daffodil bulbs and iris tubers scattered over the ground and excavations all over that slope. Jerry had followed me outside and was standing aside as I gasped, “What the hell!” and other expletive deleted words that every gardener invokes from time to time! This time there was another predator, which happened to be hunkering sheepishly behind Jerry eyeing me. That August we had acquired our Great Dane, Ace, who became the dog of my life. But this evening, there he was in his blackness looking at me and leaning against Jerry’s legs. Evidently that morning Jerry, who left for his business in the daylight and checked the area before departing had found the evidence with dirt and mud all over Ace’s mug and paws. It seems, Ace smelled the bone and blood meal that I’d used while burying each bulb and while he did not eat bulbs, the pup had enjoyed digging in the dirt. Was I amused, hardly, but there was still time the next weekend to replant the bulbs. The next Saturday, I did so but also used another old gardener’s trick, moth balls planted along with the bulbs to keep the dog away. It worked because Ace did not excavate.

The next spring the bulbs bloomed and all was well. Well as well as it could be until the mischievous Ace and our other dog decided to race through the bulb beds or lay down amid the flowers. I have mentioned that we lived on a country hillside so we did not do flower boxes nor fence off my plantings. Besides Ace was perfectly capable of stepping over any small flower fence and our other dog was a jumper. My outbursts of displeasure taught them to keep away, mostly.

As I learned more about bulb gardening, I became even fonder of the daffodils which were known to naturalize and divide and take over an area. Furthermore, the daffodil stems and leaves as such were deer repellent another important feature in our country hillside. Thereafter, I continued to plant daffodils each November along with a few hyacinths and the Dutch iris. I had more than 20 hybrids of daffodils some in multi color, some with a greenish tinge but my favorites remained the King Alfred, golden yellows. I had a nice view of the bank from our kitchen table window, a few steps off the garage and enjoyed many bouquets from the beds of yellow.

Today in MN, November is too cold and the ground too hard for bulb gardening, I have decided after repeated failures. In 2005, our first fall and winter here, I purchased bags full of bulbs and buried them around the planters and even potted several. All this to Jerry’s protests that I not scatter them in the lawns where he rides his mower! Not a single daffodil bloomed. When I dug those bulbs I saw they had rotted in the ground, perhaps I did not plant them deep enough, and perhaps the bulbs were defective. The next year, I tried a couple more types without any success. So I have given up, for now and often we are off in the RV when it's optimal time to plant.  My focus has shifted.  No more golden blooms greeting the spring time. Of course, maybe there is a certain daffodil that is better suited to MN over winter---hmmm, more to learn.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sepia Saturday Week 17 (Click here to find others Sepia postings)

Mystery Boy

Last week I introduced my granpap, Teofil Kochanowski. When I refiled his photos, I found three photos of the same little boy (at least I think it is) whom I believe was Teofil’s nephew and likely lived in Illinois where Teofil’s brother Charles Krolicki lived. Remember I said how my Polish ancestors changed the spelling of their names, well there we have it again, Krolicki from Kochanowski.

 No identification, name or date was written on the back of these photos. My aunt Virginia, who had the photos in her album had written, “I don’t know who this boy is.” I kept the photos when I cleared her house last year because of their age, which I am guessing to be early 1900 to about 1920. He looks like such a precious little boy and I can see my granpap’s blue eyes in this boy’s face. Someday I might solve this riddle but meantime, here is the mystery boy. This photo as you see, is inscribed to “Uncle Teofil” and says “Charles E 2 years old.” Look at him with hands in pockets of the over skirt bib type covering over his pants.

I suspect he may be the child of one of Charles Krolicki’s children. Among Granpap’s funeral memorials, was a memorial from H.M.Seagle in West Frankfort, Illinois. My attempts to trace this on Google located a Hubert Marion Seagle who married a Mary Louise Krolicki in December 1940 in Perryville, MO and died in W Frankfort, IL February 2008 at age 90. I can assume that Mary was Grandpap's niece,  Charles’ daughter.

There were two children of that marriage, Charles Edward and Patricia M. Somewhere on Ancestry or other records there may be a tie to this. Hmm, Charles Edward sounds like it might be this boy, but if they married in 1940 and Charles was born later, the photo would not be as old as I’d assumed. As happens with this genealogy, a possible answer often produces more questions. H M Seagle’s obituary reports that his son Charles Edward died April 1985.

Well if this is Charles, here are two more photos.

 If not Charles, then it is another mystery boy. I am speculating that this is the same little boy perhaps at four or five years of age. These two photos are postcards made by Flett in Atlantic City NJ as indicated on the back.

The boy is dressed up in what appears to be a sailor suit made big enough to allow room to grow, or perhaps a hand me down into which he has not yet grown. The high button shoes that show in the standing pose make me think this photo is way before 1940 as I first suspected. Iis it the same boy or not?

I have gone full circle, lapping myself, and come back to not knowing anymore about this little boy. Unless some unknown relative pops up, the mystery is all mine.   Here he is

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting my Spring on with Memories to spare

On Saturday it was time to clear out the last of the  burgundy and gold that survived through St. Patty's Day and get my Spring on.  Because I have lots of trinkets and treasures to display and enjoy doing so, it is time to meet Spring inside.  The cold March wind blowing today amidst the sunshine precludes me from further outside yard work. I have cleared out the front flower box, trimmed all the winter ravages from plants along one side and most significantly clipped all the rose bushes and removed the tons of winter leaf mulch. This photo shows the barren rose garden, awaiting the growth and eventual blooms.  Pretty good dent on spring clean up is already accomplished, so I can retreat to my computer. I can use the respite from the wind and maybe my achy shoulders and hands will too.

While I was pruning roses, despite the protest from the arthritis in my hands, I was aware of how it is a "good thing" that I no longer have the 400+ rose bushes that I grew in CA. I loved them and considered them my therapy after long days in state government bureaucracy, but now I don’t require such respite therapy. Furthermore, I could no longer maintain that much gardening. My amusements have shifted here in MN for reasons of seasons and other interests. Someday we will get to travel more in the RV, taking more trips for pleasure and less to check on the elderly of my family. Well RV travel means not being here to monitor and care for gardens, so I am converting to a lower maintenance landscape which means fewer roses. Not being wealthy enough to afford a staff of dedicated landscapers and gardeners ala Martha Stewart, I have downsized my efforts from roses and even vegetable gardening. After all one has to be around to weed and harvest. There are enough fresh veggies at the farmer’s markets and stands locally to assuage my need for home grown items. While I may dream about strolling through lushly gardened grounds, it will not be my reality; instead I defer to the lawns which Jerry mows on his rider and I have relinquished further gardening attempts for a time. Things can change and I can return with a vengeance, but for now I will be content to limit my efforts.  Here with the umbrella bunny from Roberta, I  will begin to share my trinkets and interior  decor.

Now inside it is time to spring up as well,  and point out the change of some of my trinkets and treasures to match the season. Last weekend I brought out the bunnies to Easterfy the inside of our home. Jerry tolerates these spurts benevolently, with comments like, “Pat’s playing with her toys again.” Seeing Laurie’s over the top Easter mantle decor on her blog, inspired me to get busy. (see her blog at Bargain Hunting and Chatting with Laurie ) So, Saturday I bunny hopped around the dining and living room spreading my limited baskets full of Easter joy!

I changed the outside wreaths and am very happy with the forsythia wreath especially. This one is at the front door which we use the most. This leads me into a diversion about our two front doors, almost shown here. The “side” front if you will enters into a hallway and another and then through the kitchen while the main front goes into the formal entry and the living/dining room. I’ve not seen another home before this or since with two front entries, but we did not build this house. The original owner builders were quite particular; he was a master craftsman and carpenter and she was a fanatic about cleanliness and design. I suspect they felt that the side front entry was more practical while the main front more suited for formal entertaining, at least that’s the way it plays out with us. A comical aspect along with the two front entries is that each door has a doorbell and despite our owning this home for almost eight years, I still have not identified which door bell ring goes with which door. This results in my running to and fro to answer a doorbell which gives me a spurt of aerobic when there is a ring at a door, especially when I am downstairs writing like now and the door bell rings. This house is known to UPS and the mail delivery gal who always use the side front bell. Neighbors are accustomed to the garage door or the side front, having lived here longer than we have. However, children selling wares and others might wander to the main front. My penchant for making it easy on myself most often results to my opening whichever door I go to first, usually the side front, and waving at whoever is at the other door to walk back to me. I could and will at another time write more about the ways I manage to be confused in this 4,000+ square foot retirement home. But for now, I want to share some of my Easter bunnies and d├ęcor.

Mel commented on Facebook that  she understood the enjoyment I get from bringing out my collection of bunnies, it's the "memories."  She gets it.  Nearly all the bunnies were given to me by my best friend, Roberta through our career years; Roberta died in 2002 so every time I  bring out something that was a gift from her I remember her.  For a time she was really delving into minatures and so came many of the bunnies in my Easter parade on the corner of our mantel.  But look at  Big Bunny Mama Shopping, whom Roberta unleashed across the top of my desk one day when I was despairing of how I'd find time to shop for Easter cards!   We worked in downtown Sacramento which had a mall in walking distance and gift shops nearby and so that day off we went to shop for cards.  Today Bunny Mama Shopping still makes me laugh when I wind her up, and here at least 20 years later, she still works when wound up.  That's something else I love about this collection, nothing was made in China. 

A woman I knew in Penryn, CA  held craft fairs twice a year in her Victorian farm home to sell some of the numerous crafts she made.  This pink ceramic bunny was one of her works and the Polish Easter egg in front of it was hand painted maybe 50 years ago in PA by an elderly woman; surely a dying art.   Somewhere with the Christmas collections are the fabulous beaded ornaments of all shapes that this same elderly woman made.  Actually I could rescue some of those for display as Easter fineries and just might do that.  Today on the rare  occaisions when I do attend craft shows, I am annoyed at the duplications,  mass production, touching up of things made in China and lack of artistry.  Either the market has shifted dramatically or what people would sell is just not anything of interest to me. Maybe a combination of both. Then again I remind myself that I do not need to acquire anymore items.  Yet,  now and then someone cannot resist picking up something for me and sometimes that someone is myself.  My friends and I all agree that we must downsize and not acquire, but then something shows up that is just too tempting to pass.

One such recent example is this exquisite Czech glass vase of multi colors that my best friend, Sandy, in CA, procured last November for my birthday.  She apologized for adding to my accumulation, but she  went to an estate sale and when she saw this she thought of me. It has a spot of honor in the living room where the sun beams coming through the huge picture window shine and glisten across it.  Despite all the cut glass and crystal vases I brought from my aunt's home in PA, I had nothing in these color tones. I don't know whether or not Sandy intended to give me another task, but this Czech vase has accomplished that as I try to find different displays for it through the seasons.  This array uses blue glass marbles in the bottom to support 3 beribboned eggs on sticks and a small garland of ivy with beaded pink flowers.  The bunnies at the bottom came from our son, Steve.  Of course those bring a tear, as I recall him bringing them in  almost 25 years ago saying, "Sorry Dad, but I found more junk for Mom!" 

Some people do not collect and some do not decorate--they might be considered minimalists.  I have never been one of those; I am Teofil's grand daughter and have a genetic desire to collect, I can't imagine just using something one time and then tossing it.  I have decided that as long as I enjoy this and have the time and energy, what does it hurt?  Besides I have lots of storage space, so it is not a problem of where to store it until next year.  My  dining room presents a challenge, not because it is difficult to decorate but because I have a selection of permanently placed items, antiques, glassware,  leaded crystal.  I have tried to compensate with a smattering of bunnies and Easter angels. Those who know me are well aware that angels have been my primary collectible all my life.  So do not be surprised to see my "Easter angels" on the dining room table and sideboard.  They look springlike and so I use them at this time of the year.  The brown  ceramic bunny in the dish next to the gold roses reminds me of  Mikey, a little boy who lived  out the back side of our property in Newcastle.  He is a young man today in CT and we still hear from him, but I recall when he brought this bunny to me, wow 21 years ago!  I think when he  gets settled down and maybe has his own family I will package  up this bunny and send it to him; I expect he will be very surprised.   The smaller laughing bunny was from one of my staff long ago; it has the cutest grin. I posted many of these photos on Facebook, but that does not afford me the space to write about them and share my memories.  Notice all the doilies which are hand work from my Aunt Virginia and my grandmother.  If I did not decorate, I would have no use for these lovelies either. 

This will suffice for now.  Besides Jerry has just strolled by to  ask if I am going to continue to sit here or if I have dinner plans. He cannot understand how I can take so much time to write but then again he can because he knows my verbal fluency.  :)  Tonight will be a treat!  I think, as we will experience my own home made pizza.  So with this, last photo of a favorite bunny dish, I sign off and  ascend upstairs to the kitchen when the pizza dough has risen to nearly exiting its container.  Risen whole wheat dough awaits adornment with sausage, cheese and other finery!  Meantime here is my  prize bunny cabbage dish/candle holder that I bought in 1986 at an estate sale.  I wanted to give this to my grand daughter when we were moving from CA but knowing my DIL's proclivity for tossing I did not.    I can't imagine him being tossed into a dump somewhere.  He is awaiting his annual adornment of jelly beans and peeps.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Magpie tales Week 6 (Click here to read others' posts)

This week almost stumped me fully until I tried something very different.  Likely my  utter lack of handy ability frustrated my inspiration and almost blocked my weekly writing.  I can't wait to read  how others used it.   

Box of tacks awaiting a hammer

To anchor them, with a useful knock.

Left in the box, tacks jangle together

Sharp, pointy, spilling out without form or purpose.

But the tack taken from that box,

Attacked by a hammer’s quick smack

Can fasten, repair, reinforce and support.

Life’s sorrows are like tacks in the box.

Kept jangling together deep in the box of the heart

Sorrows' sharp pointed ends slowly siege the soul.

But sorrows shared with others who care

Are struck by the force of the hammer of prayer

Prayer and concern are the useful knocks

That fasten, repair, reinforce and support the fragmented soul.

The Mistress's Daughter a Memoir

“The Mistress’s Daughter” by A.M.Homes is a moving memoir in 238 pages, lyrical and poignant that I read in two nights. Look at that beautiful child on the cover and you know why this book caught my attention at B & N while I was checking over the non-fiction racks. I have never read anything by this author, but I would do so again; the cover of the book lists her other books and that she is a contributing writer for Vanity Fair. A.M. is 31 years old when her birth mother tries to contact her. Although she knew she had been adopted as an infant, there have been the never ending questions that roamed through her psyche throughout her life and now sitting in her parents living room and listening to them reveal the contact from the attorney who arranged her adoption. Her reactions and emotions range from wonder, anger, curiosity and through the entire spectrum. She learns that her mother was an unmarried young woman and that her biological father who had another family lived not far. All those years, so near and so far. This is a book for anyone to read who enjoys good writing and emotions in words. It’s a warning to anyone seeking out missing family members that life does not always end happily ever after and it is a book of encouragement for adoptees or those abandoned that you really are better off without the missing link. Yet it is a book for all of us who want to know more about who we are and how we got here.

The birth mother, Ellen, is not a likeable character but a very wanting needy person who would consume A.M. if allowed. The phone calls from Ellen become almost stalking. Her biological father, Norman, lives up to his “louse” image and does nothing to redeem himself. He promises to introduce A.M. to his family, to her half-siblings, but never does. He abandons her a second time in life. Reading her encounters with him gave me the impression that sex must have been the primary focus of his and Ellen’s relationship because he has the personality of a wart. Then again, it is a tale as old as the hills, Norman was the boss and Ellen, with obvious psychiatric short comings, worked for him. At one point in the dialogue A.M. addresses that their relationship had to be about sex only and she is the byproduct. All the discovery with the additional rejection and turmoil cause a despondency in A.M.

Meanwhile her parents torture themselves and her with “what ifs’ and A.M. develops a need to protect her mother from Ellen. A.M. allows herself to remember Ellen’s birthday each year but keeps her distance. When Ellen finally cajoles A.M. into meeting her for lunch, they are still worlds apart. A.M. thinks maybe an hour or two and Ellen visions a full day together. They meet at the Plaza Oyster Bar in New York at 4:00PM. A.M. arranges for a friend to come to retrieve her if she cannot escape Ellen gracefully. Ellen arrives wearing a rabbit coat and orders Harvey’s Bristol Cream to drink which leaves A.M. with more amazement that people really drink that. A.M. remarks that Ellen reminds her of Dusty Springfield.

Then there is Norman who is impressed with himself for some reason that is never made apparent. He lives consumed in a delusion of his own importance. He insists on a blood test to establish DNA at a shabby lab and does not even pay for it, nor will he later share the official results with A.M. He criticizes A.M. for not wearing jewelry of all things and says he would have taken her out for a nice lunch if she had worn something better. She comments that she is perfectly well dressed in linen pants and a blouse. Mr. Personality.

Some of the passages that make this a wonderful moving memoir:

pg. 10-11, “There is folklore, there are myths, there are facts, and there are questions that go unanswered. …………..How much was still being kept from me and how much had been forgotten or lost with the subtle erasure, the natural revision of time?”

pg. 38-39 “I am an amalgam. I will always be something glued together, something slightly broken. It is not something I might recover from but something I must accept, to live with—with compassion……………….It’s about fate, the life cycle of information.. “

pg. 68 “I used to believe that every question deserved an answer, I used to feel obligated to answer everything as fully and honestly as possible. I don’t anymore.”

pg. 91 “This is the world Norman lives in—faded but presumed aristocracy. The fact is, Norman is not upper class, and he is overextended.”

Pg. 93 “The fact is that whatever each of them is in this for has nothing to do with me. It is not about my need, my desire and for the moment I have had enough.”

My favorite quote is on page 69 “My birthday, the lighting rod, the axis around which I spin. I hold myself braced against it—an anti-celebration. “

The final chapter about her maternal (adoptive) grandmother, Jewel Rosenberg and her table, which A.M. acquires leads to her discussion of sitting at it with her own daughter. People who have lived otherwise normal lives within intact families should read this book to learn from someone who expresses how to become whole when parts are missing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday Week 16 Click here to link to other Sepia Saturday posters

Teofil Kochanowski 1887--1961    

 This week I jump to another side of my family, my grandfather, Teofil Kochanowski , my mother’s father.

This 1943  photo is my grandmother, Rose, my mother, Helen, and my grandfather, Teofil. 

While there are few photos of Teofil I have lots of memories.

To me he was Granpap and to the rest of the family, Pap.

“Never you mind” was his frequent response. And he always hummed or whistled a Polish tune. 

His favorite Polish saying, which I give you in English, is "where there are people there are troubles." 
 To him it meant, no worries, it is all just life!

 The spelling of the last name changed considerably depending on who wrote it. Uncle Carl, his son, Americanized it to Konesky in 1941 and the rest of the family used that spelling. But not my Granpap , he knew what his name was and he insisted it be that way! He was not an educated man through schooling, but he was very wise and shrewd. He knew how to read and write and I can still hear him say in Polish to his son, “Never you mind, I show you! You no change how spell my name!” Here they are in 1942, Teofil, is the shorter one and Carl.

Though he proudly claimed to be full Polish, his baptismal certificate indicates he was baptized in Zarsryn, Austria, born April 27, 1887 to Thecla Kochanecka (the spelling is hard to read in the Latin script) daughter of Adalberti Kochanecki and another name hard to decipher, Sunwae de Cictro Ober. He was baptized Theophilus; the Latin clearly includes a reference “illegitimus”. I wish I’d known about this when Granpap was alive, because he would have had a good story to tell. He had a brother, Charles ‘Krolicki” who died in Illinois in and a sister Nellie Buczek who lived in PA. I do not remember either of them.

 He enjoyed his "piwa" (beer) as this photo from 1945 shows him (left) with his visitng brother-in-law, Al Mroz. Teofil danced a wild polka and the "Russian" dance where he squatted and did the  kicks while shouting and raising arms.  I tried to do that but never could.  He would laugh and tell me that was the man's dance and I could not do it because I was a girl.  The proudest moment of his life was when he became a US citizen; he would shake his head in wonder that a boy who stole a cow could be a citizen of this great country. My aunt and mother said they remember him sitting on the stairs practicing English and studying US history for his citizenship test. When they laughed at his pronunciation of something, he would become very annoyed with them and shout, “go to bed! Never you mind, someday I’m gonna be a citizen and you no laugh from me no more."

My love of gardening stems from hanging out with Granpap. Among my favorite memories is sitting in the dirt smack dab in the garden with Granpap. I loved scraping up the dirt. He would hoe or shovel and I would crawl around with my own tiny shovel, spoons or my hands, sifting the dirt that he worked up into fine mulch. I developed my love of hot peppers right there in the dirt in Granpaps garden! I remember pulling peppers off the plants and biting into each one until we found the right taste of hot. This was to my grandmother’s horror! “PAP, DON’T YOU FEED THOSE PEPPERS TO Patty!” He’d laugh, “Never you mind, Rose, she’s help me find the hottest.” Oh we were a pair, Granpap and me. Grandma would scoop me up, scrub me clean and redirect my attention to my dolls inside the house. I remember when I was about five years old and she had me sparkling clean. Off I went because Granpap was outside in the garden, dragging Dolly along, both of us were back in the dirt.  Granpap warned me, “Oooh Parujcka (Polish for my name) you gonna get it for sure now….never you mind, go on over there by the wood shed.” He then decided he was done stirring the dirt for the day, wiped me off as good as he could with his handkerchief and then said, “Well what I gonna tell Rose now? You gonna make lotsa trouble for us two!” And of course it was the funniest thing in the world to him.
Here he is in 1943 with one of his hunting dogs.  Granpap would tell me stories about the mines, the strikes, hunting, but my Grandmother was always cautious about these. I can hear her yelling, “Pap don’t you tell her that!” He would laugh and point his finger to his lips to be quiet and then go on in a hushed tone. I remember sitting on the front porch swing with him and asking him how to say phrases in Polish, like, “you’re crazy” or “get away”, etc.  He told me that he had stolen a cow and sold it so he could get money to come to America. After he began to earn money he sent it to the farmer in Poland, he said, to his mother to pay for the cow.  When he arrived in America he hopped the freight trains and headed for Chicago, where he knew someone and which was a magnet for  Polish immigrants. He was a young man, an immigrant who spoke no English but knew he could make a living in America. For the rest of his life, he had a soft spot in his heart for railroad bums and he and my grandmother fed them whenever they wandered up from the tracks to their home. I suppose their home was known as a place where a bum could get a good hot meal. I don’t know for sure, but I think my Granpap snuck them some spare change too. My grandparents were not wealthy, but they believed someone else was always worse off and would share what they had.

Granpap was my salvation at church. We attended a Polish parish and in those days if the priests were not speaking Latin, it was Polish. As a child I understood neither and would get fidgety sitting there, bur Granpap would smile and tell me “just a little bit longer then we go home, and we gonna get ice cream on the way” which bought my quiet attention.

Teofil found his wife, my grandmother, Rose, in a bakery where she was working. They were married September 25, 1915 in New Kensington, PA. I found it strange that there was no Catholic wedding, but that could have been because of his past. I do recall my grandmother saying that they had gone to the priest later on that year to be really married. She was devout Catholic; Teofil was also Catholic but not as concerned. They had five children, Frank who died of the Spanish flu epidemic, Francis, Carl, Virginia and Helen, my mother. I never saw a wedding portrait, but I have a huge oil portrait of their faces which hangs in my study; my uncle said it was for an anniversary.

Granpap was a coal miner and he shared stories of working at the mines and being very grateful to the unions. He was proud that when the “scabs” came by to take their jobs when the miners went out on strike that he would knock them down and bloody their noses if they did not leave right away. This was amazing because Granpap was a small man and so kind. I could hardly imagine him in a fight, but I suppose he did that to defend his livelihood and the union. His miner’s papers taken out in 1913 note that he entered the country through New York on the Hamburg and record his weight at 145 pounds, height at 5 ‘5” blonde hair and blue eyes. Granpap told me that his hair had turned black working in the mines. I always remember him with dark hair and little silver or grey hair even when he died in 1961. I guess that mine coal dust stayed with him all his life! Now that my hair turns darker with each year, I wonder if I somehow have the strain of coal dust from Granpap.

Granpap suffered many strokes and was always told he would not walk again. But he always outwitted the doctors. He would be up hobbling about with his cane to the surprise and delight of all. With a grin and poking his cane, “never you mind, I not gonna lay in no bed!” He had no intention of spending the rest of his life in bed, because Rose had enough to do without having to wait on him. I remember him walking all over town and up the hills to our home.

Often his walks ended up at the butcher shop where they always had a card game going on in the back and he often won. My grandmother walked to the butcher shop almost every day to buy meat. Looking back now, I wonder why she just didn’t have Granpap pick it up, but then I supposed she never knew how long he might be staying there. I remember a big to do one late summer afternoon when Granpap did not return home from his walk. I was staying at my grandparents, which I did often. So after calling around and finding out that he had left the butcher shop hours ago, my Grandmother got worried. She called Uncle Carl who came and called the police. A search was on for Teofil…This is one of the few times I ever saw my grandma cry. Later before it was fully dark, Grandpap came up the sidewalk, with his cane, whistling and humming, which he always did as he walked along. There were many anxious Polish words spoken and Teofil began to laugh and then scold them all,,,,,”Hmph! Never you mind! I come home you all crazy or what!” He’d been down near the river, got interested in digging around in the woods…lost track of time….

Family called him the “junkman” because on his walks, he would invariably find something discarded by someone, which he would drag home. He was the original recycler before the term was ever invented.  Later he would drag these treasures to our home to my mother’s consternation. Granpap’s retort to criticism of his hauls were always the same short words, “Listen to me, this no cost you nothing, you no gotta feed it, someday you gonna want it and here it is…never you mind!” Today when I ponder whether or not to toss something, I recall Granpap’s advice, “well it costs nothing, don’t have to feed it, might be handy someday…”  He left a legacy, prone to packrat.

He always had dogs which were well trained whether they were a hunting dog or a pet. My uncle told how Granpap was so crazy about animals, and even when times were very lean in their lives Granpap always had dogs.  I found this 1956 photo where Granpap has a woodchuck on a leash. He’d once brought a woodchuck into the house, leaving it in a box overnight in the kitchen. The next morning it and the box were gone! I am sure my grandmother who kept an immaculate house came into the kitchen, saw that and out it went. Uncle Carl said, Granpap was annoyed but shrugged it off, “I no have proof, Rose, but I know you did something and I wanted that woodchuck for a pet!” He tried to snare birds to tame them without too much success; my Uncle Carl said he would sit in wait near a bush to snare birds that would come up to feed on crumbs he had set out. My grandparents always had a canary or two in a cage; he loved canaries likely associating them with use in the mines. I suspect that my love of Tweety bird today stems back to my granpap and his canaries. Canaries were used by the coal miners to gauge air quality in the mines but granpap would not sacrifice his birds for that. He would not sell them to miners whom he knew they only wanted the birds to test the air.

He died in November 29, 1961 the way we would all like to go. After they ate lunch he told my Grandma that he felt a little bit tired and was going to go take a nap. He never awoke. I was in my senior year of high school and still remember my grandmother’s voice of grief when she called our home after she found him. She moved to our house immediately after that. Teofil was the love of her life.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Magpie Tales Week 5 (click here to link to Magpie and read others)

Each week on Friday, Willow graciously posts  a photo prompt to which we respond with a tale, an ode, a line or two or whatever creative idea  comes from the prompt.  Clicking on the title to this post will take you to Magpie central where you can choose from many other  takes on the  prompt of the week.  This is the 5th week and here we go....

Ned strummed his guitar, tuned the harmonica and began to sing softly to himself sitting on a barstool at the corner of the stage, tuning up for the Saturday night crowd, “.. Put your Hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters, put your hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the sea, take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently by puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee….” Ned wouldn’t be singing that song tonight but he was getting ready for the regulars; playing at the bar was just another way to earn spare change working his way through medical school.

The unshaven but neatly dressed older man who’d been sitting at the bar since Ned arrived, shook his head and tottered off his bar stool staggering back to the men’s room. “Unsteady on your feet there, John” called the bartender after him, “Maybe time to call it a day, guy.” Ned shrugged his shoulders toward the bartender thinking “just another one in hard times, drinkin’ himself silly …” Soon John came out of the men’s room, returned to his seat, drawing a $20 bill from his pocket and slapping it down onto the bar he said, “another one for me and give that sorry singer whatever he’s drinking too, sounds like his throat is parched. Do him good to loosen his vocal chords…… “ The bartender poured a draft for John and signaled to Ned that he had a drink coming… but Ned signaled back to pocket the coins for later, and continued to warm up his vocals, “hands across the waters, hands across the sea,……wheedto.. …turn around put your feet back on the ground…..”

John tottered back off the stool and approached Ned, “Sounds like you need a hand Sonny; I always figured the best place to find one was at the end of your arm…., but let me show you something…” John sat down at the piano and began to finger the keys then broke into playing the meanest boogie woogie Ned had ever heard! John smiled at Ned and said, “Now that’s how you do it Sonny! That’s what folks who come in here will want to hear…..’member that…that’s what to do with hands, keep those fingers moving….” “Ahh John, get away from the stage,” called the bartender, “Ned will do all right ‘sides he’s gonna be a doctor someday…won’t need your advice!” Ned continued his warm up…”I wantta hold your haaand… wannta hold your hannnd…” “Son didn’t you listen, nobody wants to hear songs ‘bout hands..” John called.  Ned noticed the first  couples arriving and started strumming and singing "c'mon all now gather 'round,  Listen to what I'm putting down. Whoo baby, I'm your handyman. I'm not the kind to use a pencil or rule....."  John shook his head, waved to the singer and  headed out the door; work to do back home, he'd just stopped in to quench his thirst. 
Flash forward 10 years to the world renowned Mayo clinic where Dr. Ned’s a famous orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hands.  Patients come from all over the world for his expertise. Ned reviewed his schedule for the day… two minor surgeries this morning, but one that would take most of the afternoon….a farmer had nearly severed his hand in a tractor accident. The farmer’s family was gathered in his room and Ned would reassure them of the wonders that could be done; he picked up the model wooden hand, the mock prosthesis from the shelf to explain this and walked into the farmers’ room . “Good morning doctor “chorused the family gathered around the patient. The patient, arose in the bed, “Well damned if it ain’t the guy who sings about hands…. You gonna be able to keep my fingers movin’?” “I really believe so, John, yes sir I do” Ned smiled from ear to ear!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Elizabeth Ostrowski Waszkiewicz (click here to visit other Sepia Posts)

Elizabeth Ostrowski Waszkiewicz 1903--2006 

For week 15 of Sepia Saturday I feature Lizzie, which is what everyone called her, my 2nd cousin who lived to be 102 years old. She was born to John Ostrowski, (Frank’s second son by his first marriage) and Frances Gapinski on October 18, 1903 in New Kensington, PA. There were 10 children altogether in that family; the only other one I knew was Annie Gorleski whom I’ll feature in another post. In 2006 Lewis and Raymond two of her brothers were alive, along with  Eleanor Watson one of her sisters. The others Henry, Eddie, Ignatius, Annie Gorleski, Francie Slodowski and Margie Hancock had all died.

On May 31, 1923 when Lizzie was not quite 20 years old, she married Stanley Waskiewicz. Their wedding picture here strikes me as odd; Lizzie is expressionless with her arms at her sides, while Stanley appears to be holding her up with one arm. I wonder what she was thinking under that gorgeous hat. Stanley died after they were married 31 years when he was 59 leaving Lizzie to continue to raise the family alone. Well as alone as could be with all the Polish relatives in the area. They had five children; two daughters are still alive in PA, Dorothy Centazzo, and Catherine (James) Wencel; the other daughter Louise Bobonick is now deceased and  two sons, Stanley Jr. and John died before Lizzie.

Lizzie worked as a seamstress at a sewing machine factory, as a waitress at the Alcoa Aluminum  plant cafeteria, and at John F Kennedy School in Creighton, where she must have helped in the kitchen/cafeteria.  She had  11 grandchildren, 14 great grand children and two great great grandchildren.

Likely I met Lizzie other times through my life growing up at the  many many Polish family gatherings but I do not remember those times. But I really remember our visit in September 2005 when I was in PA to care for my aunt Virginia through her surgery. My aunt told me that “we have a cousin who is over 100 years old” and that set me to wanting to meet her. I wish I had been astute enough to take a camera and photograph myself with Lizzie but I did not. Here is Lizzie's picture  from a news paper clipping announcing the family's celebration of her 100th birthday! 

Lizzie had a small apartment upstairs in the house where she lived with her youngest daughter Catherine and husband. The day we visited Dorothy was there too. Catherine had cautioned not to question Lizzie too much, but Lizzie wanted to talk, she was excited about a visit!  It was the treat of my life to meet her. Her mind was sharp and she was snoozing in her chair with a crossword puzzle book beside her on a side table; she looked absolutely wonderful, beautiful skin, white hair kept in curls with a perm. When she got up to go to the bathroom, we saw that she could hardly walk, severe arthritis had crippled her. Still she mentioned that she would like to go to the new Pittsburgh Mills Mall that had recently opened a couple miles from the home; I asked her what she wanted to buy and she said, “oh nothing just to look. I always like to shop for dresses.” Dorothy, her daughter rolled her eyes and clarified, “but she would never buy one because she always sewed better than what the stores sold.” Lizzie grinned.

Lizzie made quilts for the family until she was 99 years old, then she quit, saying her eyes didn’t work quite so good to sew like that anymore. She said she did not want to sew anything that would not be perfect!  Oh this is an Ostrowski if I ever met one, I thought.   She said today she liked sitting in her chair, looking out the window and working puzzles and watching the birds and the railroad cars go by. She didn’t care much about TV. She remembered me as Helen’s daughter, but mostly  Roses’ granddaughter (I was always with my granma)and said, “Patty, you became a beautiful woman. Why did you move so far away?” We talked a little about California where I had lived but I told her we moved to Minnesota now and she shrugged, like “where’s that?” Lizzie said that her brother Raymond lived somewhere in California but nobody ever heard from him anymore and that California was a strange place where people go and disappear. Well she was right; it was and is a very strange place! People don't diaappear there but often they lose thier contacts with their families, with their souls.

When I mentioned that her birthday was coming up she said yes, that she was born October 19, 1903 would be 102 in another month and grinned. I told her that my husband and I married on October 19 and she acknowledged that with, “then you can always have a shot on my birthday for me!” I asked her what kind of shot and she responded, “Whiskey!” When I told her I don’t drink that she grinned and said, “Well you need to try it sometime! You are old enough to drink whiskey.” She had a beautiful smile and eyes that sparkled especially when she laughed. I thought how beautiful she was at this age and how wonderful that her daughters cared for her so well. Her voice was good, not raspy or wobbly like some elderly can get. I would have guessed her at maybe in her late 70’s if I’d met her elsewhere.  Lizzie was an living example of the well aged ; she never grumbled, was most happy and gracious the entire time!  What a testimony to life lived well!

Lizzie reminisced that things were not so much fun anymore. I asked her what were the most fun things she remembered, her favorite times, and she regaled us about the old times with family. She said how they would have big parties and oh she especially liked the picnics over the 4th of July, all the dancing. “Just real fun we had! Now these kids don’t do that! And Dorothy just said, “Oh, Ma!” Lizzie shook her head and said, “See what I mean they never dance anymore! People should dance!” Amen Lizzie!  I couldn't agree more!~  Lizzie slipped into talking Polish sometime with my aunt and suddenly I was a kid again when the women spoke of what they didn’t want me to hear in Polish; imagine Lizzie at 101 speaking two languages. I recognized part of it as a cuss complaint about her arthritis that had her nearly immobile. She  wanted to be able to move and do things; she said she missed sewing and crocething.  

We only stayed for a little under 2 hours so as not to tire her out and then said our goodbyes with big hugs. Lizzie died on May 10, 2006 in a care facility after a brief hospitalization. She was only in the facility one day and I am glad that she lived at home comfortably till nearly the end. God bless her wonderful daughters who cared for her and made her comfortable.

PS I have been contacted by two of Lizzie's grand daughters, Melissa and Darcy, and her daughter Catherine through this post.  Catherine gave me some corrections which I've made above.  Thanks to Sepia Saturday I amcontinuing to  learn more about family.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fiddling with my blog layout and links

After visitng so many other "better presented" blogs thourgh Magpies and Sepia I am inspired to improving my own blog. Well I am always looking for improvement, which  wearies even me at times.  My blog layout is ok, but I would like to enable  links to other blogs to which  I may refer  in my writings and also enable a faster movement to other writings on  my blog.  This is presenting a challenge and stretching my techno ability.  Well I find I am having to stretch my mind back to old ago  times of computer language to write the bloggger language to  get some of these features in place. Being a fidgety person, I have not yet found the time to dedicate myself to this. 

One thing I want to do is make it easier for the reader to look back through  my blog about something.  For example, you know I read avidly and  have a list of my books on the sidebar.  But I would like to enable the reader to click on that title and  get right to my review.  As it is now, the date of the posting is included in my list and the reader has to browse through my Archive tab or older posts.  Faster to look through the archive for the date and title, but takes a bit of a key stroke. 

I noticed  "Blogging for Dummies" and "Blogger on Google" or something similar in the internet section of  books in Barnes and Noble the other day.  You know them, those black and yellow striped paperback books, which  now are released on every subject one can dream up.  Actually I have recommended the  Dummies book on growing roses to many aspiring gardeners;  it is basic and everyone can understand it.  I have recommended the Ebay for Dummies for those who need such things.  But the blogger Dummies book looked way too basic; I am already past setting up this blog and did so following the  Blog spot prompts.  I can figure out most applications, drivers and software additions by following along, but the linkage business has me stumped.   A learning opportunity yet again in cyber form.  Some of the linkage language is written by a techie and has stymied me to the point of printing it out to digest it.  Still no aha moment has prevailed.  But I don't give up easily when I am on a mission.

Some blogs have inspired me to do better with more photos on my own.  Some blogs, particularly those with black backgound left me quite contented with my own.  For my eyes the black and dark backgrounds with subdued letters are difficutl to read.  It reminds me of so many movies and television shows which are being made in darkness these days. Being a fan of "let there be light" I do not like that darkness.   Some blogs are just too busy and make it hard for me to focus on what I want to  read.  And some blogs are just right, like Goldilocks in the baby bear's seat!  Willow's , Nancy's Life in the 2nd half, Vickie Lane's and Laurie's Back Porch Musings come to mind immediately as attractive to me.  Now see, if I had the  linkage enabled you could click right there and see what I mean.  But I don't so you will have to browse if you are interested..   

On this blog, when a reader has issue with the print being too small all the reader has to do is click on the small  % indicator in the lower  right hand corner of their monitor, and the size of the print can be changed to accomodate their choice.   But these other challenging improvements will keep me otherwise entertained. 

I am also annoyed with the lack of spell check while composing here.  I try to remember to compose in Word then cut and paste to the blog.  But today I am not doing that and will have to carefully reread this for typos which creep in too easily, especially when I am clicking on my laptop like now. I don't know why Blogger removed the spell check on composing but they did.         

Well I have spouted enough about my intentions.  Time to get out the door to work off the frustration at Curves; past time already!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The School of Essential Ingredients Chic Read

"The School of Essential Ingredients" is  Erica Bauermeister's first novel.  It was a quick read in 2 nights and  not what I expected.  From the title and scanning it at Sam's Club I thought it would be about cooking and perhaps recipes woven around a story ala  Diane Mott Davidson mysteries.  It is not, but it  is occaisionally entertaining.The author uses her reptoire of words  but  strangely at times.  It is wordy with odd comparisons, adverbs, adjectives and analogies. Almost as if she is filling up space on the pages to make a book, a story.    Certainly  some thought must have gone into the descriptions or else she threw words onto the page like darts at  a wall and where they stuck that's where they stayed.  Descriptive to a stretch at times, but easy light reading.  A chic book.   Fast reading, almost at a scanning pace hoping for interest to catch me, I kept waiting for something to take hold.  Oh well it did not, yet the words kept me going.  Each chapter features a different student in Lillian's cooking class.  Descriptives of cooking were interesting and maybe I learned something-- i.e., to coat  shredded cheese  with cornstarch so that the cheese will melt more smoothly?  Never heard that before, so who knows.

I thought I had found a novel mixing gourmet cooking  with words,  as on pg. 11   "....smells were for her what words were for others, something alive that grew and changed....."  Sadly this chapter describes Lillian's mother who goes off the deep end, deserting her at the young age of   9 or so and retreating to nothing more than reading books.  This might have been a hint, does this author like books or not?  She seems to blame them almost for her mother's  delusions and eccentricity.

The characters were shallow, a widower, an aged couple, a foreign exotic missing home, etc.  and all too brief, perhaps I'd have enjoyed  them more if there were depth to a few rather than the gamut for many.  When  a story from one character might reach a point of interest.  the  author threw words out like this on pg. 202...."struck her with the intensity of a perfume she had long ago stopped wearing, drifitng across a room she never intended to traverse."  Desciptive words indeed but what in the world is she saying?    Or this phrase,  "fecundity of late summer melons and gauzy lettuce..."  Huh?  I have eaten grown and enjoyed many lettuces, and don't recall any ever being gauzy.  Lettuce which is gauzy may not be a good thing, bugs have  laced up the leaves and they are not edible!   Maybe that's what bothered me about the writing,  surreal to nonsensical and at times just not believable.  

The novel has it's short spurts of inspiration, pg. 209, "If you live in your senses, slowly with attention, if you use your eyes and your fingertips and your taste buds, then romance is something you'l never need a greeting card to make you remember..."  these are Lillian's words to her class over Valentines Day.   It's just merely an ok read; I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone.  Maybe very light readers.  This is what comes from browsing the aisles of Sam's Club and taking a chance.  I have much better waiting on my shelf to read and certainly better  waiting for rereads.

Olive Kitteridge

I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  last month but  have not had time to post my review.  My cousin, Carol, recommended it because I absolutely adored  "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."   In a way Olive is similar but  still very different.   My final verdict on this book though, is uncertain.  I did enjoy reading it and noted several phrases but didn't like the ending.  The  descriptive writing is outstanding, but a peculiar darkness  seeps in at times.  The link to this post indicates that this won a 2009 Pulitzer; a merited achievement.   While the main character is Olive, a  mathematics school teacher in Maine in her  sixty's, it looks back over the area and features  short tales about many characters.   I kept waiting for Olive to appear prominently  or heroically in each story but that was not the way it happened, sometimes she was annoying but each character  reveals more about Olive's character and the area. the town, the times the choices people make.  I am not sure whether I admired or pitied Olive.   The book is a significant  commentary about people, aging and life;  perhaps on the more quiet morose side, but certainly from Olive's eyes with many memorable lines.   I love the description of hope.  Actually I hilighted many lines in the book

Pg. 35,   "Does everybody know everything?......Oh, sure, what else is there to do?"

Pg. 60.  "..that must be the way of life, to figure something out when it's too late..."

Pg. 122.  "..when the years behind you are more than the years in front of you...."

Pg. 125  " picked up speed, then  most of it was gone..."

Pg. 126   " of the things about getting older, so many moments weren't moments but gifts...."

Pg. 162  "..quietly, joyful....Most people did not know enough when they were living life, that
they were living it..."

Pg. 203  " hope...The inner churning that moves you forward...."

And in  the  beginning of the book, a comment on pg. 33 during Kevin's look back at his childhood home, "States and traits....Traits don't change,  states of mind do."   That stuck with me, confirming that  often there is nothing to be done;  things about a person that  cannot ever change no matter what influences are pressed on the person.   No manipulation or intrusion by someone else really changes traits. Distinguishing wisely and truthfull accepting traits is part of the wisdom we can gain on our life journey.   

Olive Kitteridge is a book to ponder on, especially the  ending comparison  page 270 of two lives as Swiss cheese  slices, "..pressed together, such holes they brought to this union--what pieces life took out of you."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Magpie Tales 4 Elephant click to link to others

Mai Li straightened the desks and chair and smiling anticipating another good day with the third grade. She loved teaching and she loved this class. From their first day, she had connected with them and especially with Katey, the sassiest little girl Mai had ever known. Well Mai had only been teaching for three years, but she sensed something different about Katey, a little girl with skin as black as ebony, with a smile that lit up the room, and yet with toughness fed by a spark. Katey was the most attentive child she had encountered. When any of the class got a bit rowdy Katey would stand up, shout loudly “Yo! Sshhh” stare and indignantly announce “better be shut up right now! I be my Daddy’s eyes and ears and need to hear everything!” This child had a presence and something driving her.

But Mai Li had noticed that beneath Katey’s big black eyes a shadow of sadness floated near the surface. In this first month of the school year, Mai had begun to notice more about Katey and to wonder about her home life. Parent Teacher conferences were set for next week, maybe she would learn more. Yet, the trouble was few parents came to the conferences. Really few children had both parents, most were lucky to have one or a grandparent or any relative. Their lives were tragic. She knew the admonition the principle recited at the beginning of the school year to the teachers, “Do not become engaged with the children. This is Chicago, this is inner city! You will hear stories that you will not believe, many of these are true, stories of families of children that will break your heart, make you angry, make you sick and evoke emotions you cannot spare as a teacher! Be dedicated but have some distance. Else the inner city sanctum will suck you in and drain you. “And that was followed by the caution to be alert for signs of abuse and to report these promptly. Mai believed though that children of poverty still deserved to learn, deserved teachers who wanted to be with them. She was honored to be a part of their lives, and strived to be someone who brought sunshine inside the classroom.

Mai thought about how she had hesitated to accept this job because her parents dreaded her coming here, to Chicago, alone,so far away from her home in Texas. Mai sometimes wondered if it had been a wise choice going against the wishes of her American family who had urged her to stay in Texas. But she wanted to be out on her own. Mai wanted to repay the country that became hers and she had chosen to teach in the inner city of Chicago. Mai was an idealist! She missed her parents and Texas, but here in Chicago she had connected with others and was on her own path. She had grown used to the windy city and it cold snowy winters. Think of it a baby conceived in Vietnam, born in the Philippines and raised in Texas, now in Chicago! A twisted path in a small world.

Her Mom and Dad had adopted Mai Li as an infant and raised her as an American, but told her all they could about her Vietnamese heritage. There was little to tell. She knew the North Vietnamese Communists had killed her father for working with the Americans. For Mai Li the Vietnam War never ended; she lived her life in gratitude to the American soldiers. Her mother was rescued by an American soldier as the bombs dropped, but died giving birth to Mai in the refugee camp. She was a blessed baby, adopted and raised in America with all the opportunities this country had to offer. The only physical piece of Vietnam she had was the carved ivory elephant that her mother had with her in the refugee camp. When her Mom and Dad traveled to the Philippines to take her home the Nun had given them the elephant and told them that that it had been made by the dead woman’s husband. It was one of a pair; her mother had given the matching one to the American soldier who had rescued her as the mortar shells exploded around the village. Mai Li always thought that perhaps one day she would meet that soldier with the matching elephant and thank him for his bravery. Mom and Dad did not discourage her dream, only warned, it’s a very big country and who knows how you would ever find that soldier. We have no name and no way to begin to find him. Don’t set your heart on it.”

The school bus pulled into the school yard and the children poured out loudly shouting, shoving while moving into the school. Right in the middle was Katey whose corn rows with sparkling beads on the ends caught the bright sunlight that followed her across the yard.

Yes, Mai knew today would be a good day, but risky; other teachers had warned her,” You never know what those kids will bring into the room!” “Good morning Joe, Skip, Hialeah, Shawna,……” Mai Li greeted each child by name. She prided herself on quickly learning each name so she could speak to each child as an individual, a way to show respect to the children. “Good morning Miss Mai” echoed back. The principle walked by the class room and waved, “Good morning boys and girls!” ”Morning, Mr. Snoots.” The cheerfulness of Mai's classes amazed him and made him wish he could bottle her secret, spread it among the faculty. That young lady had an extra special quality of devotion to her students. He stepped inside the door way for just a minute to catch more of that good feeling.

“Mr. Snoots, could you please spare a moment or two to sit with us, we have a wonderful day planned!” Mai invited.

“Well perhaps just for a little bit, I’d like that” he replied ambling to the side of the classroom to allow Mai to begin.

“Mr. Snoots, Mr. Snoots,,, guess what?” This shout was from Katey, the little girl who was new to the school this year. The family had just moved from Gary; he understood that her father was disabled but attending college on the GI bill and the mother worked as a nurse’s aid. Katey was their only child and they seemed to have it better together than some of the school’s families but then he didn’t know all about them. There was likely some dark spot too, just like the other families.

“Miss Mai, can I please tell him?” Katey asked with that eager smiling voice.

“Tell whom what, Katey?” Mai inquired?

“Can I tell Mr. Snoots what we are doing today and can I be first! Please and thank you Miss Mai” from Katey who seemed so wound up this morning.

“Umm, well, Katey, go ahead, but perhaps Mr. Snoots doesn’t have a lot of time to hear many stories.” Mai smiled. Mai did not want to stifle any of Katey’s extra exuberance this morning.

“Well Mr. Snoots, today is show and tell! My Daddy has this special pet that he let me bring to show.” Katey said, running to the front of the classroom. “He got it when he was a soldier in Viet Nam; it was with him in the hospital where he went to get better after the explosions. They fixed him up as good as they could. When I told him Miss Mai was Vietnamese he let me bring this to show.” Katey pulled a carved ivory elephant from her backpack! Mai gasped but quickly straightened up. Mr. Snoots had noticed her reaction though and raised his eyebrows…. Obviously he would have to warn Mai again about engaging. Too much emotion was not good!

The next week Mai paced awaiting Katey’s parent’s arrival for their conference. The mother had sent a note that they both would attend. Mai wondered how and when she would explain her matching elephant. Maybe she would not say anything. She recalled Mr. Snoots’ admonition against engaging. And what would this family say? What would they think? Despite Mai’s dream and rehearsed words, this meeting was not going to be as easy as thanking the soldier. It was like life, nothing went exactly as planned. “Don’t set your heart on it” she remembered her Mom’s cautious words. As Katey led the couple into the room, Mai Li looked into the unseeing eyes of the man with the white cane. It must be him, the American soldier who had rescued her mother from the mortar fire in Vietnam. “Miss Mai this is my Daddy and Mommy, “Katey chirped, “And this is Miss Mai, my teacher!”

Readers I leave it to you  to determine what Mai did hereafter, or it may appear in a subsequent Magpie post.  These are  brought ot you by Willow's prompts.  To see what other wonderful writiers are contributing about the same photo click on the  heading and then click on any of the  other names on Magpie....

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sepia Saturday Great Aunt Francie Ostrowski Mroz

Frances Veronica Ostrowski Mroz 1906- 1978

Her she is again, my Great Aunt Francie, my grandmother’s “baby sister” as my grandma called her all of her life! This is on one of their visits to PA in about  1945, with my grandpa.  Aunt Francie is  the little girl seated in the mystery Ostrowski gathering photo with the big bow in her hair.  I posted that two Sepia
Saturday's ago.  I am gathering all the Mroz photos I have to send to the adult Mroz children. So this is a good time to feature my memories of her. I have many happy memories of great fun and lots of laughter whenever we were around.  She and my granmother especially enjoyed each other. 

Aunt Francie, the only child of Frank Ostrowski and Helen Sajikowski (Sekoski), arrived on earth December 28, 1906 in PA. She always teased that if she could have waited four more days, she would have been a year younger! I love these wedding photos where she is absolutely engulfed by flowers. She married Alphonse Mroz in Milwaukie, WI  August 31, 1929. He met her when she was working in a flower shop and it was love at first sight, for him anyway. He promised her flowers if she would marry him; the wedding bouquet shows he kept his word at that at least for the ceremony. I recall her saying to him later in life that “It ain’t been no bed of roses with you all the time like you promised. I should have known! Some of your promises faded faster than petals on roses!”  

I’d mailed most of the photos to my cousin, Roland, her youngest son who complained to me once that he had no family photos. After Roland passed on in October, his children asked me if I had any family photos. Who knows what he did with all the others; I  suggested they look carefully when they cleaned out his home; fortunately for them I held onto a couple. I don’t know names of the other couple in the bridal party and as with so many other old photos there is no one around to ask.

She was always Aunt Francie to me. Nearly every summer as I was growing up either she or family came to PA to visit her sisters and stayed with my grandparents, or I accompanied my grandmother and grandfather by train to Milwaukie, WI to visit them. Those were great days of train travel in the 1950’s from Pittsburgh, PA to Milwaukie; it was quite the adventure for me to travel with my Grandparents. My grandmother cooked, baked and packed along enough food to feed an army so we always were well fed on the journey. I noticed that Grandma offered food to others and especially the conductors. I even heard one conductor say, “Why Rosie I am so glad to have you on this trip! Whatcha’ got in the hamper this trip! I sure am hungry!” I suppose that was one reason she made so much food and she was an excellent cook! We traveled in the coach class and once my grandmother opened our food bin invariably, someone would comment, “my that smells good…” That was all the invitation my generous grandmother needed to share her food; fried chicken, polish sausage sandwiches, homemade rolls and wonderful Polish cookies and delicacies. And my Granpap would tell me stories about his early years in America when he rode the rails. But once we arrived in Milwaukie, Aunt Francie took over! She let her older sister know that we were honored guests in their home and Rose was not to do a thing. It never happened. Those two Polish women kept very busy cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, going to masses and talking the entire visit. My grandma was not one to sit still but  she and her baby sister enjoyed themselves to the hilt! I had the best time of all because I was treated like a queen, adored by two couples. If my grandparents didn't coddle me enough Aunt Francie and Uncle Al stepped up the pace!  It was no wonder that given a choice one summer to go to Milwaukie with my Grandma or go to Canada with my Mother and family I chose  Milwaukie, to my Mother's disappointment.  But I would not  give up the festivities waiting for me, I knew back then a good thing when I had it!

Francie and Al had two sons, Jerry born November 11, 1935 and Roland born November 13, 1940. This is interesting because I was born November 13, 1944; so Roland and I shared a birth date and month. Every November as long as she lived, Aunt Francie sent me a birthday card and said she would never  forget me because I was born in November the best of months.  Remember, Frank Ostrowski, her father, my Great Grandfather  was also born November 11. 

I became the “best pest” to these two boys, my cousins. From the time I set foot off the train their mother had made it very clear that they were to entertain me and whatever “little Patty” wants that would be the direction for them to take. It did not take me long at all to figure out I had two slaves and both men reminded me of it in our grown up years. Jerry once said to my husband also  Jerry that “she was the most spoiled kid anyone ever knew…” to which my husband admitted, “Oh I know it!” It was far worse for Jerry who was older and would have preferred to hang out with his friends, but because he was older he had the chore to escort me and his brother constantly. I made them play hopscotch with me on the sidewalk and Jerry had to draw the squares. I made them hold the jump rope for me and push me on the swings! They said that at times  they could just see my  brain thinking up tasks for them.

On our visits, the sky was the limit for me, whatever I wanted had to happen and  Aunt Francie ensured that  it did, the zoo, a row boat ride on a lake, playgrounds, ice cream stores, and candy stores, baseball games where Uncle Al sold concessions, sparklers when we visited over the 4th of July, and the movies to me the best of all. Always I was the one to select the movies and Aunt Francie beamed, saying “My good boys to take such good care of Patty!” I recall one time Jerry scowled and she gave him a swat upside the head, “Don’t you look at Patty like that!” It’s a wonder these boys & I remained close through life! Rollie tormented me to the day he died about a tantrum I threw at the John Wayne Movie, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” For some reason I was ready to leave and he was not, the movie was not over. But I insisted and said “well when we get home I’m telling Aunt Francie that you made me stay here…” he got up from his seat right then “Ok let’s go!” Aunt Francie was a presence and a real threat to them. Several years ago I sent him a DVD of that movie!

I am not sure what year but Jerry Mroz and his family (wife Donna, 3 children) moved from Milwaukie to Bakersfield CA where he sold insurance. Finally he convinced his parents to move to Bakersfield too. I visited them on one of my trips when I was working in the area in   1973.  Here are the three of us.

We always stopped on our way to and from Riverside to visit Jerry’s folks, too. And the Mroz's all would come north  to visit us too. One year Rollie came from WI and we had a reunion. Aunt Francie marveled at the good CA weather and said, “Well in CA nobody starves, look at the oranges on the trees,  all the time something growing!” Aunt Francie was a kind woman but had her limits. I remember one visit to Bakersfield when Uncle Al, both Jerry’s and Donna and others were playing cards in the kitchen. She and I sat in the other room and talked, finally she was ready to go home but Uncle Al was having fun at the card table. She allowed this for a time and finally walked over to him, pulled on his ear and announced, “Al it’s time to go home I said!” He arose quickly as did her son, Jerry who was to drive them home.  Even at his age of 40+ he  knew his Mom would swat him or pull his ears too!

Aunt Francie died in 1978 after a short stay in the hospital and I recall it was fall, because I wore a coat to her funeral. I remember being very sad and shedding many tears as they lowered her casket into the ground. She was the last of the old family and I knew there would be no more stories. After all, she is the one who gave me the Ostrowski photo and told me about my great grandfather.  She also is the one who told me my own beloved grandfather had been married once before and had a child somewhere in Chicago.  She said he always said he would go find them and my grandmother would tell him to do that!  I never knew about this and by this time my grandparents were gone and neither my mother nor aunt knew anymore. In this wedding photo here she is with that big bow over her head again!  Funny thing is I never remember her weatring a hat other than to church on Sunday; in her later years she wore a lace mantilla acquired in CA.  She loved that.

I have some beautiful  lacy crocheted doiles and dresser scarves that she made.  She, my grandmother and my Aunt Virginia all were excellent handworkers crocheting and  doing hand applique work and stitching fancy touches to handkerchiefs and scarve; true artists.  In one guest bedroom today I have a set of multi color blue doilies made by Aunt Francie.  In this one of the last photos taken of her she was on her way out to check on her flowers! She loved having flowers year round in CA!   Great Aunt Francie, rests in peace!

Click on the title above to go to other Sepia Saturday Posts. This is week 14 and my 4th week participating.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Our Red Dragon

I drew a blank slate looking at the weight that was our Magpie prompt for this Tuesday, so instead I have gone out on my own. I have more than enough material around the house to write about and today I give you the Red Dragon Chair. It is 28 inches in height,, width and depth at its largest part, with only one barely visible point of assembly on the bottom it appears to be mostly one piece of carving.

I inherited this chair from my Uncle John R Irwin whose grandfather was a millionaire, made his fortune on railroad work and hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes in the late 1800’s in PA. Uncle John called this the Chinese Emperor’s chair so I assumed it was Chinese. I know it came from the Glen Irwin mansion in Clinton and although the exact date of purchase is unknown, I was told that they bought it on one of their many trips to England.

All the years this chair occupied the corner of my aunt and uncle's home I never remember anyone being brazen enough to sit in it, except Uncle John who would laugh at Virginia when she said, "John get out of that chair before you scratch it!"  This scolding would delight him into taunting, "too late I already did that when I was about 3 years old!" Uncle John is the only one I know who ever sat in it; and according to the story this was when he was a very little boy and his grandfather would proudly sit him in the Emperor's chair!  His royal red seat shows some two inches of wear of the lacquer across the front where Uncle John claims his feet would dangle and his shoes scuffed the chair seat. Otherwise this chair is in perfect condition. My aunt Virginia was a meticulous obsessive housekeeper who never tolerated  a speck of dust or a bit of dirt in her home. She not only dusted daily, once a week she used q-tips to give this chair the royal treatment it deserved, carefully going over each crevice. We have this chair in a corner in our formal living room where it is a conversation piece. So far no one has attempted to sit in it, but I discourage that by usually having something displayed on it. Over Christmas it provided backdrop to my hundreds of angels. I thought that was a good combo Angels and Dragons--- is that a game and where have we heard that? Oh is that dungeons and dragons, well perhaps I’m on to something here.

Uncle John came into our family by marrying my aunt when she was in her 30’s. They met at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass factory where they both worked in Creighton, PA. Aunt Jinx had a prospering career and expected to remain the old maid, living at home with her parents and providing for them in their old age. But then along came John who was a handsome cad, resembling Clark Gable and who always wore a shirt , tie and hat to go to town even if it was our town! Here is his WWII Army photo. They married to the consternation of my grandparents and for a short time all lived together in the house in Arnold that Virginia and her parents bought together. All was not well because John had a habit that the family could not accept, a love of alcohol. He just enjoyed his shots of whiskey and always had a bottle nearby. He was not a nasty or falling down drunk, nor one who could not function, but as I recall the more he drank the funnier he became! I thought Uncle John the funniest person I knew, always laughing, at least that’s the way I saw him and remember laughing so hard around him and his stories that I would get sick in the stomach. This annoyed my grandmother who disliked John’s “foolishness.” Well his own mother, the grand Mrs. Irwin, felt the same about her son and detested his drinking.

I have to suspect that his entertainment value might have been an attraction to my aunt Virginia because where there was John there was laughter, though later on she complained about his “carrying on” and would tell him to “shut up!” Aunt Virginia seldom spoke harshly so this was quite an utterance. My granpap had no use for John and called him “Chicken Head” among other names. John found this hysterically funny which aggravated my granpap more. I remember granpap swinging his cane at John which would bring more bursts of laughter. Looking back now I am surprised this did not agitate Pap to another stroke! At Granpap's funeral Uncle John had gone down the streeet to a tavern to "replenish", before they closed the casket, Uncle John spoke to  Granpap, "Pap, now there is no one around to call me chicken head no more!  But I will keep that name to honor your!"  He did too; every so often he would tell someone or his wife, "Don't you go messing with this old Chicken Head now!"  The conglomerate house was sold and they went their separate ways; my grandparents rented a small duplex up the hill and John and Virginia moved to Freeport where John became landscaper and groundskeeper in charge over the Irwin acres and had a free small house across the road from Mrs. Irwin’s home. On another Sepia Saturday I’ll relate more of my Aunt and Uncle’s history. They never had children and she was my favorite aunt, who died last year. Here they are in 1974, but I will have more of the family stories another time!

Uncle John told me when I was young  and would stand and admire the chair where he would allow me to place my dolls, “someday Patty when I am gone, I want you to have this red chair and the camel.” (The camel is another marvelous piece which is on our mantel.) He had determined this because I so admired the chair and he said, “Red is good luck!  It has been in the Irwin family since forever, I’d like to see all their faces when it is no longer part of the Irwin’s!” This was usually followed by his tale of “I’ll outlive them all!” And the truth was he did! John wasn’t treated kindly by the last surviving Irwin, his mother, Jessie who lived in the big house across the road. She often told John that she would leave him nothing in her will unless he would give up his drinking; she was a tea totaled and could not understand how my Aunt Virginia could put up with him!

I thought this red chair was one of the most magnificent things I had ever seen. I still feel that way about it as does Jerry. By the way red is considered good fengshui to have in the home! I prepared to become its owner by researching carefully for years, looking in every museum I visited. I never found anything like it. Arrival of the internet was not much more help but I carefully looked at websites and any auction with antique Chinese furniture.

Uncle John died in 1994 but I never asked my aunt for the chair. I would not have dreamt of doing so. She often reminded me that she was keeping it for me and it was to be with me ultimately. In 2004, we started our moved to our retirement home here in MN. That year we went to PA to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt Virginia and she had determined that we should take the red chair and camel and some other antiques home with us to MN. Besides she said she was tired dusting them. That same year an article appeared in the Sunday Parade magazine about the Johnny Cash estate and there was something very similar to our red chair, only in black. It was one of the estate items that were to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s and referred to as an ebonized, Chinese chair. Our red chair has dragons on the ends of the arms and the ebonized Cash chair had Fu Dogs. This is ironic in that Uncle John loved Johnny Cash because he had triumphed over addictions!  Uncle John enjoyed his music as we did, Jerry more than me because I'm not a real country western fan.  I smiled when I saw this article and thought about how Uncle John would have enjoyed this and added it to his repetoire. Maybe he had a hand in this from the beyond.

I continued my research by sending photos and letters off to Kovels and to the Antiques Roadshow. The only response from Kovels was an offer to buy some of their books! I did not renew my subscription to their magazine. Finally in 2005 I hit pay dirt! A Canadian appraiser from the Antiques Road Show online, accepted many photos and advised me that the chair and its history were almost correct. However he was certain that “…it is in fact Japanese, not Chinese and dates from the late 1800’s. This type of exotic furniture was very popular in the UK and the USA at that time and it was made specifically for those markets.” The appraised value was higher than we expected. So it occupies its corner here, evoking admiration of all. A local friend who is an antiques buff admits to never having seen the likes of the Red Dragon Chair. I continue to look in museums, in my antique magazines, and on line and have not yet found anything else like it. My cousin who helped Jerry load this in to the trailer for our transport to MN said he expects to see us on Antiques Road show! A magnificent chair. I have assembled a huge red scrapbook, about the wealthy Irwins, Uncle John, the mansions. We keep the book beside the chair so visitors can learn about the Irwins, the chair, and other antiques we have in our home.