Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go

How is it that the holidays can sneak up on me so suddenly?  It isn't the commercialism, although every year stores in my area set up their displays and crank out their Christmas music earlier and earlier; no, it's my anxiousness in realizing that there is so much to do to get ready.  Maybe it's because the grandkids are older now (Aiden is ten, Rain and Noble are 2 1/2) and I want to make sure that I am part of making wonderful memories for them to take from childhood to adulthood.  So I began my shopping already and can't wait to watch them open their gifts. 

But, the memory making is not all about the presents wrapped in Christmas paper.  It's about the time spent with family.  As a young child I was surrounded by family that came every Christmas Eve to my grandmother's home.  With the tree all decorated with pretty lights and tinsel, with its base stacked high with gifts, we gathered first around the food-laden table to eat,
Grandma's table, 1967
then retreated to the living room where the gift exchange took place.  It was a magical time.  The windows were fogged up from the warmth of the room while the snow and cold was kept at bay outdoors. 

I miss those times.  Our family is scattered all over the country so those memories with food, fights, and laughter are all just in my head and heart.   

This year, however, we get to be together.  As I await the true beginning of the holiday season, the one that starts with a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, I will remember those long-ago moments surrounded by people who are no longer near me, lost either to death, long-distance or discord. 

I can't wait to make some more memories!
Daughter Adrian on far left during a Christmas show, circa 1984

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gone, but Not Forgotten

I can imagine what my grandmother must have gone through when late one night in October of 1958 she received the phone call that her first born, her beloved Pat, had been killed.  The last time she had seen my mom was the day of the party she and my dad would be attending.  My mom came and borrowed a dress.  The next time she saw my mom was in a casket.  No parent should have to suffer the loss of a child, no matter how old the child is. 

Pat's high school graduation picture
All the time I was growing up in my grandmother’s home I never saw pictures of my mom, and most certainly I never saw one of my father. 
I believe the grief was much too present for her to have photographs as reminders; as it was, she had four small children, my brothers and I, as constant reminders of her great loss.
Here is Grandma surrounded
by several of her grandchildren

From the moment I could talk I called my grandmother “Mom.”  I have no idea when I came to realize that she wasn’t my “real” mom; possibly it was in school when I was questioned as to why my last name was different.  As my mom she taught me many of the basic things I would need to be successful in life, a domestic life specifically.  I make my meals without recipes.  I cook and bake the same things she did: beans and cabbage, spareribs and sauerkraut, chicken soup, beef barley soup, sour cream gravy and chicken, pasta sauce with a sparerib base, dumplings, and best of all, beet soup. 
  An amazing soup!
I learned to appreciate, crave even, the beauty of flowers. 
When I am cooking something I learned from her or am digging in the garden, then stepping back to admire my handwork, I am thinking of my grandmother.

I find myself saying phrases that she uttered, especially the one curse she used most often: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; although this was said in Polish and not English. 

My grandmother has been gone a while now, but she continues to live on in my heart and in the lessons I learned from her that I am passing down to my own children.  Erin is the gardener and soap maker; Adrian is the soup expert. 

Another thing Grandmas drilled into me?  Turn off the lights when you leave a room! 

For more on the things I learned from her, read my past posts:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Elizabeth Comes of Age

Uncovering a grandparent's early life is not an easy job. Things are much easier, of course, in this age of the Internet and that of genealogy enthusiasts. Still, the best source of information is the individual, but when that individual is reticent about sharing their life story, which is often the case, or worse, already passed on, gathering the pieces of the life puzzle is challenging to say the least, but exhilarating at best.

Elizabeth Wlkelinski was born in the mining town of Horning, Pennsylvania; a community near present-day Pittsburgh.  I seem to recollect that her father may have worked in the coal mines or at least in some capacity in that industry.  I do recall hearing that he was a bootlegger; transporting liquor during the Prohibition era.  At some point in time the family, including young Elizabeth, moved to Erie County, New York.  Before moving into a home in the city, the family lived on a farm in Lancaster, NY. 

Little is known on my part of her young womanhood years.

This picture shows her in the company of an unknown young man; maybe he's a friend, perhaps he is one of her brothers.

At some point in time Elizabeth met and eventually married Frederick Oberlander.  Fred came from a German family that immigrated to New York with several members settling in Onondaga, New York. 
Portrait of my grandfather, Frederick Oberlander

Fred had been married before his marriage to Elizabeth and with him came two children: Fred, Jr. and Olive. 

Elizabeth and Fred started their own large family with the birth of Patricia, also known as Patsy and Pat, in 1932.  Patsy would be joined by nine other brothers and sisters. 

Elizabeth and possibly infant Pat.
The farming life must have suited my grandmother and her husband as they purchased a 65-acre farm in Corfu, a community approximately 30 miles west of Buffalo. 

The farmhouse as I remember it.

I asked a lot of questions of my grandmother and sometimes she was in the mood to share. One story that I find so poignant and fascinating is her recollection of going to the family doctor and finding out she was once again pregnant.  She told me she asked the doctor, “How is this happening?”  This story by today’s standards might seem unrealistic, but I am pretty sure my grandmother’s telling of it rings true.  After all, she shared a couple of her own how-not-to-get-pregnant remedies with me: take a hot bath after intercourse and douche with vinegar.  Whether or not she tried these methods herself is up for debate; she did, after all, have ten children.

Discussing personal hygiene was not a comfortable topic in our home.  She was my grandmother, two generations removed from me and I did not learn the things I needed from her, but in my health class at school.  In fact, topics of sex were so taboo in our home I recall being shamed when I asked, after having seen a television advertisement, “What’s a tampon?”  Her strained response was, “Those are only for married women.  And never ask me a question like that again!”

But, based on these few precious photos I have of her in her youth, I believe Elizabeth was a fun-loving, curious woman who was a product of her time.  I know that every now and then during my time with her, she had a wicked sense of humor and knew how to have fun. 

"Lil" was my grandmother's nickname

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Granddaughter's Tribute

My maternal grandmother didn't talk much about her life, but she did share some stories with me as I grew up at her side.  I lived with her from the time I was an orphaned one-year old in 1958 until I left for college at age eighteen in 1975.  I never really lived with her again, but did "go home" sometimes, as all young people tend to do until they realize that they have been pushed out of the nest. 

My grandmother's nest was quite worn out by the time I left home, as I am quite sure was her patience with the younger generation.

I was child number sixteen that she raised. 

When she married she took on two stepchildren, proceeded to have ten children of her own, and then took on the care and raising of my three older brothers and me when our parents died.  Did I mention she did this all on her own?  Apparently my grandfather was a mean and abusive man.  One of the stories I did hear was that he treated my grandmother abusively, which she took for many years, but when he turned his violence toward his children she kicked him to the country road (they didn't have curbs where they lived!).

Where my grandmother learned her resiliance I don't know.  She came from a family that didn't approve of her choice in husband, didn't support her life on a farm nor with her propensity to keep having children.  Her familiy was everything to her; basicially it was her children that were dedicated and through them she found love and loyalty.

Here is the story of Elizabeth Antoinette Wlkelinski Oberlander, my grandmother. 

MaryAnna Wardynski and Anthony Wleklinski
Elizabeth's mother and father

Elizabeth was born in 1912 in the coal mining town of Horning, Pennsylvania.  She was sister to nine others, most of whom I either never met or was too young to remember.  She was quite close to two of her sisiters, Irene and Helen, both of whom I do have memories of spending time with.

When I was growing up my grandmother was, well - old, or so she seemed to me.  Here is a photograph of her as a young woman.  The man in the picture is unknown, but I can see the shadow of the future woman I would come to know in her young and beautiful face.

Stay tuned; tomorrow more pictures and more of my memories of her and the story of her life that I've been able to piece together.