Monthly Archives: February 2013

FOREFATHERS – PART 1 – THE BASS PLAYER

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My Grandpop

My Grandpop, the bass player in the band.

My grandfather played bass in a band at night for beers and tips. I just found this out about him last night from my cousin Sharon who came over for a visit. She said my grandmom could always tell a good night’s earnings by the barometer of his inebriation, which did not make her happy! Until yesterday I only knew him as my “Grandpop”- a man who worked in a Bayer aspirin factory in Trenton his whole life, toiling to care for his wife and family of eight children. He was someone who walked to work or hitched a ride because they couldn’t afford a car –I don’t believe he ever drove.Sharon brought over an assortment of old pictures she found in the attic and gave them to me.  I was immediately transported into the past as I rummaged through these precious vintage photos…into my heritage and my history.

Jan Kramarz sailed from Poland as a boy on a ship he proudly proclaimed by name – “The Victoria!” He was a handsome man with a thick head of hair and a wry smile. He had a funny sense of humor and loved to tease us, which he did with a twinkle in his eye and a wink. He met my grandmother through a friend and joked about marrying her one day. He was only kidding, but she thought he was serious (or so the legend goes). So he found himself in an odd dilemma as he used to describe it, one in which he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. He used to say he felt bad because she thought he seriously wanted to marry her …so he just did…What?!? Were they ever in love? I’ll never know. They were kind of stoic in their behavior towards one another, but everyone was in those days. They did somehow manage to have eight children (in love or not) – four boys and four girls (my mother born fourth in succession) and they all lived in a two bedroom, one bathroom (which only had a toilet and footed tub – no sink) row home in the Polish section of Trenton on Pennsylvania Avenue. The house perpetually exuded warmth in an earthy kind of way with the homey smells of bread baking or kielbasa and ham cooking. Grandpop used to love sneaking into the basement to smoke his beloved cigars – not a pleasant aroma at all I discovered when I snuck up on him one day.

Grandmom Veronica Pisaczyk and Grandpop Jan Kramarz on their wedding day

Grandmom Veronica Pisaczyk and Grandpop Jan Kramarz on their wedding day

One of Grandpop’s pleasures was tending to his small garden in the tiny 12 x 25 foot backyard. He grew assorted vegetables, but his crowning glory was his giant sunflowers in the corner of the yard near the shed that grew to be six feet tall with heads a foot round. I remember looking up at them as a small child and being in awe. To this day they are my favorite flower.My Grandpop was a hard worker and a good man, but I don’t think he had a lot of fun in his life. I think it was all work and struggle, especially during the Depression. But he was a pleasant man and a talker and was always glad to see his family.  He loved it when his kids and their spouses and families, which included 16 grandchildren, jammed into that tiny row home for the holidays, even though at times there were so many of us that we spilled out onto their small front porch and sat on the steps. There was always plenty of Polish food for all of us to savor and Polka music blared in the background from their transistor radio. He and the men in the family used to toast “nostrovya” as they downed glasses of schnapps.

I think Grandpop was lonely in the latter portion of his life since my Grandmom died at 62 yrs. old. He used to sit and gaze out the front window or take walks around the neighborhood. I remember how happy he was when I visited from time to time, sitting and listening to his same old stories over and over again.  I now wish I would’ve written them down. He succumbed in his latter years to Alzheimer’s disease, but lived to the ripe old age of 94, passing on a cold winter’s day in January with that same full head of gray hair in tact.

For you Grandpop, from my garden with love.

My cousin told me that my Grandpop’s bass playing days came to an end when he broke his instrument trying to get his tip money out of the middle section of the bass, which is where they apparently stored their tips. He just couldn’t fix it, and I imagine that it must have broken his heart not to be able to play anymore. But since he had eight hungry mouths during meager times, buying a new instrument was out of the question. And so life went on…I wish I could’ve heard him play in that band, and I wish I could’ve danced to his music. I can just see him standing on the stage dressed in his best suit playing his heart out with that crazy smile – and I can swear he just gave me a wink!

 

 

 

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A GENTLE REMINDER

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A stray dog wandered by my sliding glass door yesterday as I sat writing on my computer.  He/she was picking at the ground under the bird feeder, nibbling at bread crumbs that I had thrown out to the birds earlier.  Dog lover that I am, I jumped up and bolted into action.  First grabbing a bowl and some dog food, and then charging outside to feed him/her as my dog barked wildly and my cats scurried in different directions.

The dog was grateful for the food and ate ravenously.  I was able to get a glimpse of his dog tag, Spencer. “Hi, Spencer, I cooed as I petted him…are you lost?”  I ran inside and grabbed my cell phone, ran outside and plugged in his master’s phone number as he wiggled around me. “The voice mail of the number you have dialed is full.”  WHAT?!  So I memorized the address on the tag, ran inside and map quested the address.  Six miles away.  “What are doing six miles away from your home, Spencer?!”Sheila

I somehow maneuvered the dog into my car with a bag of biscuits and started my six-mile journey with map quest directions in hand.  When at last I pulled up in front of Spencer’s house, I was shocked to find that the lawn was covered with debris and a huge dumpster sat in the middle of the driveway.  I knocked on the door anyway, knowing it had to be vacant, and, of course, no one answered. I looked at Spencer’s pretty brown eyes as he cocked his head towards me.  “Now what, Spence?”  Just then a construction vehicle pulled up and then another.  I talked with the men about the home’s owners and asked how I could return their dog who was sitting in the back of my car.  Turns out the house had been destroyed during awful “Hurricane Sandy.” That name now makes me cringe. I wondered if Spencer had been misplaced since the storm.

The construction worker said he would try to contact the owners who were living, of course, in another location and gave them my number.  As I drove home wondering what I was going to do with this gentle, sweet beast, my phone rang, and I pulled over. “Do you have my dog?” a flustered voice asked. “Well, yes,” I replied.  “Where can I meet you?”  “Where are you?”  Ten minutes later I delivered the dog to the family who had been staying with friends not too far from where I live.  “My son let the dog out,” she explained, “and she got away.”  The kids ran out and happily greeted the dog.  The dog’s name, it turns out, is Sheila, not Spencer…she wore the tag from their old dog who had passed until they could get a new one for Sheila.

I walked away reminded that for so many people here in Jersey; life just has not even begun to get back to normal.  People are still misplaced, their homes are still disasters, their dogs are getting lost in unfamiliar surroundings, and they are not anywhere near leading a normal life yet.  I pray for Governor Christie and thank him for playing hard ball in trying to get funds into the hands of these desperate people so they can start to rebuild.  Why did Washington take so long to get this relief approved?  When will these people be able to move back into their own homes in their old, familiar neighborhoods, where their dogs can safely sniff around their own backyards?

I had almost forgotten about the devastation and the horror of what happened right here around me. We should not forget that life does not go on as usual for a large portion of our population, and thoughts and prayers and assistance are still so badly needed for so many. It took a sweet dog named Sheila to gently remind me.

HAPPY FEBRUARY

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loveHappy February!  Happy almost Valentine’s Day!  Happy month of love!  February is the month you should really focus on all things pertaining to your heart and to keeping it strong. It’s heart health month, after all! And the one thing that will keep your heart beating like nothing else in the world is. of course, love.

Now, I feel kind of hypocritical writing about love and affairs of the heart because for quite some time now I have become kind of hardened, “jaded and bitter,” as I like to describe myself. A long-term relationship crashed and burned in a twisted wreck of lies and deception, but I am over it.  I’ve just been having trouble taking the first step in beginning again.  It seems like too much work, and I have become complacent. I’ve carved out a nice, safe, comfortable niche for myself, and for the most part, I enjoy my own company and the freedom of doing what I want when I want to do it. But then there are other times when these cold winter nights are so long and boring that I just don’t know what to do with myself.  I wish I had someone to talk with, to have a glass of wine and a nice dinner with.  Someone who could make me laugh again.

At my daughter’s wedding recently I read a passage from Corinthians 13, a part of which goes like this:

 If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,

I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains

but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast

but do not have love, I have nothing.

The message, of course, is loud and clear…If don’t have love, you have nothing. I guess I have nothing, and it’s not a happy way to live.

So maybe it’s time for me to begin again and do what I have to do to keep my heart alive and well and beating strongly. How I’m going to do this, I’m not quite sure.  But I think I have to at least try to see if there’s a chance that a nice guy is out there waiting for me to take that first step to open my heart to the possibilities of what love may bring.

Do you know any nice guys? 🙂 monkeys