Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Snatching Springs, 1976

Today would've been my Polish grandfather, my JaJa (in Polish, Dziadzia)'s 111th birthday. Daniel George Miklasz, Sr. A veteran of the First World War.

No, nobody expected him to live quite that long. He died when I was 8, just days before my 9th birthday in 1981, of complications from prostate cancer. I have few but fond memories of him.

No one ever talked about it, and it wasn't revealed to the family until after his wife, my Nana (Lillian, nee Marynowski), died in 1994, that each was the other's second spouse, and that JaJa had a child from his first marriage, a daughter. (So I have or had an aunt somewhere in the country, who'd be in her late 80's or early 90's by now, given my uncle is 80.) They were both Catholic, so the idea and subject of divorce was very hush-hush and I doubt my grandparents married in the Catholic church, unless they both had their first marriages annulled, which I sort of doubt. I have no idea when and where my grandparents got married. My grandparents had 2 sons, my Uncle Jerry (who's 80) and my father, Daniel Jr., who would be 70 if he were still alive. The picture above is from my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, with my brother, myself, my mom and dad.

My grandparents were both born in this country to Polish immigrant parents who spoke little if no English, though they all spent decades living in the USA. Nana and JaJa both spoke fluent Polish, and did so frequently around the house when I was growing up, especially to my father and my uncle, when they didn't want anyone to know what they were talking about. Still, I learned enough Polish from all of them to manage a very basic conversation in Polish, and I certainly know how all the good swear words and put downs in our family's native tongue.

JaJa was born to a Polish father, Jan Miklasz, married to a German woman, Anna Wagner, in 1901. All of my great-grandparents on the Miklasz side died before I was born. JaJa had several sisters, and I have a gaggle of first-cousins-once-removed ( in addition to my 2 first cousins, Pam and Susie, who are Uncle Jerry's daughters, who are in their 50's and 40's, respectively), who are all my dad's age now or older, and second cousins, a lot of whom are around my age, some of whom I keep in touch with (like my fellow Blogger, professional harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa).

From what I remember, JaJa's primary job was as a house painter, having worked at the family established Miklasz Paint Company, in the city. I don't know if you can still see it on the wall, but as recently as a decade or so ago, you could make out "Miklasz Paint Co." on the exterior side wall of an old building around Damen (or is it Armitage? I forgot.) that my cousin took pictures of for all of us grandchildren that we have framed (mine is in storage with the rest of my belongings).

JaJa retired, and my grandparents lived above us in a 2-up, 2-down beautiful flat in a suburb just outside of Chicago, with a huge back yard, when I was growing up. I'd visit my Nana and JaJa daily in their apartment, and it was they who introduced me to coffee drinking when I was only 4, and would go upstairs for what I told my parents was my "2nd breakfast." Nana and JaJa were the only babysitters my brother and I ever had.

They put up with my father's alcoholism and the instability that was going on downstairs in my house, of which I was largely unaware, as I was too young. Not too soon after JaJa died, we had to sell our 2-flat in Harwood Heights to pay for debts my father wracked up on account of his illness. We moved to Park Ridge and took Nana with us to live, in this giant, old, shitty house on Northwest Highway that was ginormous but rented and sort of gross. Not "home" to me, and was the place we were living when my father finally succumbed to alcoholism in 1984.

Anyway, I don't think JaJa ever knew my name. My real name. He never called me Annie, or Andrea. My only memory is of him calling me, referring to me as "The Little One," as I was the youngest of the 4 grandchildren on the Miklasz side.

He'd get furious with us grandkids when we'd have contests sliding down the carpeted stairwell from my grandparents' apartment to ours in the front hallway, using a sleeping bag as a toboggan. "Watch 'em, watch 'em!" JaJa would say, and he hated when we were loud and raucous, all running about the house, and had an OCD about locking and closing doors.

He had this weird job when I was little and he was retired, sorting through springs at the kitchen table in some sort of mock-quality-control effort for my uncle, who was a muckety muck at a Chicago spring company. It kept him busy, though doing what with the random springs, exactly, I have no idea.

He employed my help when I was 4 (after I'd had my coffee for the morning). With giant boxes of springs on his kitchen table, as he sorted through them, he'd inevitably drop some on the floor. He told me he'd give me a dime for every spring I found on the floor.

I was a clever child. He'd get up to go elsewhere in the house, and I'd dump half a box of springs onto the floor, then pick them up and proudly hand them to my JaJa when he'd sit back down at the table. "Here, JaJa, look at all the springs I found! How much money will you give me?"

He knew damn well that I'd spilled the springs onto the floor, but I remember distinctly him handing me $5 because, for a 4-year old, that was a damn good, though crafty business decision on my part. He wasn't mad when he gave me the money, he just smiled and winked at me. That memory is forever plastered into my brain, warmly.

A picture of the extended Miklasz legacy: my nephew Jake, (Steve's son), my son, Luke, me, my cousin Susie, and my brother, Steve, Christmas 2011. (Missing are Pam and her 2 kids, Ashleigh and Matt.)

So today, I remember my JaJa, and all his Polish OCD wackiness, that certainly rubbed off on his youngest granddaughter.

Ja was miss i miłości was, dziadka.

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