August 2013

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laugh " " They got married, moved upstairs from the bakery he had just bought, and proceeded to spawn two of the weirdest people the world has ever known: my dad and my aunt. Busia and Dziadzia and Dziubek By Laura Gallagher Like all people, I have ancestors. Like most people, I knew many of them. My mom's parents died before I was born, but my dad's parents—his mother in particular—loomed large for most of my childhood and young-adulthood. They both immigrated (separately) to the United States from Poland; she with her parents and baby brother, he as a young teen on his own. They met at one of the many "Polish social clubs" that littered the south side of Milwaukee (represent!) in the early 1920s. On their first date, he took her to a bar and she ordered "beef tea," which is a cup of beef bouillon, because she didn't want to look "loose." She actually liked her beer, liked it a lot, and once he found that out the deal was pretty much sealed. They got married, moved upstairs from the bakery he had just bought, and proceeded to spawn two of the weirdest people the world has ever known: my dad and my aunt. I don't really know much about my grandfather's past, which is a shame because what I do know is pretty interesting but also somewhat strange, so I'm not going into it here. I do know that he made a lot of money in the stock market and managed to hang on to it when the market crashed. He and my grandmother worked their butts off at the bakery, where my dad would lean out the basement windows and shoot the rats that lived in the vacant lot next door with a BB gun. They sold the bakery after my dad and aunt grew up, and moved into what seemed to me, as a little girl, the biggest, fanciest house in town. In actuality, it was a little brick colonial by a mall but it was two stories! With a fireplace! And a pear tree! 64 BRAVA Magazine August 2013 And store-bought windmill cookies! (What can I say, when they retired, they retired.) Neither lost their accents, especially my grandfather. One of my fondest memories is of him complaining about his squirrel. Yes, I said "squirrel." He had basically hand-tamed one of the neighborhood squirrels, so it would sit on the windowsills begging for peanuts. One day my grandfather was a bit slow in the goober delivery, apparently, so the squirrel climbed the screen, aimed his squirrel parts into the house, and…let's let my grandfather tell it: "De damn ting peesed, right true de vindow!" Whenever they argued, they would go into the kitchen and argue in their native Polish. To this day when I hear people speaking in a Slavic language, I think they're fighting. I slept over at their house every Wednesday night from the time I was two until I started school full-time. I usually ended up in bed with them because the guest room was upstairs and creepy. My grandfather slept in longjohns (with the trapdoor!), so when he'd get up in the morning he'd keep his long johns on, put on his hat (a fedora of course), do a goofy little dance until I laughed, and then say "OK, I go to vork now, how do I look?" He died when I was 10, so my grandmother moved into our upstairs flat so we could take care of her. While at times it was tough growing up with not only a huge worrywart of a father ("I smell smoke, does anyone else smell smoke?" should've been our family motto) and a nutcase of a mother, but with an old-world Polish woman who had VERY EXACTING STANDARDS FOR HOW A YOUNG LADY SHOULD BEHAVE as well, it was actually really nice. She comforted me when my bird died, she and my mom took turns cooking dinner, and she paid me a silver dollar a week to sweep the steps to her flat. One summer day, when I was about 13 or so, she came marching downstairs and announced, "You are going to learn how to make chicken salad! Right now!" I think she had a craving and just wanted someone else to chop the onions. She lived with my family, making cabbage soup and yelling at the cat, until she was in her 90s. By then I had gotten married and moved away, but whenever we'd go for a weekend visit, between her and my dad, we'd leave with bags of groceries, fresh laundry and gas money. Sometimes in silver dollars. ••• Laura J. Gallagher is a longtime communications professional. When not teasing her husband, Triple M's Pat Gallagher, she is on Facebook at the Laura J. Gallagher page!

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