100 People – The Uncles (The Polish Uncles)
Yesterday I read a post about baseball and was immediately reminded of some sweet childhood memories. I had promised over a week ago to tell a story about my Uncle Tony, and I will, but first I want to talk about my uncles in general. They definitely fall under my topic of 100 People You Want to Meet Before You Die.
First my mother’s brothers. Momma came from a family of ten children. Three girls and seven boys. One of her brothers died young, so I never met him, but the other six where some interesting characters. They had some unusual nicknames. There was my Uncle Bunny (nickname), Uncle Bruno (no nickname), Uncle Tony (no nickname), Uncle Mooch (nickname), Uncle Smokey (nickname), and Uncle Lefty (nickname). I knew they were all big ball players on the city leagues in Chicago, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that a cousin explained this is where the nicknames came from. Some are obvious as to how they might pertain to playing ball, like Mooch and Lefty, maybe even Smokey but I have to admit Uncle Bunny’s nickname although really cute, eludes me as to how this might relate to baseball, let alone a grown man.
By day, Uncle Bunny was a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and a ‘bookie’ on the side. More than once I remember Daddy having to go and get Uncle Bunny out of jail for making book.
Uncle Tony and Uncle Mooch were by two bachelor uncles. They lived with my grandmother until the day she died. They took good care of her too. Grandma never spoke word of English, and since I never learned much Polish we didn’t have very in depth conversations. Of course, she died when I was 5, so we probably weren’t going to have a lot of deep things to say in any language. I did understand “I love you’. I have some great stories about Uncle Tony and he’ll get his own post in a week or so. The most vivid thing I remember about my Uncle Mooch was that he was very handsome and he smoked the stinkiest cigars you can ever imagine.
Uncle Smokey was a milkman, as in he delivered milk to your door every day. When I was real little, he was our milkman. He managed to have our delivery later in the morning, on his route, and Momma would always have the coffee on so he could stop in and visit. I wonder what the neighbors thought about that. I wonder if they all knew he was her brother.
Uncle Lefty was my Momma’s baby brother and he was a whole lot of fun. His wife, my Aunt Gene was and still is beautiful, she was also fun. She is my last surviving Aunt or Uncle on either side of the family. They had two boys, my cousin Danny being only a few months younger than me. dated one of my girlfriends for a while and we sure did have a good time. Today he is married to a wonderful woman Jurate, one of my favorite cousin-in-laws.
My Uncle Bruno was quite a bit older than Momma. I think he was actually the oldest in the family and mostly I remember him as being very quite. But his wife, my Aunt Mary was something else again. They only lived a few block from us and going over to their place was always an adventure.
Family gatherings with this clan where normally a riotous affair. There was generally a poker game going on somewhere and the cousins ranging in ages from toddlers to teenagers, where running all over the place. The food was incredible and plentiful. Tradition was that we always got together for Christmas Eve, at my grandmothers place. Once Babcia (Grandma in Polish) died, the Christmas Eve celebration moved to our house.
Man I miss those people. I am grateful for the experience of growing up in this amazing stew of ethnicity. I wish I had appreciated the importance of learning another language when I was younger. Of course, I’m not exactly sure how I would use Polish in my present life, but ‘ya never know’.
I have three other Uncles from Daddy’s side of the family and one Great Uncle, Uncle Bill, but he will get his own post and I’ll save the more reserved English Uncles for another time as well.
Dunce that I can be, I almost forgot my two Uncle-in-laws, my mother's sisters husbands (are you still with me). My Uncle Matt, married to my Aunt Irene and my Uncle Benny, married to my Aunt Clara.
Uncle Matt was an early entrepreneur, he dabbled in Real Estate and they had a 'Custard Stand' (soft serve ice cream, burgers,dogs and the like) on the corner of their property. I used to love to go there to work/visit. Uncle Matt also sold Grave Stones on the side. Yeah you heard me right. They had a display of various styles and different types of granite in their backyard. A little creepy maybe, but I grew up thinking it was normal.
Uncle Benny was a real hoot. I remember when my Cousin Jimi grew his hair long and Uncle Benny was so mortified, one Sunday afternoon Jimi fell asleep on the couch and Uncle Benny went at one side of his head with the kitchen shears. When Jimi woke up he was mad, but in defiance he walked around for months with his 'Dad's haircut'. Uncle Benny was a chauffeur for the big wigs at General Electric. Another unusual occupation that just seemed normal to me.
When Uncle Benny died I was a young adult. I remember going to the wake and a large Polish Funeral Home. There were several people 'laid out' and they had a directory in the entryway. That was the first time I learned that Uncle Benny's 'real' first name was Boleslaw (after a Polish King) and not Benny.
OK, now I'm done.