If I Only….

So, I was only going post a poem a wrote for my dad on this post, however, while writing the opening for it, my memories got the best of me. I kept wondering why I felt the need to write a poem? And then it clicked. My dad loved writing poems, little rhyming verses, etc., for us growing up for special occasions. That then lead me to reminisce on some birthdays my sister and I had.  Welcome to how my mind works.

Growing up my Dad and Mom loved to make a big deal about our birthdays and accomplishments. It was never just a, “happy birthday” or “congratulations” and that was it. They both made it something special.  In the Volk household, there was the infamous “Birthday Week” that is celebrated by family. The rules are as follows; you decide when your birthday week starts, and it lasts for exactly 1 week. Also, if anyone is mean to you, your birthday week automatically starts over. It is amazing, only if it is your birthday though, quite annoying if not. You better believe that my dad milked it for all it’s worth. Some years it turned out he wanted a “Birthday Month” not a “Birthday Week”.

 My sister had it made with her birthday in summer. She was able to have pool parties, playing outside, and good weather. I specifically remember for her 13th birthday she had a “club” birthday party. Everyone invited over was out back on our patio dancing. My dad sat at the window inside being the “DJ” and took requests through the window. Now the requests were made via a piece of paper placed into a tissue box. And if we happened to have the tape or CD, he would play it. I specifically remember our neighbor requesting a song called “Macarena”, nobody knew what it is was, and that’s how long ago this was (sorry Megan).

My birthday falls exactly 2 weeks after Christmas, January 8th. Yes, also Elvis Presley’s birthday. My parties were limited in January since we lived in Maryland. I specifically remember my 9th birthday and the slogan my dad came up with for the invitations. I was going to have a slumber party, but not just a regular slumber party, we were going to make it like we were camping. My parent’s stapled sheets to the door frame so it was like our living room was a giant tent. We were also going to be roasting marshmallows in my fireplace. My parents had to get creative for the dreary winter birthdays. Anyway, the slogan I will remember forever, don’t ask me why, other than I thought I was cooler than cool with it, was, “Come Smell the Pine! Abby’s Turning Nine!” (get it, camping?). That was trademarked by my dad!

Now onto how  much my dad  loved to embarrass us. The back of our house in Hagerstown backed up to a busy road, Marsh Pike. For my sister’s and my 16th birthday, my parents hung a giant and I mean GIANT sign that said, “Megan’s sweet sixteen!” Or in my case “Abby’s sweet sixteen!”. Everyone in our town driving by would be able to see it. People in my school would talk about it and people would beep all the time. I loved it, especially because when they hung it up for Megan only because she was so embarrassed (that’s sisterly love for you).

For special occasions or special gifts, there was always something we would read or do to make sure we remember it. Whether it was short poem in a card or fun scavenger hunts for birthday presents or Christmas presents. Something I remember vividly was the poem my dad wrote for me for my high school graduation about my grandmother who had passed 5 months earlier.  I guess none of that comes as a surprise since I am on here writing for my father’s BLOG!

That leads me to the original piece I wrote for this post, but I went off on a tangent about birthdays. I decided to attempt a poem for my dad. It’s very simple, elementary school almost, but it is something I thought about over and over. I hope you enjoy it and it may even get you thinking about what you would do in that situation with a loved one.

 If I Only
  
 If I only had some time,
 I would have a chance to say,
 All the things I am feeling
 Since you went away.
  
 If I only had four minutes,
 I would listen to your voice very close.
 I would take in each word and sound,
 That’s what I’d want to do the most.
  
 If I only had three minutes,
 I’d take you straight home to your bed.
 You would be much more comfortable,
 A familiar place to rest your tired head.
  
 If I only had two minutes,
 I would beg you to stay with me forever.
 I wouldn’t want to upset you,
 but I don’t want to be without you, whatsoever.
  
 If I only had one minute,
 I would listen and feel your heart beating.
 I would beg for one more minute,
 As our time together would be fleeting.
  
 If I only had one second,
 I would say, “I love you” and kiss your hand.
 I would lay my head on your shoulder,
 Why this was happening, I would try to understand.
  
  
 Now I have no time.
 And there’s an empty space in my heart.
 I hope to see you again one day.
 And never again, would we be apart.
  
 I hope wherever you are,
 You are watching over me.
 I promise to make you proud,
 And be the best person I can be.
  
  
  
   -Abby Volk 2/16/21
Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Signs To Ease My Mind, Heart, And Soul

Signs, messages, whatever you want to call them, they are all around us. They tell us which way to drive, the name of a store, where to use the restroom, they even let us know who has the best burgers in town. All these signs have the same meaning to you, me, and Joe Shmo down the street. But that isn’t always the case. Some of the signs I have had in my life recently may not mean the same to you as they do to me. These are signs from beyond this physical world, some you can’t explain, some you can. I do have to have a bit of a backstory I must tell and some details will be spared for my family’s privacy, but I want to make sure you know why these signs mean so much. They have been small signs from my father, but extraordinarily huge to me. Maybe telling my story will help you spot some signs you didn’t notice before. Maybe it will help you acknowledge them. Maybe it won’t make you feel alone. Whatever you think is a sign from someone who has left this Earth, it is. Do not dismiss it to just a mere coincidence. Trust me, it helps with grief.

** Side note: I want nothing good to be associated with 2x2x, nothing. 2x2x was complete and udder trash. Please note, I didn’t type the year out, because to put it plain and simple, it doesn’t deserve any recognition. I know it’s just 4 numbers pushed together, but there is a lot more meaning behind it to me, as I am sure some of you as well. When you see that written throughout the blog, you know what it means.

As most of you know, after many years in the retail industry, my father became a real estate agent. He loved his job. He connected with each and every client and poured his heart and soul into finding them their dream home or making sure they made the most money selling their house. Jim Volk wasn’t one of the money-hungry real estate agents that are cutthroat and that do anything to get ahead. When you hired him, you got a friend for life and someone in your corner forever. He loved his job. He loved helping people.

In June, my husband (David) and I decided we wanted to put our house up for sale in Delaware. We moved there in December of 2017 and shortly after moving there, we realized that the house and the area was not a good fit for us. We decided to wait until the home values raised before we would put the house for sale. Fast forward to June of 2x2x again. After speaking with my father and having him run the comps, we decided it was a good time to start fixing up the house and preparing it to be put on the market. Equipped with a pad of paper and pen, my dad and I walked around the house and into each room one by one. I followed him as he told me what I should do in each room to stage it and prepare it for sale. He loved it until I would challenge him on things, then he’d just get irritated. Call it our family’s love language, irritation, just ask my sister, Megan, she’s great at it. 🙂 Doing that was probably one of the last things we did together outside of the hospital.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unfortunately, when we officially started to pack and get the house in order in July of 2x2x, my father was admitted to the hospital. In my mind, this was going to be like last year, the doctors will run a few tests and figure out what was going on and, in a week or two, he’d be headed back home. The first few days of his hospital stay I asked him many questions about the house. It made us both feel like things were “normal”. While any admittance to the hospital is serious, it just didn’t set into any of my family’s thoughts that it would turn into this. He was placed on a ventilator. At that point David and I pulled the plug on getting our house ready. Obviously, all my attention was focused on my Dad. From speaking to my father every day, multiple times a day, to nothing was excruciating.  

On August 8th, I remember, I was laying on the couch, where I spent my time, worrying and thinking, when I heard – *DING*DING*DING* – My phone went off. It was a video call on Facebook. As I leaned over, my heart skipped a beat. That name hadn’t shown up on my phone for 13 days, “Daddy”. I was confused, was my mom there calling me from his phone? Was his phone lost and someone found it? Was he taking his last breaths and they wanted me to be on the phone? I answered with a bit of hesitation. There was my dad, smiling and saying, “Hi baby, I’m awake!” His voice was weak and raspy. I lost it, I was so happy, I had him back! That day, on my sister’s birthday, he was removed from the ventilator. There was talk about this happening, but it changed every day, every hour even. Of course, when we spoke, he had to ask me about the house and how it was coming along. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we had done nothing because he would have felt so bad for, in his words, “stalling” us.

Fast forward a few weeks, he was moved to a rehabilitation “hospital” and was on the road to recovery. I know brushed over those weeks, but please know it was hard, incredibly hard and very brutal. While he continued to get better, he also kept helping us with the house, directing me from Facetime in his hospital bed. The plan my dad and I made was that as soon as he was released, we would get the ball rolling with listing our house. Well let me rephrase that, as soon as he recovered, we would list. Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months. Unfortunately, he had an incident that undid everything he worked so hard for. Knowing this, the house was put on the back burner.

He was back on the ventilator. We just took about 450,000 steps backwards in his recovery. After a month he was moved to a ventilator where he was able to be conscious again.  When the dust settled, he kept asking every day what was going on with our house and if we had any questions (he wasn’t able to speak but he mouthed the words). I would ask him things like, do we need to repaint this room? Should we change the shower? How do you think I should move the couch for staging the house? He loved it, he loved giving us knowledge about this. I soaked everything up and did everything he told me to do.

During this time, my family and I were on edge every minute of every day. We talked to doctors and nurses and specialists constantly hoping to get some crumb of hope. Unfortunately, he had to have a risky surgery done and we were not sure if we would see him again. As we patiently waited for any update in the waiting room, I walked over to the TV with all the surgeries listed that were going on that day. For anonymity purposes they didn’t show the patient’s name, only a number and the time they went into and got out of surgery, etc. I stood in front of that screen for a while. I held my breath for a second when I saw a familiar time, 11:11. I asked my mom if she knew Dad’s number for the surgery, but she said no. 11:11 is a particularly important number to my family. After my grandfather passed when I was in 6th grade(buried by his house on Thomas Street in West Mifflin) my dad told me whenever he looked at the clock it would be 11 minutes after the hour. Dad said that was always Pap-Pap saying, “hi”.  So naturally I did what any girl would do (please not the sarcasm of that last statement), I made sure that my first tattoo I got when I was 19 was a clock face saying 11:11 on my wrist. Please note; I successfully hid that from my parents until I was 26 and I only told them because I was getting married and didn’t want to wear a chunky bracelet with my dress.

Starting with my dad in the top left; My dad Jim, my Uncle Steve, my cousin Jonathan, my Pap-pap Steve, my Aunt Lolly, my sister Megan, and my mom Judy. Unfortunately I had yet to grace them with my presence in the world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After his surgery was successful, we were able to go in the room with him while he recovered. I asked the nurse what his patient number was, and explaining the back story, she was very eager to help us to see if this really was his number. IT WAS! He went into surgery at 11:11. Everyone in the hospital room just stood there and said, “Oh my goodness!” That time on the surgery screen was a sign to let us know he was going to fight through this surgery and survive.

I snapped a picture to make sure I remembered the number to ask about.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few days after the surgery, Dad told (well mouthed the words) my mom that he thinks we needed to go ahead and put the house for sale by owner. That was a very big decision for me because part of me thought if I agreed to  it, it also was me saying he may never come home. After many talks with David and my mother, they were able to convince me it was a good time. My mom helped me with packing and sprucing up and my sister came over, “helped” pack and took pictures for the listing. David said he would run the open house whenever we decided to have one.

Unfortunately, 5:30 pm on Friday, November 6th came, and my dad took a turn for the worse. My sister, my mother and I stayed the night at the hospital from Friday evening until Saturday morning. None of us slept. We just spent the night as a family. Last time we had done that we were on vacation, a stark contrast to the atmosphere we, the Volks, were currently in. While the reason we were gathered was not a good one, and it didn’t feel enjoyable, it did feel complete.

During the night I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore; I didn’t want to have to worry about the house. I DIDN’T CARE, I kept saying, I didn’t. My mom kept her foot down and told us that it must happen, that we had made it perfect, set the date, and dad was able to see pictures of my house completed. He said he was so proud of me. The last thing Dad would EVER want to do is cause something like that not to happen. David took the reins and put his realtor hat on and hosted the open house the next day, Sunday. By the end of Sunday night, we had 3 offers! I made sure to tell my dad each time one came in since we stayed again all day at the hospital. While there was no response from him, I knew he heard it because I would get the smallest twitch from his finger when I would talk to him.

Monday, November 9, 2x2x came. I hate that date. My mom, sister, and I spent all day with Dad in the hospital room. As you know that is hard because of covid so we were incredibly happy to have that time with him. Unfortunately, the time came he needed to be moved to another location where they were extremely strict with their covid rules. Unfortunately, there was a max of two people only allowed in the room a day, and three of us, so my sister and mom went up first. Around 6:15pm he was moved up to the next floor. I told him what was going on and let him know I would be up later as they rolled him out of the room. I took the somber ride down to the lobby. At 12:00am, I was going to trade places with my sister, that was the plan. It was cold and lonely down there. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed there, so I hid behind a pole clutching my dad’s belongings, not really sure how to process what really was transpiring.

Around 7:55pm my phone rang, and it scared me. It was David. He said, “We got another offer. This is it. No inspection. No contingency.” I couldn’t believe it, I just told my dad a few weeks earlier that that would be amazing so we didn’t have to worry about anything or any of the back and forth, in fact my mother and I were discussing it a few hours previously in the hospital room. I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. After I took a breath, reality hit me again, where I was, what was going on. I needed to tell my dad. I called to tell him immediately, my mom and sister put me on speaker phone. While he was not responsive, I still told him about it. After I softly told my dad the good news, I was told horrible news. I needed to get up there before it was too late. But I was too late. He was gone. I was on the elevator up when it happened. My dad breathed on his own for 9 hours. He did it until we got the perfect offer. After I called and told him, he knew his work was done. He could finally be free of pain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nothing was easy over the next month. I lost Lily, my 15-year-old Pekingese. She was my life and my world. Everything revolved around her (and of course my dad) for the last 8 months because in March she started to get really sick. 2x2x strikes again, I lost her on Thanksgiving. I was shattered yet again.  My heart is cut open from my dad passing, but apparently someone, somewhere wanted to take a knife deeper into the cut, just to make sure it really hurt. All I wanted to do was sleep. I didn’t think about anything else. Yet again, who cares about the closing on the house. I didn’t care.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few weeks later closing day on our house came. Before we left, David looked at me and said he thinks we should bring my dad. Not sure what he meant, he looked over at my dad’s desk, at his business cards that are still there. I, of course, loved the idea. As we drove to the closing you could just feel it in the air that it was going to snow. As we walked in, I felt sad, not because we are selling the house, but because my other half was not there, my business partner, my helper. But I know he would not lead us into something that we could not handle on our own. After having a seat in the room, David placed my dad’s card on the table. While we waited we discussed where he would be sitting if he were here. On the ride home, David and I didn’t talk much, like I said we were happy, but it was like a puzzle piece was missing. Dad should be there, but he is not.

Finally, the first snowflake fell after I had signed back onto work after our closing (at home worker here). My mom yelled to let me know about the snow. It was beautiful. It was a sign from my dad. Dad LOVED snow; I mean he LOVED it. I know exactly what he would be wearing and what he would be doing had he been with us that day. After looking out the window talking about how excited he was, he’d pull back the curtain and probably rearrange the furniture so he could have a direct view of the snow from his spot on the couch. While sitting there, he would be drinking coffee and wearing a white tee shirt (which if it didn’t already, would inevitably get a coffee stain on it) and his pajama pants on and talking about how cozy he feels. Of course, not forgetting to have a fire going also.

An hour or 2 later while working, I just happened to turn the on the radio. I love music. I love all kinds of it. From classical to rap to country to oldies. Music is a big part of my life and I connect a lot of memories and events in my life to it. So naturally I have been avoiding it, because I was afraid how I would react to it. At that moment something told me to just turn on the radio.  After a few songs, the DJ spoke about a song that had been released 30 years ago on this day from the Rain Man soundtrack. Never seeing that movie, I had no idea what to expect so I just continued to work. But then I heard the beat and immediately got goosebumps. The song playing was called “Iko Iko”. I can probably guess that you may not know the song. But the Volk family does. This song never plays on the radio, at least the not the stations I listen to. My dad and I would randomly sing that song all the time. I felt happiness and bliss and joy and I just could not stop the smile. I was singing and smiling so much and kept turning the volume up until it hurt my ears! I screamed for my mother so she could hear it. She didn’t hear me, and I could not leave the room because I HAD to hear it all. I took out my phone to record this moment. This was another sign.  As soon it was over, I ran up the stairs so fast, tripping on the landing, but I gained my footing. My mom was baking some cookies for my nephews for Christmas in the kitchen and I told her about it. I played the video for her as the smile grew on her face. She stopped baking the cookies and we talked about how he used to dance to the song. My dad was telling us hi.

Right after, my mom pointed out how much snow had already fallen. As soon as she said that I happened to look in the backyard and across flew a cardinal (yet another sign). I ran to the window and it landed on a branch, stayed there for a while! So, the camera was whipped out and I took pictures. I couldn’t believe it. They say that seeing a cardinal is a sign from a loved one whom has passed. Since I had yet to see one since his passing, I took it as a good sign. He stayed perched on the tree for a few minutes and flew off. That is until about 15 minutes later as I was working, I noticed something outside of the snow-covered window. There, right outside my window the cardinal was there, just hip-hopping a long right by the window. I just sat there and smiled until I snapped out of it to make sure I got a picture to always remember the moment.

Before those events transpired, I had yet to have any type of “sign” since he passed. Something to know that maybe he was thinking about me or he really was around somewhere. Now granted some may say that this was nothing, but at that moment I believed. I felt this feeling, like he was here, he was guiding me and saying we did the right thing by selling the house and saying that he was proud just like he would be if he was still with us on Earth.

Throughout the days after, I would catch myself glancing at the clock at, you guessed it, 11:11. Anytime myself, my sister, or David sees it, we try and snap a picture and send it to each other. I love it. I know he’s just checking in with a quick, “Hi baby” when I see that.

Christmas came. I was dreading this day. As you would guess it was just not the same. My dad was the Christmas king, as everyone knows his love of it. We were all obviously feeling down and were just existing that day, not really celebrating. While I was in the kitchen, David screamed that it was snowing, but I didn’t believe it. It’s Christmas, why on earth would it be snowing, that would be too good to be true. I don’t remember the last time even a flurry fell on Christmas day. So many snowflakes, it didn’t stick, but it was there. It was falling from the sky. It was my dad trying his best to make me feel like he was all around me. I sat outside in the snow alone for 15 or 20 minutes. It felt like I was just hanging out with him like we used to do. It felt good in the moment. I closed my eyes and just tried to etch the feeling and picture in my mind so that maybe I can pull that memory out in the future if I was feeling sad. I just sat and breathed deep. Shortly after, you guessed it, cardinals passed by. Hi Dad! You are on a roll today!

The most recent sign from dad was this week. I went through Dad’s hospital things. I obviously was not looking forward to it. David sat with me and we got through it, not without tears shed by both of us. After I was finished, I didn’t want to just remember him sick, so I decided to look back at my old videos and pictures, and it made me smile. Just hearing his voice. At that moment, I realize I hadn’t heard it since September. It warmed my heart. After reminiscing, I went to take my dogs outside and I flicked the outside light on. Before I say what happens next, here is a back story. My dad put in a red lightbulb out back for Christmas about 2 years ago. He never changed it back. I would always joke with him that it was like we were “open for business”, if you know what I mean. You know, the Red-Light District. He loved that it annoyed me. 😊 After I flicked the light on for the dogs, it didn’t turn on all the way, it just flickered constantly. That NEVER has happened before. I stared in amazement and the goosebumps came. Naturally, I took out my phone. I always and forever want to remember these moments as well as want to share them.

From now on, my eyes will be open, all my senses will be heighted, just trying to find things, occurrences, whatever it maybe, to help me smile, to help me cope. For a split second when I see or hear something, I feel him with me, in my soul, and in my heart. My dad never wanted me to feel sad, but with him gone, he knows I will be a lot. His work is cut out for him to keep me happy with the signs, but I know he is up for the challenge because he loves me so much. Look around you, see if  you notice anything, it just may be someone dear to you letting you know they are near.

**Sign image from: https://www.mercedesoflittleton.com/blogs/1765/fun/history-traffic-signs/

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

The Amazing Man Behind this Blog

I first want to tell everyone thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the cards and well wishes. Unfortunately, as most of you know, my father, the Duquesne Hunky, passed away Monday, November 9th around 8:10 pm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

 These are my memories, my stories, my amazing life with The Duquesne Hunky. This post may ramble because I get my talkative nature from my daddy. I first wanted to introduce you to who he was as a father, the most important job he ever had. 

Okay, here goes nothing. I can tell you right now, I won’t be able to come close to my father’s writing, but I want to keep his legacy alive with each and every one of you wonderful people. He was so incredibly proud of his blog. He put so much time and research into each post. While I won’t be focusing on Duquesne and the surrounding area in this particular post, I will be focusing on the creator of this blog, the incredible Jim Volk, my father. My name is Abby, and I am Jim’s youngest daughter of two girls. You can just say my parents stopped having children when they had the perfect child 😉. All jokes aside, my dad and I shared a special bond and so many things in common. I have always shared the same creative side my father had, from drawing, to writing, to decorating. 

Maybe writing a few blogs will help be through the grieving process, who knows, but it is worth a shot. 

My Dad and I in my room in our house and Georgia

The hardest time of my day for me is at night. My dad and I were night owls. I would always text him around 11pm and ask if he was up. Most of the time his response was, “Yes, what’s up baby?” to which I would respond, “Whatcha doing?” Without hesitation, his response would always be that he was coloring. He loved the coloring games on his phone. I want to so badly read our texts back and forth, but I cannot bring myself to do that. There was talk in my family about disconnecting his phone, but I am having a lot of trouble agreeing to that. To me, it seems like the last thing we have. Plus, one day, I  know I will need to call him and hear his voice, even if it is just his voicemail recording.

As I stated before, I inherited my creative nature from my father. Growing up, I loved to draw, color, sculpt, paint, you name it, I enjoyed it. Art class was everything to me. While my career now doesn’t require my creativity, I find myself itching to do something to get my creative juices flowing. One thing I absolutely love doing is interior decorating. My dad and I share that love. In fact, we would butt heads a lot because we would ALWAYS have an opinion about SOMETHING in each other’s house. I know my dad was incredibly proud of me when he would see my house decorated. One thing my dad always let me know was when he was proud of me. That is the best feeling in the world.

They say you are more creative if you are left-handed. My dad was left-handed and was an amazing artist. I wanted to be like him. I would practice and practice to no avail. Unfortunately, your girl is still right-handed. However, me writing with my left hand isn’t THAT horrible. Do you remember back in 2019 when we could go to restaurants? Ah, those were the days. Anyway, no matter what age, if there were crayons on the table and a paper placemat or paper covering the table, my dad would draw on it. Long before the days of iPads to shut kids up, my dad had a great, free way to keep us busy. He would always draw a picture for my sister and I to color while we waited for our food. What makes my heart happy is knowing he still did it for my nephews, his grandson’s, and they remember. Up to his time of death he was working on some decorative rocks for my mom’s garden. Everything is still out on his work bench and it rips my heart out every time I see it because he wasn’t finished this gift for my mom just yet. He also wanted to start to make wreaths and Christmas trees to sell on Facebook Marketplace. So his work bench has a plethora of goodies to decorate with. You better believe I will get working on those for him because there are so many goodies he has collected to use. I can’t wait to get my hands on them. Just another way I feel blessed enough to stay connected to my father.

My Dad’s craft bench

My dad loved to laugh and loved making people laugh. Our household was not a normal one. We were always making jokes about each other and sarcasm was a prominent language in our house. So was pig Latin when we were younger. At the dinner table my parents would speak it so we didn’t know what they were saying. My dad was a WIZ at it, but I digress. One thing I knew before he passed and was reminded of by so many people was how when they were around him, they knew they would laugh. That is how my dad made people feel comfortable, laughter. My dad loved telling stories of how I got in trouble when I was little and not so little. For some reason I think he enjoyed talking about that more than my accomplishments. Let’s just say I kept my parents on their toes growing up. Don’t worry I wear that badge of honor proudly (hehe). I kept them young (or caused many gray hairs).

Dad and I shared a love of cooking… and eating. He loved coming over for dinner at my house when I cooked and would eat everything up. Made me so happy. When anyone is cooking, I feel the need to come look and stir things. Oh, my goodness, a way to tick my dad off would be to do that very thing. He would shoo me out of the kitchen before I could get my hands on the spoon. I am literally smiling as I typed that because it would make me laugh so hard. One rule – stay out of the kitchen when dad was cooking. Hands down one of the best things he made was his Cheddar Broccoli Potato Soup. Unfortunately, I don’t believe he had a recipe for it and would always make it by heart each time. He was such an amazing cook. I will miss it so much.

Weather, we undeniably love weather. What I mean is rain and snow. He and I love it. Now we prefer the snow more than rain but during spring summer and fall, rain is exciting. The moment a flurry would fall, I would be getting a phone call, no matter the time of day or night. Snow is life with Dad and me. It is beautiful, peaceful, magical, and makes the whole world slow down for a moment. Unfortunately, watching the news, we are not going to be getting much this winter. I hope it does, I feel like if it snows, it may be him giving us a little sign from above that he is okay, wherever he may be. 

Going hand-in-hand with snow is our love for Christmas. Growing up, not to toot our family’s horn but, toot, toot, we had a marvelously decorated house at Christmas inside and out. The outside was an overwhelmingly serious job for my dad. The normal color scheme was gold, silver, and some red. There were candles in every window along with a wreath hung with gold ribbon. My dad loved hearing the stories of how much I remember sitting at the window looking out and seeing the snow fall through the gap of the blinds. As weird as it seems, the sound of the wreaths scratching on the window was very comforting to me too. One thing that my dad always said, and I live by this day, no multi-colored lights outside. No offense to anyone that uses them outside, my dad and I just didn’t like it for our houses. In our house in Hagerstown, Maryland, we always had at least 8 trees up in the house. The first tree greeted you in the entryway when you walked into the house. A second one sat on the piano in the living room. The last one on the main floor was the one in our family room. Walking upstairs there was one on our plant shelf above the front door where it sat on a rocking horse we only brought out for Christmas. Of course there was one in my room and one in my sister’s room. In our basement, we had one in our “1950s” room and one in the tv room in the basement. Every single one of the trees was decorated to perfection, with its own theme. The one in our foyer had bells that would chime different songs and my sister and I would dance to them. We also loved rolling up the rug and “skating” to sound of them in our socks on the hardwood like we were at Rockefeller Center. Dad decorated every single one, except the family room tree, which he so lovingly called the “ugly tree”. This was the tree with multi-colored lights and all of the family’s ornaments we gathered throughout the years. It makes me giggle because I know he really didn’t think it was ugly, but he loved how my sister and I reacted when he called it that. Please note, after my sister, mom and I decorated the tree, he would always get his hands on it and “fix it”. He definitely suffered from POPD – Perfect Ornament Placement Disorder. Also, Christmas mornings, my sister and I were NOT, I repeat, WERE NOT allowed downstairs until my dad said it was okay. He had to turn all the Christmas lights on, turn on the Christmas music, and start a fire before we were allowed down. Just thinking about this I can still feel the excitement I felt those mornings screaming from the top of the stairs, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaad come ooooooooooonnnnnnnn!!” I could go on and on about my memories about Christmas. Unfortunately, it hurts a little right now. I will save that for a later post.

My Dad’s tree pictured on top and my tree pictured below, can’t you see where I get it from?

My Dad’s tree
My Tree

During his hospital stay, my dad listened to Christmas music to feel happy, even if it was summer, and then fall. The days up to his death, it was constantly on. When I knew he was going to leave us soon I had to bend down and tell him I had to turn it off. I didn’t want these songs to remind me of him like this. I know he was okay with that. The last thing he would want to do is to make me not enjoy Christmas. 

My Dad’s tree and birthday balloons at the hospital

I bought my dad a small Christmas tree in October to put up in the hospital. He finally was up to decorating it while my sister was with him. While he wasn’t physically able to do it, he pointed to where they should be for my sister. He was incredibly happy seeing it everyday, something different than the white sterile room he was confined to for 5 months, and it was on until the end. Something that was strange was  that this tree had no timer on the lights, but it still turned on every night at the same time by itself after he passed, even in the bag it was stuffed in. We barely have any Christmas decorations up this year, but that little tree is up and will be up every Christmas until I am not around anymore.

My sister making my Dad pose after they decorated the tree

The next few posts will have little to nothing to do with the history of Duquesne other than it being about an AMAZING man that came from there. I hope I don’t lose any of his followers by speaking about him. I am currently searching through his computer to find his blog he was working on to maybe post it also. I am not sure how far it was on it. If you made it through this far, thank you for letting me share a small bit of my dad’s life and how amazing he was as a father. I hope everyone can gather a better idea of who he was, who he is, and who he is through my thoughts. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 50 Comments

Voices from Duquesne – April 22, 2020

I wanted to share some relatively recent emails that I received from folks that read my blog and might have information or questions they would like to share with us. Please, comment on this post if you have any answers to their questions or share an opinion. Just as a reminder, if you would like to send an email, my email address is: duquesnehunky@gmail.com .


 

In researching for my grandfather’s death certificate who lived in Duquesne in 1917 and died in 1918 from the Spanish flu, the PA Dept. of Vital Statistics was unable to find his death certificate. With the help of a friend we think we found it but want to verify the information. He was buried in ST. Stephen Magyar Cemetery in McKeesport now, North Versailles. We think the funeral home was in Duquesne as it was signed by Stephen Check (maybe the correct spelling is Cheke). I’m wondering if you have any knowledge of what funeral homes were in Duquesne at that time. We also think he lived in a boarding house on River Road.

I enjoyed reading about A Duquesne Hunky.

Thank you,

Marita Maloney

Marita, I found two funeral director advertisements (below) in The Duquesne News published in 1918 around the time of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It appears that the service that these businesses offered centered around preparing the deceased for viewing in private homes as was the custom, and also providing carriages for transporting the deceased to the point of burial. City and State Officials and were also directing that funerals be conducted with as small of a group of immediate family as possible in order to limit the further spread of the pandemic. Lastly, if you could let me know what your grandfather’s first and last name were, I might be able to find additional information. I checked using your last name, but was unable to find information.

Funeral Home 1           Funeral Home 2 Oct 18 1918


I love your blog, The Duquesne Hunky. My Mom & Dad are both from Duquesne. My Dad’s father had a grocery store/butcher shop on Grant Ave across the street from St. Joseph’s church, which is where my Mom & Dad were married. My Dad, Albin “Bud” Izydorczyk was a star lineman at Duquesne High School where he played alongside Mike Kopolovich. My cousin played for Duquesne when Coach Kope was the head coach & he would frequently reference my Dad. My parents moved from Duquesne before I was born but I always enjoyed the visits back there. I remember the steel mills operating at full capacity. The town always took me back to a time when family & community were the center of life. My relatives in the Duquesne area are all deceased now so I haven’t been back in years. I know the economy hasn’t been kind to the town & it was disheartening to see the decline the last time I was there. Still, when I did visit the old memories came back. I could see the mill workers walking down & up Grant Ave at shift change & I could see my grandfather behind the butcher’s counter. Reading your blogs keeps my memories alive.

Julian


 

 

I just read your latest post about New Year’s Eve.  We didn’t have the same experiences as you did (and we lived a stone’s throw from your house on Martin, but I can still remember and appreciate so many of the little nuances, traditions and details around those times in that area.  I was truly so saddened to read about your Mom.  I had no idea.  42 is so unbelievably young to be taken away.  I cannot imagine what that was like for you and your family.  You would have been a freshman at Serra if I’m not mistaken — I was a year behind you.  I never knew about your Mom’s death at that time.

So, I want to thank you again for all your work on this web site.  I’ve created and managed  web sites over the years in my career in marketing, so I do know of the work involved.  Most people have no idea.  Lastly, I wish you health and happiness in 2020.

All the best.

Dennis Ragan

(By the way, somehow one of my sisters, Donna Ragan Connolly, got disconnected from your Duquesne Hunky web site subscriber list, so I sent her the copy of the 1969 Echo you posted — she and her husband Jim Connolly loved it — and we talked about Duquesne Hunky at our Ragan sibling party on Friday. I have since sent her the link so that she can resubscribe.  As for me, I have been teaching Slovak for 17 or 18 years, first in classrooms in the Indiana, Johnstown and Greensburg areas — and now online for the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society Int’l for the past two year. I was just in Duquesne on Christmas Day at my Uncle Tom Ragan’s house, which is right across the street from where we lived on Kahler St)


 

 

My husband has been following your blog with interest as his parents both grew up in Duquesne.  His grandmother, Ethel Davies, lived next door to your parents’ home.  He has good memories visiting her and of family gatherings there.  His mother talked of exploring the Crawford mansion before it was torn down.  I am looking for a map of Duquesne from the 1940s that would show the neighborhoods during the time the Crawford mansion was standing. Can you provide any leads of where I might look? Possibly the Mifflin Twp. historical society or Pitt library? I thought I’d ask you first since you seem to be a great resource of information. So appreciative of any leads or additional info on the mansion.  -Dawn Chrestay


 

 

Jim: I happened to come across the Duquesne Hunky. I am not sure how to post on it but my father, Harry Yecies and his brother Bill owned Yecies Workingmens Store on 701 and 703 Fifth Avenue. The store is referred to in at least two posts in the Duquesne  Hunky- October 14, 2014 and August 29, 2012. I worked at the Isaly’s near the Memorial theater around 1961-1964-sold chipped ham for 99 cents a pound- baked ham for $1.39. Klondike’s were 10 cents, cones 10 cents except large skyscraper ones for 15 cents, regular sundaes were 25 cents- hot fudge 35 cents. My family lived in the Grandview area on Cleveland St.


 

 

I’m going to apologize in advance if this email gets too long, but the story gets kind of convoluted. But I think the story is interesting (and is getting more interesting) and thought you might enjoy hearing it (and perhaps meeting a new distant (I think) cousin)

I have been an amateur genealogist for years, slowly unraveling the mysteries of my family, which is pretty evenly split between my father’s German side and my mother’s Croatian side. I think that I initially focused on my German Gerstbrein side because 1.) whether rightly or wrongly, I think we often want to know about our “name” line first (and if you have a weird name like “Gerstbrein” it gets even more intriguing) and 2.) the Germans were more organized and provided better leads. But over the past few years (with the help of a genealogist in Munich) I have been able to document my Gerstbrein line to my 7x great-grandfather’s death in Bavaria in 1696. The church books for the parish only begin in 1682, however, so I think I have reached the end of the line in my Gerstbrein research.

And, even though I didn’t have much to go on for my pesky Croatian side, last year, even though I knew it would be difficult, I decided to see if I could figure out ANYTHING more, even though I expected it would be challenging.

As background, my mother was Mildred Draskovich, born in 1932 in Duquesne, PA to Matthew/Mato and Antoinette/Tonka Magdic Draskovich. (I would not be surprised if the name might ring a bell to you as in 1930, my grandparents, lived on Hamilton Ave, just a few doors down from the Puskaric family). My grandmother was born in Duquesne in 1907 to Mato Magdic and Janje Bartolovic, but for some unknown reason my great-grandmother returned to Croatia with my grandmother. Baba came back to the U.S., both a non-English speaker and a U.S. citizen in 1927; I have NO IDEA what happened to my great-grandfather Magdic except that he fell off the earth. My grandfather Mato Draskovic was born in the Ogulin area and came to the U.S. in around 1910. His marriage records refer to his parents as Mato Draskovic and Katie Tomic (born and died in Croatia and listed as dead in my grandparents’ 1929 marriage license application).

Having already exhausted the “leaves” on Ancestry.com and familysearch, I was stumped what to do next and just on a whim, I googled “Croatian Duquesne, PA”  and did find a few links, one of which was your blog and the other was Patti Salopek Angus’s.

There were no real concrete leads, but they were fun to look at, and I did write to Patti and told her I enjoyed browsing through her site, especially the page about Croatian Weddings because I had an old Croatian Wedding photo that included my grandparents but nobody else I could identify. While it seems kind of odd to save a photo of a wedding when you don’t know who the bride and groom are, it actually is one of the few photos I have of my grandparents together so I keep it. And so I told Patti, “And if you want another Croatian wedding for your page……” I’d be happy to send along.

At any rate, last summer I did send a copy to Patti and, to my utter amazement, within a day it was identified as the wedding of Rose Puskaric and Samuel Carr! Boy, the power of the internet. And at least that made the photo a bit more meaningful to me because I knew that the Draskovic and Puskaric families lived so close to each other on Hamilton Avenue. That provided a bit more context for the photo.

And….last year I did my first DNA testing with Ancestry.

At first it was a whole bunch of nothing—lots of matches, but many of them were unclear. And then the Germans took over again because I discovered an unknown line of my great-great grandmother’s sister (whose children also came to Pittsburgh) and figuring out those matches took some sleuthing and legwork and working in my “black ops” tree in Ancestry that I use to build trees with matches to see if they lead anywhere interesting.

So, while the Germans took some time, it did show me that sometimes if you start with the DNA match and work your way up (sometimes using the match’s tree (if there is one) and sometimes just plogging along and figuring it out myself) you can figure out something useful. Maybe that would work with these pesky Croatians.

(Hopefully you haven’t drifted off to sleep yet)

Curiously, a few names came up with some frequency in my DNA match list. I have been perplexed to the point of nuttiness by the frequency of the PRIBANIC name in my match list because that is the name of my grandfather’s FIRST wife and shouldn’t match me at all, but it does. That’s another mystery.

Another name that popped up several times was PUSKARIC and, I thought, “hmmm…that is a coincidence” because not only did I know the name from the Hamilton Avenue census, but I also now knew they were in the wedding photo! Maybe they could be related somehow? (I’ve no idea but suspect this would be on my grandmother’s side).

In the spring, I also got some additional match info when my sister Lisa’s DNA test results came in and broadened our Croatian DNA match pool.

And after building a few more family trees, I had a DNA match (or, more accurately, my sister Lisa had a match) with someone named Harvey Churchman (it was small, only 7.5 cm) but with shared matches, too, that made me know it wasn’t a false positive). And then, when I worked up from good ol’ Harvey, I learned that his mother was Barbara Stepetic Churchman, who was the maid of honor in the now less mysterious Puskaric/Carr photo (Barbara was the maid of honor; my grandmother was the matron of honor).

So then, obviously intrigued, I started building that tree out more (boy, those Puskaric and Brajdic marriages can get confusing to an outsider) and saw that Barbara had what looked to be a half sister, Mildred Puskaric, who was the mother of ANOTHER DNA match for Lisa, you! (Of course at only 7 cM the match is quite small—and you and I do not match at all—so we’d probably be something like 6th cousins at best but still, I find it intriguing that it all started with a photo.)

And that’s what led me to write this email to you (sorry…at least I did warn you that this would be long). I still don’t know how we are connected (but I have other matches with Jaga Brajdic Stepetic Puskaric’s brother Frank’s descendents so I think it’s somewhere on that Brajdic side) and can’t get higher than my grandparents still, but I’m learning more about Duquesne Croatians. They sure seem to all be connected and, as I joked with Patti, it is a wonder we all don’t have six fingers on each hand.

And as I also told Patti, “all roads lead to Ogulin.” I feel pretty certain that if someone just built a tree connecteding 8 people there in 1870 we’d have our Rosetta Stone to untangle all of the rest of us. (And I have moved the extended Brajdic and Puskric families from my “black ops” file in Ancestry to my regular tree. I still have to add the photo and for now, that will be the only direct linking to the two families, but I’m pretty certain there is a connection (with at least 6 matches on the various tree branches there has to be) and maybe having it more public will help the mystery to be explained.

Hope that I haven’t bored you too much, but thought you might enjoy knowing that your blog had an impact and that it resulted in a few more distant (albeit longwinded) cousins.

Best,

Eric Gerstbrein


 

 

I’ve just discovered your Duquesne Hunky blog and have truly ben enjoying it. Your July 24, 2011 post with the 1940 City Directory was a great resource.

I’ve been trying to track the movements of Martin Sullivan on the night of December 17, 1936 using archived newspapers and Google Maps but can’t seem to find 14 McCrea Street, where the Vukelja family lived.

Was McCrea Street renamed at some point?

I’ve seen the street name in relationship to Polish Hill Memorial Park. Was McCrea Street near Grant Avenue?

I appreciate any help you can give me and keep up the good work!

Theresa Check


 

I also would like to make everyone aware of two very special authors and genealogists who have roots in Duquesne. Take a few moments and check out their websites. Perhaps you’ll discover information you’ll find interesting, or ways to become more familiar with genealogical pursuits!
Patti

 

 

 

Patricia J. Angus Preserving the Past to Inspire the Future — AKA Patti Salopek

https://patriciajangus.com/

 

Lisa

Lisa Alzo – Writer, Lecturer, Genealogist

https://www.lisaalzo.com/

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

A Picky Boy In A Hunky World

A Picky Boy in a Hunky World

At 68 years of age, I am finally willing to admit that I was a VERY picky eater as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, most of my adult life. However, now that I am a wee bit older, my palette has certainly become more expanded and I’m willing to try most foods that I never would have considered in the past. I do draw the line at peanut butter however, which I consider one of the scourges of humanity. I am happy to give mad props to Dr. George Washington Carver promoting the value of crop rotation and its ability to replenish soil with vital nutrients. However, his proclivity for the inclusion of peanuts in one’s diet never sat well with me. But I’ve digressed…….

Like any self-respecting hunky family, my childhood home was equipped with two of the most essential accoutrements needed in any hunky’s home. First of all, we had the essential “Pittsburgh toilet,” and we were privileged to have our version of a “basement kitchen” as well.

There was a total of 11 homes on Thomas Street, the street I grew up on. As a nosey little kid, I managed to worm my way into every one of those homes at one point or another. The neighbors always felt it was necessary to offer me a cookie or some other sweet treat when I visited, and that often ended with me overstaying my welcome and just following them around the house. Out of the 11 homes on Thomas Street, at least 7 had some form of a basement kitchen.

The basement kitchen was basically a stove and a refrigerator, plus a place to store some pots, utensils and a table of some sort. Virtually all of the kitchen’s appliances and furnishings were either used in the home’s “main floor kitchen” previously  until new items were purchased, or were hand-me-downs from a family member, friend or neighbor. Regardless of where the items came from, they all served the same purpose, to either keep the main floor cooler during the summer, or to corral the sometimes “pungent” aroma of hunky recipes.

As a very picky hunky boy, I was always terrified of what was being concocted by my parents in the depths of our basement. In fact, at the age of five, I was faced with a life altering decision as a result of a meal I was going to be required to eat. In those days, we had to eat what was put in front of us or we would go hungry. (In reality, my mom would most likely sneak me something to eat after supper when my dad was distracted.)

Split_Pea_Soup_PF_HD1280When I was five, I was facing a lunch that included homemade pea soup and plain cheese sandwiches. I remember sitting on the sidewalk at the front of our house, stacking pebbles around some sort of utility cap that was embedded in the cement. Mom came down the driveway to let me know that lunch would be ready in about 10 minutes and told me what we were having. I was absolutely horror struck!! Although I had never tried pea soup before, I was absolutely certain that I hated it and that it would make me gag. I pleaded and cried for her to not make me eat it, but to no avail. She stood there with her arms crossed for a few minutes while I hopelessly wailed. Then she calmly said that she would call for me from the kitchen window when it was ready.

With tears flowing, I decided that I needed to do something drastic to get out of beingforced to eat PEA SOUP!! There couldn’t be any worse torture than that! And so, I made my life altering decision. At the age of five, I decided to run away from home. Now, to put this into perspective, understand that most five-year olds aren’t known for using great judgement, and I was no exception. At that particular point in time, I decided running away was the best way to avoid the fate that awaited me at lunch.

Without any provisions, I made my way into St. Joseph’s Cemetery, and marched my little butt up the hill from Thomas Street. At the top of the hill, I turned to the left and began to walk toward Mifflin Street. After just a few steps, I began to experience a feeling of dread. For at that time, I heard my mom calling from the house, and then as I watched, I saw her at the end of our driveway calling my name. Oh boy, was I in trouble!!

I watched as our neighbors, Anne Yasko and Rudy Gregory came out of their homes to talk with my mom and find out what the problem was. I hid behind a tombstone and watched in horror as all three pointed to the cemetery and began to walk together toward the gates. At that time, Mrs. Gregory came and joined the group to begin the search for Little Jimmy Volk. I was cooked!

I quickly looked around to find the best place to hid. They were grown-ups, so a smallSacred Heart space seemed to be my best choice. I ran toward the exit gate to Mifflin Street and decided to hide in the bushes that surrounded the statue of Jesus near the gate. I wiggled my way into the bushes and sat while I peered through the leaves at the group of adults that were calling my name and walking toward me. I kept very quiet so I could hear what they were saying. Then, I heard Mr. Gregory start calling out to me…”Jimmy, where are you. Come on Jimmy, come on out.” I knew I’d be in trouble, so I just sat quietly as all four of the adults looked around to see if they spotted me. I WON’T give in!

The stand off between the search party and I lasted for hours, at least that’s what I thought. In actuality, it was only about fifteen minutes according to my mother. During that time, Mr. Gregory brought out the big guns in order to find me. As I peered between the leaves from my hiding place, I watched as Mrs. Gregory handed him a small paper bag. The next words out of his mouth struck the final blow and ousted me from my hiding place. I heard him bellow, “Jimmy, I have a bag of cookies if you’d like one!” That did it!! As quick as a flash, I emerged from my hiding place. With a big smile on my face, I approached Mr. Gregory with my hand out. I was as excited as a dog who was expecting the bone that someone was holding in their hand. However, my joy and anticipation were quickly dashed when I saw the look on Mom’s face. Yes, in deed, I was in BIG trouble.

As we all walked back to Thomas Street, Mom lectured me on how scared she had been, and how the neighbors were so worried about me. Every member of the search party at one point or another looked at me and just shook their heads in solidarity with my mother. When we finally reached our house, Mom told me to apologize to the neighbors for worrying them and for making them have to search for me. I also had to thank them and tell them I wouldn’t do it again. With that said, I turned to make my way up to the house, but my mother quickly grabbed my hand and gave me a healthy swat on my bottom. The ultimate in humiliation!!! A swat in front of the neighbors!!! “Now get in the house and finish your lunch!”

With that, I burst into tears and ran into the house. My fate was sealed, pea soup it was.

pigThat pea soup was just one of the many atrocities I saw being concocted in our dungeon scullery, the cauldron of doom, the source of all things unnatural. As I got older, I became more and more familiar with the frightening things that my Hunky family referred to as delicacies. Perhaps the scariest was my parent’s favorite Studinia a.k.a. Jellied Pig’s Feet. In our upstairs kitchen, I was used to seeing my mom lovingly making ham barbeques or boiling some hot dogs for my brother and me. It was very reminiscent  of a typical scene from Ozzie and Harriet, complete with my mom’s ruffled apron. Now, put yourself in my shoes when I happened to witness the preparation of their “favorite!” I walked down the steps to our cellar and saw my mother standing at the basement kitchen stove.  She calmly turned and smiled at me and said, “Hi Honey,” but quickly returned her attention back to the stove. In her hand, she clutched a huge fork with what looked like a dismembered foot speared on the end. She was holding the disgusting item over the flame of the stove as little sparks of fire danced across the pink skin. “Mom!!! What are you doing?!? Ewww!” She then calmly informed me that she was making pig’s feet, and was burning off the hair and blackening the skin. Then, to my shock, she told me to come over and help her!!! At that point, I quickly turned and ran up the steps and outside. I was convinced that what I just witnessed in the basement would haunt me forever. But, just like any kid, once I got outside my attention was quickly diverted, and I most likely began playing or exploring the neighborhood.

I’m sure many of you enjoyed eating pig’s feet, perhaps you still do. Being a picky hunky, I never was able to get it passed my lips. I remember seeing bowls of Studinia lined up on the basement table, filled to the rim with slowly congealing liquid and the toes of “little piggy’s feet” poking through the top of the liquid. If I would bump into the table, they toes and the jelly would jiggle in response which in turn made me nauseous. Of course, my dad, knowing how I felt about the thought of eating pig’s feet, loved to eat them in front of me at dinner. He would call my name, smile and then somehow let the jelly ooze out between his teeth. He got the biggest kick out of doing that. Fortunately, I eventually got used to it.

Two other items come to mind that raked right up there with pig’s feet as far as repulsive blood sausagesounding and what I just knew were disgusting tasting hunky delights. The first was blood sausage, a.k.a. krvavnička or krvavica, that was usually prepared with pig’s blood, fat and a variety of herbs and spices. My dad loved blood sausage made with potatoes and onions, my mom wasn’t a fan however. Dad would cook the sausage in a frying pan first, and let it cook until the casing would burst, and look like the aftermath  of war. Seriously, how could anyone eat that smeti!

headThe other item that I refused to try was head cheese, or tlačenka. It was made of pork stomach stuffed with offal (entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food) and leftover parts of pig’s heads and legs. My dad would usually buy this so call “delicacy” at Kennedy (aka “Andy’s”) Meat Market on Kennedy Ave (*Note) or I think they might have had it at Mann’s Bros. on Auriles St. The way my dad would enjoy (obviously the wrong choice of words) head cheese would be on a sandwich with slices of onions and mustard. To this day I will never understand how anyone could enjoy this.

(*Note – By the way, who remembers shopping at Kennedy Meat Market and buying items “on tab?” My father would often send me to the store to pick up some groceries. When it came time to check out and pay, the cashier had a card file next to the register with customer names on the cards. She would total my purchase and then stick the card into the register to add the amount due, to a running tab that had been set up. At some point during the month, my dad go to Andy’s and settle our tab.) 

I would be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to the awesome cuisine of my heritage. It is with great affection and respect that I reference some of my family favorites and less “colorful” foods of my youth:  stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, perogies, paska, bolbalki, halushki, cheregies, cirák, and of course, poppyseed and nut rolls! It is and was ALL good!

I cannot end this post without writing about the second essential hunky commodity of my hunky home. Believe it or not, this particular item has risen to a level of notoriety that I never dreamed of, while making practical use of the porcelain relic of my youth. I am lovingly referring to the Pittsburgh toilet that graced our basement. In my house, our Pittsburgh toilet was in an area of our basement called the shower room. It was a roompotty located under our front porch and adjacent to our fruit cellar. Since it was somewhat enclosed, it didn’t fit the truest essence of the Pittsburgh toilet definition, but to us, it counted.

If you would like to experience the feeling of using a Pittsburgh toilet, just go onto the Zillow Website, and check out the homes in the West Mifflin or Duquesne area that were built in the 30s, 40s or 50s. If they have photos of any unfinished basements, I’m sure you’ll find examples of the relics of our youth randomly placed somewhere in the basement. In case you are curious, Wikipedia (the online encylopedia) has an official entry for the Pittsburgh Toilet:

A Pittsburgh toilet, often called a “Pittsburgh potty”, is a common fixture in pre-World War II houses built in Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaUnited States and surrounding region. It consists of an ordinary flush toilet installed in the basement, with no surrounding walls.[1] Most of these toilets are paired with a crude basement shower apparatus and large sink, which often doubles as a laundry basin. Also, because western Pennsylvania is a steep topographical zone, many basements have their own entryway, allowing homeowners to enter from their yard or garage, cleanse themselves in their basement, and then ascend their basement stairs refreshed. 

As Pittsburgh was historically an industrial town, toilets such as these were said to be used by steelworkers and miners: grimy from the day’s labor, they could use an exterior door to enter the basement directly from outside and use the basement’s shower and toilet before heading upstairs. This usage is largely unverified by historians. The Pittsburgh toilet may have been used to divert sewer backups out of the living space of the house. The toilet in the basement would overflow from the sewer backup because it is the lowest point in the system, and the mess would be relatively easy to clean compared to an upstairs bathroom. 

And so my dear friends, I hope you enjoyed this little journey and tidbits of memories. In this difficult time, a diversion is always a good thing. Be safe, stay well, and in the meantime, stay at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                          

Posted in Uncategorized | 42 Comments

Dateline 1918 – The Spanish Flu Pandemic

Please note: Some of the newspaper articles appear to be small and might be difficult to read. If you encounter that problem, just click on the article, position the magnifying glass over the article and press enter. by doing so, you will be able to increase the magnification and improve the readability. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Jim


I would assume that we all have been watching the media coverage of the spread of the Corona Virus COVIC-19.  I hope that you are taking the recommended precautions to keep yourself safe and well.  However, as I continued to listen to the news of the spread, it reminded me of a Duquesne News article that I had bookmarked a number of years ago. There has never been a more appropriate time or reason to share it with you than now, with the growing worldwide health concerns that we are experiencing.

Did you know that almost 102 years ago, the City of Duquesne suffered from the devastating effects of another global pandemic? Known as the Spanish Flu (H1N1 virus) Pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, about one-third of the planet’s population, and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.

In Duquesne, in a period of just 7 weeks, 266 people lost their lives as a result of influenza. The sickness did not discriminate between the young and old. Older citizens as well as infants and children perished. The wealthy of Duquesne as well as those who barely eked by financially, fell victim to the Spanish Flu.

In this post, I have assembled a number of articles from the Duquesne Times that reported on the horror of the disease and the effects on the residents. The similarities on the timing and spreading of the virus appears to be remarkably comparable to the current timeline and spread of the Coronavirus.

On page 6 of the September 27, 1918 edition of The Duquesne Times, the existence of The Spanish Flu was first mentioned. In a column that published reports and letters from enlisted Duquesne boys battling in World War I, young Earl R Shultz wrote from Orleans, France:

                                                                      

On October 4, 1918, just one week after the report about Earl Shultz’s battle with the Spanish Flu,  the first report of the deadly influenza actually arriving in Duquesne was published. This time the information was front page news, but the article’s diminutive size and downplayed content, didn’t really provide a sense of urgency or concern.


One week after the initial anouncement that the Spanish Flu had arrived in Duquesne, the tone of the news took a dramatic and frightening turn. The suspected cases of the influenza had grown to 274 people in a little over one week, with no signs of relenting.

I found the section of the article titled “Donts For Influ” particularly interesting. The recommendations to guard against the flu were virtually identical to those that the CDC is recommended for the Coronavirus! Common sense prevails 102 years later!

  • Avoid needless crowding
  • Smother your coughs and sneezes
  • The three C’s: clean mouth, clean skin, clean clothes
  • Wash your hands

The following week’s edition of The Duquesne Times continued to report the dire situation in Duquesne. Buy October 18, 1918, there were 0ver 1200 residents who were sickened by the disease. The front page of the paper contained a proclamation by Mayor James S. Crawford urging people to follow the guideline of the public health officials and were warned to not place any credence in the false reports and rumors about the malady.

 

Front page headlines of The Duquesne News announced the toll of the epidemic for the following weeks as the death toll rose and well as providing hope as the number of people contracting the disease began to wane. Coupled with the jubilation felt with the surrender of Germany on November 11, 1918, life was returning to normal  in Duquesne.

 

 

 

 

Finally, I am posing the published names and ages of victim of the pandemic. I am sure they are not all inclusive, but may answer some of the questions you might have about your ancestors.

                                                           

And so, in closing, I wish you all well. Please pay careful attention to the guidelines provided by the CDC and your local authorities. I am so looking forward to hearing from you after our current problem passes.

Be well my friends!

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Happy Hunky New Year’s Eve

I’m reminded of the old adage, “Hindsight Is 20-20” as the new decade and new year approaches. I suppose one of the reasons is rather apparent since the New Year will actually be 2020. The less obvious reflection however, is that the beliefs and traditions of our culture and of our family helped to build the person we have each become. Certainly eating certain foods or celebrating an important occasion in a long-held traditional way didn’t magically change or enhance the course of our lives. However, embracing our roots, learning about our culture, learning the importance of strong family units and incorporating their values HAS made a difference in many lives.

My immediate family as well as my entire extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles andNYE cousins would gather on New Years Eve to celebrate the arrival of the new year. When I was very young, the party would be a mixture of family members from both my mother’s and father’s sides. It was held at our house, and would include the obligatory “shots and beer” for my uncles and the very proper “whisky sours’ for my aunts. We kids would enjoy either our Mission Grape or Mission Orange, or our choice of any Regent pop flavor we would like.

Finger food would be set out on our dining room table during the early evening and would include beet-pickled eggs; vegetable trays including radishes, green onions and olives; cold cuts of chipped ham, cold kielbasa, and jumbo (bologna); rye bread, sandwich rolls, swiss cheese and various condiments. Various homemade baked goods, including nut and poppyseed rolls and cold dough apricot horns would dot the table as well. Amazingly, the food would sit for hours upon hours on the table without any means of refrigeration and yet never cause anyone to get sick.

As the party progressed, the record player would be cranked-up with the Big Band soundpick-yourself-up of Glenn Miller, the romantic strings of Mantovani, or the velvety smooth voice of Nat King Cole or Perry Como. In what had to be the tiniest dance floor ever, our living room, the adults would manage to do their best Fred and Ginger impression and dance the year away as if no one was watching. I remember sitting on the steps to our second floor and just watching the grow-ups having the best of times. Inevitably, one of my aunts would glace at the stairs and see me sitting there. Then, in her best whiskey sour enhanced voice, she would invite me to dance with her. I of course, being the brave little kid I was, would run like hell up the steps and hide in my room!

As the midnight hour approached, I remember that everyone would take part in a custom that must have had its roots in the Croatian culture. Before the strike of midnight, everyone would be sure that they had placed a coin in their right shoe. This would supposedly bring good luck and wealth to each person. I’ve come to realize that wealth wasn’t necessarily measured financially, but perhaps more so as the abundance of our family’s love and caring for one another. To this day, I still try to remember to place that coin in my shoe on New Year’s Eve, using the dime my mother placed in her shoe on her wedding day.

After the countdown to the new year, the hugs, the kisses, the shots, and the ladies enjoying a glass of Cook’s Champagne, dinner was served. Any decent hunky worth their salt, knew that it was a compulsory tradition to begin the new year with a meal of pork and sauerkraut. The meal had been slowly simmering during the festivities, and would be served up for each party-goer to enjoy. The flavor would be enhanced with the addition of kielbasa and a sprinkling of red kidney beans in the kraut. Large chunks of rye bread with slabs of butter completed the meal. Everyone inhaled the food as if would bring all of the luck they would need for the new year. In reality, it served the dual purpose of helping to mitigate the effects of partying hearty before they hit the road.

New Year’s Eve celebrations took a dramatic turn for my family as 1965 turned into 1966. In November of 1965, my mother suffered a major heart attack that immediately claimed her life. Mom was 42, I was 13 at the time, and my brother Steve, 16. Although my dad did his best to provide a happy holiday for us that year, Mom’s death had devastated us and joyfulness as sadly missing during the holidays of 1965. There weren’t any New Year’s celebrations that year, not only for my immediate family, but likewise for our entire extended families of aunts, uncles and cousins. I remember each and every sibling of my mother and father visiting our home, along with their entire family, each and every day through the Epiphany on January 6th. Although I have tried hard to forget how distressing that holiday season was, I know I’ll never be able to.

After my mother’s death, my dad was a different guy for many, many years. He smiled and laughed less, he worried more, and he struggled to give my brother and I the best upbringing and guidance he could. He did so well, but it took its toll. It wasn’t until many years later that we finally convinced him to try to enjoy Christmas and New Year’s Eve more. For a few years, he would join his friends at the Croatian Club, or Slovak Club, or the GBU to toast in the New Year, but that soon grew old.

Years later, the family wide New Year’s started up again, this time at the home of one of my dad’s brother and his wife. It became the tradition to celebrate at Uncle Hank and Aunt Clare’s for countless years afterward. My Aunt Clare’s nephew played the guitar with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, and we would sit and watch him play at the Waldorf Astoria televised party each New Year’s Eve.

I hold all of those special times with my relatives near and dear to my heart. Year by year, fewer and fewer people attended the New Year’s celebration. Sadly, people passed away, moved away, grew-up and began traditions of their own, or just opted for quiet New Year’s Eves at home. But to me, New Year’s will eternally be the memory of my mom and dad dancing in our living room to the sound of Nat King Cole.

__________________________________________________

TraditionsWhile I was sharing my memories of New Year’s Eve, perhaps it conjured up some memories of your own. Although many traditions are shared amongst Eastern European Cultures, some are unique to only a few.

I found the following article that addresses the variety of ways New Year’s Eve is celebrated in Eastern Europe. The article was written by Barbara Rolek, and is jam packed with foods and traditions of many Eastern European cultures.

__________________________________________________

 

How Eastern Europeans Celebrate New Year’s

By Barbara Rolek  Updated 10/02/19

New Year Celebration – Vstock / Getty Images

Along with people worldwide, Eastern Europeans welcome in the New Year with revelry and special foods thought to bring good luck, health, and prosperity. Be sure to click on any of the purple links to learn more about the food or the tradition.

Lucky Foods

  • Fish, especially those with silver scales, are thought to symbolize money. Pickled herring is a must for Poles at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
  • Greens, usually cabbage, are associated with money and, thus, thought to bring good fortune. Eating cabbage probably worked its way into New Year lore because it is a late-fall crop and the best way to preserve it for the winter was by turning it into sauerkraut. Brining cabbage typically takes six to eight weeks, and would be perfect to eat around New Year. Sauerkraut‘s long strands also symbolize a long life.
  • Legumes, lentils, and peas also symbolize money as their appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked.
  • Poppy seedsare considered a lucky food in Poland, so you will find them throughout the cuisine and especially on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
  • Pork‘s rich fat content symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Pork is also considered a symbol of progress because pigs root forward. Spit-roasted pig is common, as is roast pork loin, sausages and more. The tradition of eating pork probably has more to do with slaughter times than ensuring good fortune.
  • Ring-shaped foods like cookies, doughnuts, and bagelssymbolize the year coming full circle and represent eternity.

What Not to Eat

Lobster and crab are considered bad luck because they move backward and could lead to setbacks. Chicken is also a no-no because they scratch backward, and eating any winged fowl is disadvised because this could portend one’s good luck flying away.

Bulgarian New Year Traditions

Štastliva (or Chestita) Nova Godina—Happy New Year in Bulgarian

In Bulgaria, New Year celebrations are week-long affairs featuring processions, musical festivals, carnivals, and sporting events. New Year’s Eve is spent visiting friends, making merry, eating lucky foods and making toasts with rakia (grape brandy) and other potent potables.

New Year’s Day is St. Basil’s feast day or vassilyovden when the health-wishing custom of survaki (also known as sourvakari) is observed. Twigs or small branches of the cornel (dogwood) tree, called survaknitsa (also known as sourvachka), are decorated with brightly colored papers. Children brandish their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles with these twigs, wishing them well for the new year. In return, the children are rewarded with nuts, candies, and coins. Alternatively, the men of the village go from house to house to do the blessing.

New Year is also celebrated by wearing new clothes—out with the old and in with the new. New Year’s Day dinner is a lavish affair, as the richer the spread, the more fruitful the coming year will be. A ritual bread is decorated with religious symbols or vines and hives made of bread dough, and a special place is saved for a cheese banitza (also spelled banitsa) with baked-in cornel (dogwood) buds symbolizing home, family and livestock, and promising good health for the coming year.

In western Bulgaria, the central Balkans and in some regions along the Danube River, the custom of ladouvane (also known as koumichene) is observed on New Year’s Eve by women wishing to get married. In the rest of the country, it is celebrated on Midsummer Day. The maidens of the village drop symbols of fertility—rings tied with red string to a spray of fresh ivy or basil, oats and barley—into a kettle full of spring water on Dec. 30. The kettle is left overnight in the open, under the stars and, on New Year’s Eve, following a ritual dance around it, the girls’ fortunes are told.

For Orthodox Christian Bulgarians, who follow the Julian calendar, New Year’s Eve and Day are celebrated Jan. 13-14.

Croatian New Year Traditions

Sretna Nova Godina—Happy New Year in Croatian

In Croatia, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with parties in houses, hotels, discos and public squares. Fireworks on the stroke of midnight are common in the larger cities of Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split. Lucky foods eaten include sarma, spit-roasted pig (pecenka), and fish and seafood for those living along the Dalmatian coast. Cevapciciajvarburek, coldcut trays, strudelsnut rolls, and so much more are also eaten on New Year’s Day, according to the family’s preferences.

Czech New Year Traditions

Stastny Novy Rok—Happy New Year in Czech

As in Poland, New Year’s Eve is known as St. Sylvester’s Day because it is the saint’s feast day. And, since Prague was his place of birth, the tie is even stronger in The Czech Republic.

New Year’s Eve is party time with various chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches), nuts, brambůrky (homemade potato chips) and other snacks. Midnight is celebrated by drinking šampaňské (champagne) or some other local sparkling wine. Some Czechs eat vepřový ovar (boiled pork head) with se strouhaným křenem a jablky (grated horseradish and apples) at midnight.

On New Year’s Day, cočka (lentils), a symbol of money, are eaten along with pork and leftover vánoční cukrový.

Hungarian New Year Traditions

Boldog új Evet—Happy New Year in Hungarian

After being carried around the village, effigies of Jack Straw, a scapegoat representing the evils and misfortunes of the past year, are burned on Szilveszter or New Year’s Eve. In big cities, there are public celebrations and parties where young and old dance away the night. There is also a New Year’s ball and concert at the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. Street vendors sell masks and noisemakers for the children.

On New Year’s Day, roast suckling pig and lencse fõzelék (lentil soup) are served—both considered lucky foods. While other cultures eat fish because the silver scales are reminiscent of money, eating fish in Hungary is considered unlucky because they will swim away with one’s good fortune.

Lithuanian New Year Traditions

Laimingų Naujųjų Metų — Happy New Year in Lithuanian. In some regions of Lithuania, New Year’s Eve is known as “little Christmas Eve,” and foods similar to those served for Christmas Eve are eaten, except the dishes contain meat. People stay up until midnight because sleeping through the beginning of the new year will bring bad luck. An important part of New Year’s Eve and Day is the telling of fortunes and making predictions.

Polish New Year Traditions

Szczesliwego Nowego Roku—Happy New Year in Polish
New Year’s Eve is known as Sylwester because it falls on the feast day of St. Sylvester. Poles party hearty with good food and drink.

New Year’s Day festivities might include a hayride into the forest where a bonfire is set and sausages, bigos and wodka are enjoyed. Bakers sell bread and rolls in the shape of rabbits, sheep, geese, and cows to assure wealth and good luck for the coming year. Round or ring-shaped bread are also popular because they symbolize life coming full circle and eternity, and pączki are served for dessert. Sylwester begins Carnival—a period of balls and parties before Lent begins.

Romanian New Year Traditions

Un An Nou Fericit (or La Mulţi Ani)—Happy New Year in Romanian
In Romania, lucky foods include sarmale (cabbage rolls) and mititei (a free-formed sausage). The New Year dinner is lavish because it is believed if the meal is rich, so will be the new year. Palinca (plum brandy) is a traditional beverage. Fortune telling is an important part of Romanian New Year customs.

Russian New Year Traditions

S Novim Godom—Happy New Year in Russian
Russian Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day Jan. 13-14. But for those who abide by the government’s New Year based on the Gregorian calendar, it is celebrated Dec. 31-Jan. 1.

Public celebrations, fireworks, drinking vodka and champagne, partying in clubs or in private homes with an abundance of zakuski or “little bites” (appetizers) is traditional.

On New Year’s Day, a sumptuous meal of roast duck, caviarsalad olivier, fish in aspic, mushrooms in creamnut cookies, New Year Clock Cake, and sbiten, a hot, non-alcoholic or alcoholic spiced drink, are consumed.

Serbian New Year Traditions

Srecna Nova Godina—Happy New Year in Serbian

Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians who celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day on Jan. 13-14, according to the Julian calendar. There is an abundance of food and drink, including sarma, spit-roasted pig, tortesnut rollsstrudels, and desserts galore. Rakija, a powerful drink of grape brandy, sometimes blended with whiskey and spices, is traditional at this time of year.

Christmas trees are decorated and presents given on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Deda Mraz (Grandpa Frost) visits houses and leaves presents under the tree.

Slovak New Year Traditions

Štastný Nový Rok—Happy New Year in Slovak

New Year’s Eve in Slovakia is celebrated with street and home parties. New Year’s Day dinner might include roast gooseklobása and jaternica sausages. Strudels with nut or poppy seed fillings are popular desserts. Read more about Slovak festivals here

Slovenian New Year Traditions

Srečno Novo Leto—Happy New Year in Slovenian

Outdoor parties with live bands are typical in the larger cities. Feasting is on pork and many rich desserts like Prekmurska Gibanica or potica on New Year’s Day.

Ukrainian New Year Tradition

Z Novym Rokom—Happy New Year in Ukrainian

Feasting on fish, pork, legumes, holubtsi (cabbage rolls), pampushki (stuffed and fried potato ball), cakes and other confections are a big part of Ukrainian New Year’s Eve and Day festivities. Ukrainians, who follow the Julian calendar, celebrate on Jan. 13-14 (although, as in Russia, the national New Year is technically Jan. 1).

Families gather to reflect on the past year, make toasts and predictions about the coming year, and presents are exchanged. Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, pay a visit.

About the Author:

Barbara Rolek is a former writer for The Spruce who contributed hundreds of articles and recipes for more than eight years. For the past 25 years, she has been a food editor, food writer, and restaurant critic for daily newspapers and magazines including the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. Barbara worked as an executive chef and pastry chef for more than 15 years at fine-dining establishments and the commissary of a grocery store chain where she instituted the home-meal replacement program.

In addition to her writing, Barbara shares her love of cooking with students at The Cooking Academy of Chicago, Ivy Tech State College and mentoring the Careers through Culinary Arts Program at Corliss High School in Chicago. Her teaching philosophy is to demystify culinary concepts with streamlined techniques and a user-friendly approach to cooking.

Barbara is a graduate of Chicago’s Washburne Culinary Institute, one of the oldest cooking schools in the nation, where she won a scholarship from the Anheuser-Busch company and distinguished herself with outstanding performance as a student.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

VILIJA – Slovak Christmas Feast

My mother was Croatian, my father was Slovak. As a result, I was immersed in two different Eastern European cultures, each with their own set of traditions. It seems that these traditions came to the forefront during the holiday season.

As a Slovak, I was fortunate to be able experience one of the most beloved Christmas traditions, the Vilija (pronounced vă – lē´ -yă.) Vilija is the traditional Christmas eve gathering and dinner that is rich with traditional foods, religious symbolism and family.

The vilija continues to this day in my family, and although the venue may have changed, the traditions and symbolism remains intact. What an incredible testimony and homage to the parents, grandparents and hunky culture that helped to set our moral compass.

As part of this posting, I have included a 2005 article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Karin Welzel. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the tradition, the content and the meaning behind the celebration. Rather than be redundant, allow me to give you my impressions and memories of the event as I experienced it in the 50’s.

The vilija always took place at my Uncle Gary and Aunt Helen’s home in West Mifflin. Just like a scene from “A Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I remember entering their house and immediately getting drawn into the crowd of family that were already preparing the feast.

Their home was always decked out with Christmas decorations galore and every light in the house seemed to be burning. Usually, by Christmas eve in Western Pennsylvania, the weather had usually taken a definite turn and it was normally either snowing or on the verge of doing so. For that reason, whenever I entered their home, it felt so toasty warm compared to the outdoors. Their windows were usually steamed up from all of the cooking that was occurring and from the cranked-up thermostat (Grandma was always cold you know). And then there were the smells! The freshly cut Christmas tree scent hit me as soon as I entered the house. (It must have been the magic aspirins!) Combined with the smell of fresh pine was the amazing aroma emanating from the kitchen and dining room.

All of my aunts were buzzing around a rather cramped kitchen preparing all of the traditional foods. Somehow, all of the foods which were part of our every day lives growing up as a hunky smelled so much better on Christmas Eve!  Stuffed cabbages, pirogies, kielbasa and poppy seed rolls smelled like food for the gods! I was a very picky eater in those days, but somehow, a became a modern day foodie during the vilija.

My uncles had the responsibility of creating a dining surface large enough to accommodate our ever growing family. Since my dad was one of 8 children, the number of people attending was quite large. There was no such thing as a “kids table” in those days, so the eating surface had to accommodate approximately 25 people PLUS the feast itself. The table was usually assembled using two tables which supported large sheets of plywood. It was at least 16 feet long, extended from the dining room into the living room and was always covered with crisp white linens. There were never any decorations on the table, only food, lots and lots of food! The chairs that surrounded the table were a potpourri of chairs from around the house, the out-of-town neighbors and often times from St. Michael’s Church hall. Your seat may not have matched with the neighboring chair, but every family member had their place.

The timing of the dinner was very strategic. It was essential that we ate and were finished with dinner by 6 p.m. In those days, it was important that we allowed for the correct about of time before receiving communion at midnight mass. The Roman Catholic Church has very specific rules governing communion.

Grandpa would always begin the vilija with a blessing. This would be followed by the passing of oplatky (non-blessed communion bread). We would pass a large square piece of oplatky and each person would break a small piece off to be consumed in unison at the end of Grandpa’s blessing. I remember tha the oplatky would always come to the table in an envelop that was decorated with a colorful representation of the birth of Christ.

Once we had taken our oplatky, the feast began. With amazing speed and dexterity, plates and bowls of food were passed around the table and plates were loaded up to the max. Jokes, teasing, memories, and plans for the holidays were just some of the discussions that occurred during the meal. My dad would always be yelled at by my mom and my Aunt Helen for something he might have said to instigate some trouble, but that was expected, and welcome. After the main courses were completed, out came platters and platters of goodies. Poppyseed, apricots and walnuts seemed to be part of every creation. Each would probably be capable of clogging any artery in the room, but somehow, it either didn’t happen or didn’t matter in those days. Naivety was bliss in those days.

Once the dinner was over, my aunts would begin clean-up. Sexist or not, that was the way it was in those days. The men would gather and have some celebratory “shots” and beers, the kids would share their wish lists with each other and the ladies would clean-up the remnants of the feast. There seemed to be an unspoken exception to the communion rule in our family that shots and beers didn’t count when it came to abstaining before communion. Go figure.

After everything was in order, each family departed to get ready for midnight mass at their own parish church. Fully stuffed and raring to go, the remainder of the Christmas Eve activities still laid ahead.

More later………

 

Celebrate Slovak Style

By Karin Welzel
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, December 11, 2005

From the straw scattered under the dining table to the honey that is spread onto thin oplatky to share among diners, the Slovak Christmas Eve meal — called the Vilija table — abounds with religious symbolism.

Christmas Eve is the most awaited day of the Christmas holiday season, according to Albina and Joseph Senko of Mt. Lebanon, members of Western Pennsylvania’s Slovak community.

“The big day is Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day,” says Albina Senko, a native of Spis in Slovakia. She is a director of the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association, founded by her husband in 1997.

A certified public accountant with McKeever Varga & Senko and a certified financial planner, Joseph Senko also is honorary consul to the Slovak Republic.

The Senkos continue to observe the customs and traditions of their ancestry — Joseph Senko was born in Pittsburgh to Slovakian immigrants — and have made it a personal mission to educate Slovak-Americans and the general public about their culture. They are Roman Catholic, as are most of the inhabitants, but they say Byzantine and Orthodox Rite worshipers might follow similar traditions. Slovakia features a wide variety of dialects and customs, varying from region to region, village to village, family to family.

Albina Senko has her home decorated Slovak-style, including a table-size tree festooned with edible ornaments, such as whole walnuts and wrapped candy. There are intricate ornaments made from straw. On larger trees many years ago, family members used apples, paper roses and candles for decorations, too. The top of the tree often was a star made from straw.

Slovak cooks are busy on Christmas Eve, Albina Senko says. Sauerkraut-mushroom or pea soup, bobalky (sweet dough dumplings) and a variety of fish are a must, as well as meatless pirohy, to maintain the fast observed by the faithful during Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

In anticipation of the celebration, hay or straw is placed under the tablecloth or under the table — or both places — to symbolize the poverty of Christ in a humble manger. Some families place straw in the center of the Advent candle wreath, Albina Senko says, and a figure of the baby Jesus is placed on top.

The table is covered with a white cloth as a symbol of the swaddling clothes of the Christ child. Another tradition is to set an extra place setting to receive a stranger or in honor of a deceased loved one.

The dinner starts at the sighting of the first star of the evening.

“You tell the youngest child to look for it — it may be that it’s just to keep them occupied, because there is a lot of expectation,” says Albina, adding that there is just as much merriment at her house for Christmas Eve now as when her six children were small. She has grandchildren who are excited about the lights, the dinner and gifts.

After the house and table are blessed using a pine bough and holy water, a mulled red wine steeped with cinnamon sticks or herbs and honey is served to diners. Albina Senko sweetens her wine with cranberry juice, cinnamon-sugar and a dash of nutmeg.

The ceremony then focuses on a waferlike “bread” called oplatky (altar bread) that is broken, dipped in honey and distributed to each family member, starting with the husband to his wife. The head of the household dips his thumb in honey and makes the sign of the cross on the foreheads of each member of the household so they will be reminded to keep Christ foremost in their thoughts and praying that harmony will sweeten their lives.

Part of this ceremony focuses on daughters who are eligible for marriage.

Says Albina Senko: “The mother takes honey on her finger, makes a cross on their heads and says, ‘May you be sweet and find a husband soon!’ I did it with my own daughters.”

The next course usually is a tart soup — sauerkraut and mushroom is a popular choice — to represent the bitter destiny of Christ and his suffering for humanity. The family then loads up their plates with bobalky, sweet dough balls baked and mixed with sauerkraut or poppy seeds, symbolic of a plentiful crop. Joseph Senko likes a topping of cottage cheese on them, too.

Platters display a variety of fish that has been floured and quickly sauteed in oil. Because Slovakia is land-locked, carp and trout are common, but Albina Senko likes white fish such as tilapia to grace her table.

Also served are pirohy stuffed with fillings ranging from sauerkraut to cheese and potato; and English peas, which represent a bountiful growing season. Albina Senko folds peas into a mayonnaise-rich potato salad; other families fold peas into hot mashed potatoes. Holubky are cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice.

The Vilija ends on a sweet note, with nut and poppy seed rolls. Walnuts in the shell and apples also are placed on the table.

None of the foods contain meat, still keeping with the Advent fast.

To wrap up the meal sweetly, Slovaks traditionally serve kolaci, pastry rolls made with sweet dough filled with poppy seeds, dried fruit or nuts.

In recognition of the empty seat at the table, none of the food is removed from the table after the diners are finished. “It’s for the people who couldn’t be there,” Albina Senko says. Before midnight in Slovakia, the animals in the barns are given remnants of the meal — the food from the table is supposed to make them healthy and productive for the coming year.

The Senkos host tours regularly to Slovakia to acquaint Americans with their culture. Albina Senko is a retired travel tour operator, as well as a frequent translator for Slovakian visitors and officials who visit Pittsburgh. It is their wish to improve the lives of their countrymen across the sea and bring Slovakian culture into the homes of the general public.

These traditional dishes of a Slovak Christmas Eve table feature simple, earthy ingredients — plus a bevy of sweets.

Slovak Christmas Eve Soup
(Sauerkraut Soup)

This recipe is adapted from one by Albina Senko, a native Slovakian who lives in Mt. Lebanon. Senko is from Spis in the northeast region of the Carpathian Mountains. Although Slovakia is only about the size of West Virginia , with 5.5 million people, Senko says, there is a lot of variety in customs among the towns and villages.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 can (16 ounces) sauerkraut, drained but rinsed only lightly
  • Water
  • Paprika, to taste
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube, optional
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and mushrooms and saute until translucent. Add the drained sauerkraut, water to cover the sauerkraut, paprika, salt, black pepper and the bouillon cube, if desired. Let simmer — do not boil — adding more water so you still have broth.

Add the carrot and potato and simmer until tender, for about 15 to 20 minutes, adding more water as needed to keep a souplike consistency.

Bobalky

These bite-sized dumplings can be made from frozen and thawed sweet bread dough to save time. Form portions of the dough into 1-inch rolls, then cut small pieces and bake. The National Slovak Society offers this recipe.

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting board
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing baking sheet
  • About 2 cups tap water
  • Boiling water

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Add the salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let set to proof, for about 10 minutes.

Sift together the flour and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Add the yeast mixture, 1/4 cup oil and enough of the 2 cups tap water to make a workable dough. Knead well. Let the dough rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, grease a cookie sheet with oil.

Punch down the dough. Cut off portions of the dough about the size of an egg. Roll each out on a floured board by hand to make rolls about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces on the prepared cookie sheet and let rise for about 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the dumplings for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool, then separate. Place in a colander and pour boiling water over them. Drain quickly to prevent sogginess.

Combine these mixtures with half of the bobalky.

Sauerkraut: Saute 1 small onion, chopped, in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add 1 pound drained sauerkraut. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add to half of the bobalky.

Poppy seeds: Combine 1 cup ground poppy seeds, 2 tablespoons honey and 1/4 cup water. Add to the remaining bobalky.

Oplatky

Commercially prepared Oplatky — the thin wafers coated with honey and then broken at dinner on Christmas Eve and shared among diners — is available from specialty food markets, Slovak and Polish churches and can be purchased through the Internet. Or, you can make your own, using a hot iron form or mold. This recipe is from the National Slovak Society.

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups cold milk
  • 3 3/4 cups cold water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until the mixture has a “pancake” batter texture — smooth and thin. Pour small portions — about a heaping tablespoon — onto a very hot iron form or mold.

Makes 98 oplatky, about 5 inches in size.

The Slovak Christmas Eve dinner does not contain dairy or animal products because the day before the Feast of the Nativity is one of strict fast and spiritual preparation. Here are some foods likely to be served. Their appearance depends upon whether the family is Roman Catholic, Byzantine or Orthodox.

Bandurky — Potatoes, usually boiled, to which onions sauteed in oil have been added. Many families prepare potatoes that are mashed and mixed with peas or prunes.

Bobalky — Small balls of dough prepared with honey and poppy seeds or sauerkraut

Borscht — Beet soup sometimes prepared with cabbage

Fasolji — Prepared brown bean paste spread onto bread

Garlic — Eaten raw on the Christmas bread dipped in honey, intended to keep away the evil spirits

Holuby — Cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice

Hribi — Mushrooms sauteed with onions in oil

Kapusta i bandurky — Sauerkraut mixed with grated potatoes

Kasa — Rice, sometimes served as a separate dish with zapraska or macanka over it as a gravy

Kvasna Kapusta — Sauerkraut

Loksa (Loksha) — Unraised biscuits

Med — Honey, symbolic of the sweetness of being with the Lord.

Mezanec — An unleavened Christmas bread usually dipped in honey and eaten with a slice of raw garlic

Orehi — Nuts

Pagac — Two layers of dough between which cabbage or potatoes have been spread, then baked

Pirohy (often spelled pierogies) — Dough packets filled with sauerkraut, potatoes, sweet cabbage or prunes

Riba — Fish, usually a white fish baked or smoked, which is symbolic of the Christian faith because Christ was the fisher of men

Sol — Salt

Suseni slivki — Stewed prunes

Zapraska — A thick brown sauce used to prepare various soups and gravies. Among the soups prepared with Zapraska base:

Macanka (Machanka)— A thick mushroom soup

Sauerkraut Soup, with sauerkraut juice added. Usually single ingredients such as green beans, peas, lima beans, mushrooms or butter beans can be added.

Lima Bean Soup

Mushroom-Sauerkraut Soup

Green Split Pea Soup

Caraway Soup

Green Bean Soup

Rice and Mushroom Soup

— National Slovak Society, Canonsburg

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Christmas in Duquesne – 100 Years Ago

Postcard

Merry Christmas everybody! I am so excited and ready to start Christmas Eve 2019 100% prepared for the big event. Our house is decorated, the meals are ready to go, holiday cookies are finished, the house is cleaned, the shopping is done, and all of the gifts are wrapped. It only took my wife and me 41 years to finally get it right!

As you all finish your preparations for all of the celebrations of this holiday season, I hope you can find some quiet moments to scroll through time with me. Technology works wonders for so many things, and this post contains just one example of how it can be used to conjure up images of our hometown that we couldn’t have imagined and definitely didn’t experience.

What you will find on the following pages is the complete December 23, 1919 issue of the Duquesne Times. The twenty pages of this issue paint a picture of an amazing, vibrant city that is alive with industry, commerce and community spirit. I was amazed at the number of businesses that were thriving in Duquesne at the time. It is so difficult to imagine. When you look at some of the advertisements, they make Duquesne look virtually Cosmopolitan! Be sure to zoom in closer to the pages to enjoy every bit. Take time to read some of the Letters to Santa, perhaps written by your grandparents, and check out the prices of some of the items. There are some business names that are vaguely familiar, but so many faded away through the years that few will actually be remembered.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of the season, maybe this would be a good time to grab a hot cup of coffee or a warm hot chocolate and read through this 100 year old issue of the Times. Imagine walking along Grant Avenue or First Streets cobbled stones and peering into the festive windows of merchant after merchant ready to provide a warm welcome and special selections of holiday gifts. It goes without saying that there is a soft snowfall enveloping the city as the hustle and bustle of Christmas ensues and as you enjoy the read.

Enjoy! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy Kwanza to all of you Duquesne Hunkys at heart!

1919 ty 2

 

1919_1223_Page_01_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_02_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_03_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_04_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_05_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_06_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_07_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_08_Image_00011919_1223_Page_15_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_16_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_17_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_18_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_19_Image_0001

1919_1223_Page_20_Image_0001

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Golden Christmas Gift

Blue Tree

2019 has been a trying year for this Duquesne Hunky, but I have persevered and I am hoping to be able to able to post on a more consistant basis. As much as  many of you have written that you miss my posts, I assure you that I have missed writing them all the more.

Several months ago, I heard from from a Duquesne High School graduate, Marilyn Stys Colditz, who offered to allow me to borrow her collection of Duquesne High School’s “The Echo” monthly school newpapers. Until now, they have sat patiently waiting for their re-introduction to the good people of Duquesne. So what better time that Christmas to post a 50th Anniversary publication of The Echo – December 1969! Enjoy the read and all of the memories, more priceless than ever! Thank you Marilyn, know that you have put a great big smile of many peoples faces this Christmas!

A GOLDEN CHRISTMAS GIFT

HS GOLD

 

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Page 6

Page 7

Page 8

Page 9

Page 10

Page 11

Page 12

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments