John with his mother,
Josephine, on the day
of his First Communion,
June 12, 1938
Dad lives with my mom, Evelyn, in Ocala, Florida, an ideal place for retired people who have had enough of the snow, ice, and cold of northern Illinois winters. Before moving there, though, he spent his entire life in the area just southwest of Chicago, Illinois.
Born in Joliet to Polish immigrant parents, Dad was the youngest of seven children, five boys and two girls. He was raised Catholic, attended St. Thaddeus School, and was an altar boy. In that capacity he often sang, and participated in many funerals. His parents spoke Polish; and it was also taught in school, so he was bilingual, but now says that he's forgotten much of the Polish that he knew. Although his father played accordion, and most of his siblings took instrumental music lessons, Dad never learned an instrument or to read music. He sometimes tried later, especially as my sister, Vicky, and I both learned to play instruments in school. He very much enjoyed music and liked to sing popular songs, emulating the deep, lyric style that was his favorite.
Dad attended Joliet Township High School, where he graduated in 1944, just in time to be drafted for World War II in November of that year, at the age of 19. He served in the U.S. Army and his unit was sent to France to replace one that was wiped out. He was going to go to Japan next, but the dropping of "Little Boy" on Hiroshima canceled that move and he was sent home and discharged in August, 1946.
My parents met gradually, with my father noticing my mother on the city bus as he was heading to work at Deaton-Kennedy Printing Company and she was going to Joliet Junior College, in 1948. They eventually met, dated, got engaged, and, finally, married on June 19, 1954, my dad's twenty-eighth birthday. When I asked my mother what made her choose my father out of her various suitors, she said that he was the most persistent.
Dad was an excellent dancer and Mom says all she had to do was follow, as he was such a good leader. They made a beautiful couple, both being on the tall, slender side; and I used to watch them dance at weddings and parties. They made it look so easy. When I was very little, Dad would let me stand on his feet while he went through the steps, so it was like I was dancing, too.
He was good at just about everything he did, whether it was work or play, and he had plenty of leisure pursuits. Dad was quite a fisherman; and we often spent weekends out at a river or lake. We enjoyed many places along the Kankakee River, where I remember seeing Dad out in the middle of the river as he walked it, usually bringing back catfish for dinner. There were deep holes and shallows; and my father knew where they all were. He could read the river. He told me that being out in the middle of that wide expanse of water, with the forests on both sides, just watching nature in all her glory, was about the most spiritual experience he could think of. Fly tying was another of Dad's hobbies, and he would go fly casting for small mouth black bass at Forked Creek and the DuPage River. When I was old enough, I would sometimes paddle our canoe while he cast from the front.
Evelyn and John, 1954, Joliet, Illinois
Fishing and canoeing went hand in hand; and Dad was good at handling the boat, too. We enjoyed going to reclaimed strip mine areas, which had numerous clear lakes, stocked with fish. Shannon Shores was a wonderful recreation area where we spent time with relatives and friends, and even did some water skiing. An older strip mine with mature forests, called Lily Cache, was a rod and gun club to which we belonged for many years. Besides the usual fishing, we also used the canoe for gigging frogs, the legs of which were delicious on the grill.
Dad was a charter member of the Joliet East Side Athletic Club, which had champion softball and bowling teams. Always a good bowler, he still sometimes bowls games near 200. He's also quite capable at horseshoes. The East Side A.C. had a picnic every summer; and I was thrilled to watch my parents win the egg throw contest, or watch Dad play horseshoes. He was always ready to help me learn to play as well, showing me how to hold the horseshoe and try to throw it, even though it was way too heavy.
Chicago had all the major sports teams for baseball, football, hockey, and basketball, and Dad followed the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, and Bulls. I recall how listening to the baseball games on a little transistor radio out in our carport during the summer seemed to be a special part of the whole atmosphere of the long, warm days.
We spent a lot of time outdoors, whatever the season. Besides the previously mentioned fishing and canoeing, we went hiking, camping, and swimming in the summer, mushroom hunting every autumn, and ice skating in the winter. As with everything else he did, Dad was a good skater. I remember the sound of the crunching ice as his large frame weighed down the skates; and it sounded so confident and sure.
Dad with the kids, Vicky and Valerie,
spring of 1961, Joliet, Illinois
There were plenty of indoor pursuits as well, especially when visiting with relatives or during the long winter evenings. My parents would often work jigsaw puzzles, big ones that were the focal point of an evening spent enjoying conversation and visiting. On one occasion, I remember a combination of a little too much beer and the lateness of the hour combining to create an accident in which an almost finished, barely interlocking, 5000 piece puzzle ended up all over the floor. One game we had was a miniature hockey rink, with little metal players that could be manipulated by levers on each side. We all loved playing that one. Dad was a good poker player, often winning when he was out with his buddies. Even though I'm pretty good at word games, Dad can usually win at Scrabble.
We always had dogs; and Dad loved them. He told stories about his boyhood dog, Sparky. During the Depression, Sparky would sometimes bring home a chunk of meat that somebody had left outside to keep frozen in winter. Dad's mother would reason that there was no way they could find out who it belonged to. So they would just cook it for dinner. There was Rusty, a Labrador mix who accompanied my mother's family and my dad on all sorts of outings for many years. Dad also owned a beautiful German shepherd named Rocky who won all sorts of trophies and ribbons at dog shows, especially in obedience. The dog knew hand signals; and so my father would entertain his relatives by calling out commands in Polish, while also discretely giving the hand signals. When Rocky did everything he was "told" they were very impressed that the animal could understand Polish. Later, we raised and showed schnauzers, all spoiled rotten, especially by Dad. He adores Frisky and is the only person for whom she begs. (He just can't resist giving her treats.)
Val's graduation from the University of
Illinois, Urbana, May, 1981
Our first house was in Ingalls Park, Joliet. I can remember just a few specifics, including the swing set that Dad installed in the back yard for us, and also the Slip-N-Slide (a long, yellow piece of plastic with the hose running over it) that we enjoyed in the hottest part of the summer. Sometimes we would sleep out on cots in the screened in porch adjacent to our garage. One very early memory is watching, from that porch, the abstract form of my father as we could see his silhouette through the glass blocks of the shower at the back of the house. It was sort of like watching a cartoon, and fascinating bedtime entertainment.
Dad and my uncles built the next house we had, in Ranch Oaks, Manhattan, a small farming community outside Joliet. Although I was only about five years old, Dad showed me how to paint and let me help by doing the lower panel on the back garage door. He also built us a small play house, which had to be attached to our real house because of property restrictions. We used to enjoy archery practice out in our large back yard, using bales of hay for a target. Of course, Dad was good at that also, and didn't even get too mad when I accidentally shot the vegetables in the garden.
Evelyn and John, Christmas at
Larry and Val's house,
Austin, Texas, 1999
When my father changed jobs, we had to move closer to his new employment and so left our modern subdivision house for a nearly century old residence in the middle of town in Lemont. This was where my sister and I grew up, and where Mom and Dad lived until their retirement. While very different from our previous home, it was still wonderful, with plenty of outdoor recreation all around, being in the middle of the Cook County Forest Preserve District of Chicago, just about the largest county park system in the entire country.
Dad loves to garden; and his gardens in Lemont were very productive. He grew tomatoes, strawberries, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, cabbage, corn, raspberries, and even snowy white cauliflower. Combined with the crops gathered from the wild, we enjoyed all sorts of delicacies, like mushrooms, asparagus and black walnuts. Dad's favorite flowers were the magic lilies, which put on quite a show every year. Now that he lives in Florida, he's had to adjust his gardening to fit the entirely different climate, but still gets a lot of produce out of those small patches of earth.
The thing that Dad cherishes most is his family. He provided well for us, and took pride in our accomplishments through the years. I appreciate all he has done very much.
Happy Father's Day, Dad - and Happy Birthday.