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52 Ancestors – 52 Weeks: Week 14

Disclaimer: Apologies for jumping from week 3 to week 14, but my latest course at Salt Lake Community College consumed me, and I could not find the time.

The theme for this week is “Begins with a vowel”:

I have an affinity for the letter E. I am in the “E Club” with my brother Eric and the club founder, our grandma, Eleanor.

Gram is one of my favorite people I have ever known. She had a birthday this week on April 4th. Eleanor was born in South Chicago to Anthony Bolke and Anna Kasun. She had nine siblings and one half-sister. I have been lucky to connect with some of the extended family.

When I was a kid, my parents were often working, and I stayed at Gram’s house. She lived on 41st and Archer by Kelly High School in Chicago’s Brighton Park, which my brother and I would later attend.

I was so comfortable at Gram’s house. I felt like the world was ours. She loved to walk, and we trekked many miles. She always picked up pennies from the ground and considered them good luck. We would shop at the Archer Big Store, the Polish Deli, and McCrory’s. The latter she called a “dime store,” and I had no idea what that meant. After our adventures, it would be time to “stop off” and eat at the Golden Heart diner.

Staying up late was normal as Gram was a night owl. Sometimes when she watched Johnny Carson, she asked me to remove the bobby pins from her curly bright auburn hair. I didn’t know anyone else in the world with such a color. I tried to be careful, but I remember some expletives when I was rough. It was funny when she said those words because she would laugh.

The constant aromas in her house were coffee, cigarettes, and mothballs if I hid in the closet. The biggest one was her perfume. She knew not to use too much because, in her words, she did not want to “smell like a French whore.”

After my sister Jaz was born, Gram lived with us in McKinley Park. That meant Archview became our new diner. She slept on the bottom bunk with my sister. It was a delight to have her as a roommate. I took great pride in the fact that Gram was calm and cool. She was modern and fun and did not think or act like an old lady. Her personality was immense, and everyone noticed her when she was around.

Right before my brother Eric was born, Gram moved out. Fortunately, she lived only a few blocks away. I went to Gram’s house on my first day of high school. She was insistent on giving me some money so I could treat myself. She was proud when I appeared in the neighborhood newspaper (Brighton Park-McKinley Park LIFE) and attended my graduation.

It’s going on twenty years without her. She got me interested in my family history. I know she had a hard life beginning with losing her mother at barely two years old. It was remarkable that she was not a heavy or sad person, at least to me. She loved living her life. My sister took her kids to Archview on Gram’s birthday. It was the perfect way to remember her and share her love.

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