Stroke City: Meet my Ancestors
Grandma and Grandpap Szczekocki died of a stroke, respectively, 64 and 72. They are obese people, with lard, butterfat; essential dumplings, with astronomically high blood pressure and blindly, sufferably headaches. Conversely, I too had a stroke. I was fit, extremely (68/28) low pressure and absolutely no headache. (Read: Mercury Fillings, please.)
What's wrong with the picture?
My mom, Jo, was plethora for cerebral vascular accidents, although Mom died of an aneurysm. She's 72. Grandma's family history, the Anna Wisnieski Szczekocki clan, died from a stroke. Grandma had five sisters; all had strokes, Mary, Gertie, Frances enlisted with Women's Army Corps (WAC) in Chicago and Helen owned a beer distributor. (Mom's brother, Louie and Helen)
They died very, very young. Grandma had a sister from the convent, Sister Teonesta, praying fervently at the contra-cerebral vascular accident. Sister had a stroke as well.
My dad Charlie and his brothers died of old, decrepit, age. Dad died of Alzheimer's. He was 87.
You pick. I had a massive, blown, left middle cerebral artery, with an acute infarct. The infarct is the loss of adequate blood supply.
I was dead, essentially, at 52.
I was ten years old and the phone jingled. Mom's sister, Kitty Mae, was inconsolable. Mounds of tissues, grief-stricken and utterly shocked Grandma had a stroke. Kitty Mae related she went shopping for groceries.
Marion Market's was busy Saturday mornings; a sunny, spring April day, 12th of 1958.
Grandma flung the tomato juice, milk and Sunkist oranges for $.49 cents. Grandpap wanted coffee, too.
"Such high prices," talking to herself. She continued to shop and just for fun, Kraft Carmels. Grandma had a sweet fang.
She checked out. The supermarket had two women on cash registerers, busy sorting the produce, 15 minutes from her house. Two shopping bags to distributed the load, arm to arm, she walked to the Post Office. She'd run out of $.04 stamps. That done; home.
Everson, Pennsylvania is extremely hilly and uphill. It's a village of excruciating Polish Catholics, everybody knows everybody and Fayette County population is about 1000, more or less.
Grandma walked briskly. Well, not briskly. Grandma is down-right-hefty. She walked uphill to St. Joseph's church, up yet still on Maple Street, huffing and puffing and markedly short of breath. She opened the door, exhausted. The bun on the nape of her neck was soaked with sweat. She heaved to catch her breath. The mouth was drooping, just a little, she had an excruciating, whopping headache. Anna Wisniewski Szczekocki died in the living room. The family doctor, Dr. Pisula, and came running. But Grandma was still.
"Anna had a stroke mercifully fast," he said, "there's nothing I can to. I'm sorry. She's dead."
The doctor packed his stethoscope and little black bag and left.
She hated doctors and pills, hence, the physicians told her about hypertensive drugs. All the time.
Coincidentally, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died of massive cerebral hemorrhage, April 12, 1945. I'm a useless factoid. Grandma did the same, April 12. Grandma is 63.
Anna, recently deceased, and Walter Szczekocki, owns the house on Maple Street. It's 1958. Kitty Mae and Jess Johnson were married and lived in the house. Mary Ann and Billy were siblings. The older children have married, Louie, Chester and Jo. Kitty Mae and Jess produced a son, William Walter Johnson, aged 5. Mary Ann was engaged and Billy is in high school. It's a compact house for the family and there's an out-house with kinfolk.
Pap is distraught, to be sure, and crying. "Go call Jo," he ordered, my mom. Kitty Mae dialed the number, for the elder sister.
I answered the phone. Clearly, something was wrong. Aunt Kitty Mae was wailing.
"Where's your Mother?" she said, sobbing.
"Here. Wait a minute. It's Aunt Kitty Mae." I passed the phone to Mother, "She's crying."
"What's wrong?" said she to Mae.
Marions Market. Shopping bags. Soaked with sweat. The doctor came and went. Mum was gone. Mum had a stroke. End of story.
I was an only child of Josephine and Charles Yezek. Jo died of a mighty aneurysm and Charlie died of old age. My mom is borderline-agoraphobia and my dad is amiable drunkard and he never missed a day's work. A weird family, but I loved my parents.
Charlie's a plumber and the pick-up truck full of parts and spigots and fittings and debris clutters the seats. Dad is disheveled and looks like an unmade bed, but he is quite smart. He had a scruffy baseball cap, grimy hands and watches boxing and works at Westinghouse a long time ago. Dad is his own boss. Like father like daughter.
Mom called Dad. My Mom and I squeezed into the truck, flanges and all. My mom never owned a car. Well, she had a permit, sort of. She had a crash in Bridgeport Dam, another booming metropolis, in her 20's. Two cars and a fender-bender; she tore up the permit.
"I'll walk," she noted. Dad was with at the time and the car was fine, damaged, but fine.
Grandma never liked Mother, sad but true, and Mom couldn't care less. My aunts were sobbing and mounds of Kleenex tissues were wet and soggy. Mom, however, nary a tear.
"I'm sorry, Pap," she embraced Grandpap.
The undertaker came and went and the body was embalmed.
Grandma died at home and the coffin laid in the living room. All sorts of company came, from the inebriated men to the women making kieska, kielbasa, duck soup dziczyzna, my personal favorite, pierogi, laden with lard. The camaraderie came non-stop for three days; the women prayed the rosary and the men were imbibing.
The day of Grandma's funeral, Mom was late. Exceeding late. One hour late. The sisters glared and Grandpap scowled. Mom was undaunted, with Arpege perfume, red-red lipstick and seamed stockings just so. She didn't like Grandma.
Two years passed, Grandpap had a stroke. Dziczyzna, keiska and all matters of cholesterol took their toll.
I remember Grandpap. My hair was short and Buster Brownish and he called me Mimsy. He spread his arms around me and grinned.
"Hi Grandpap," with a hug.
I remember a white shirt and tie, never smoked and he brushed his teeth with salt. He had sparkly teeth. I was four and he was gigantic. I found out later Grandpap was miniscule person, perhaps 5'7". Even Dad the plumber was a munchikin . Even my first ex-ex-ex-husband Frank was 5'7", the misanthrope womanizer. Yes, a contradiction in terms. (Mary, Pap and Bill)
Kitty Mae was kind, long-suffering and loves the church and the crisp, clean almost-virginal linen. She's was always ironing for the church. Men-folk abound with Grandpap, Jess, Little Billy and sibling Bill. Mary Ann Szczekocki and Knip Knipple were married by now. Knip was deranged in a good way.
Mary Ann is demanding, controlling and unyielding. Just like me. She is 74, has great legs and watches every morsel of food, evidenced from keiska, kluski and golabki she wolfed down long ago. She has plaque-free arteries, has a robust heart and walks every day. She takes statins for cholesterol and, yes, hypertensive drugs. Mary Ann's not a fool. (Mary Ann)
Jess was a loving husband and ten years senior. Kitty Mae was wildly hypertensive.
Every day before breakfast, Mae took the coffee and buttered toast with home-made preserves, out on the rear porch to feeding the birds. Chickadees, bluejays and cardinals scarfed down crumbs and bits of toasts. The birds ate from the plate. (Kitty Mae and Yours Truly)
Pap was 68 and had a mild stroke, then suffered two strokes. He's quasi-bedridden and he's falling down over the bed, to the floor. Apparently, the paralyzed side, the arm and leg, were dead.
"Mae," said Jess, "it's Pap," Grandpap fell to the floor with thud.
"You can't walk, Pap," she explained. Jess and Kitty Mae pulled him up.
Grandpap was mute and discouraged.
Kitty Mae bathed him, fed him, encouraged him and he died in his sleep.
Grandma and Grandpap was buried from the house from the living room, respectively, 1958 and 1962. It was a full-blown, three-day, bells and whistles wake.
Grandpap looked good for 70 years, white shirt and all. Legions of men came to the Polish Club to give respect and the women baked delicious dishes.
"Na zdrowie," the men toasted.
The undertakers, however, halted the viewers.
"It's leaking fluids," said the afresh dead body.
"Here. The eyes and the ears," squinting at the ooze. "It's overflowing."
"Well, that's not good," said the embalmer. "Pump it out?"
"Pump it out."
The decay fluids were leaking badly. I peeked through the keyhole on the door of the living room. Out of the coffin he went, to the floor. The undertakers manipulated the pump. I don't want to think about it.
Mom's affliction with agoraphobia, coincidentally, buried Grandpap. She never left the house. Never. I was a teen-ager.
The cemetery was peaceful and Anna and Walter left us.
Grandma had a sister, Mary Somerfield, and she had a premonition, Mom told me. Mary had a booming voice and she smiled all the time, toothless, I'm afraid. She was rotund, never had a bra on and the paczki doughnuts were rich and heavy.
Mary had a son, Bobby. "I don't know why I'm baking a cake so soon," said Mary telephoning Mom. "The birthday is next week," she noted. "Well, you never know."
Mary died Wednesday, December 16, 1958 of a stroke and his birthday is in December. She's 51.
Bobby Somerfield ate his cake silently. He was obese and weeping. Mary iced the two-layer cake in absentia, clearly gone and clairvoyant.
Years later, the house was quiet. Jess had a supervisor job with Anchor Hocking Glassware, Kitty Mae had copious ironing from the church.
Billy Johnson was grand champion of divorce and three-times loser of wives. He's moved out, of course. He had a pre-op for his knee surgery and had a sky-high-off-the-charts blood pressure. He's taking antihypertensives.
Aunt Mary Ann, Knip, Jess and Kitty Mae were vacationing at Ocean City Maryland. Well-rested and tan, Knip and Jess checked out. Kitty Mae was going to the bathroom.
"What's taking so long?" said Mary Ann.
"Mae?" said Jess. "Are you OK?"
Jess opened the door in the bathroom and here she was, moribund, and quite dead. She had a stroke.
Uncle Jess died of lung cancer.
The doctors prescribed antihypertensives, unlike Grandma. She's 59, she died July 11, 1992, Mary Ann's birthday.
Anna and Frank Yezek were farmers and "Pap" and the boys were coal miners. Acre's and acre's of tillage, from cows and chickens and porky swines. The stint in this farm are brief and remote. I remembered fireflies, lots of cats and mice, and sweet acrid odor of manure. (Dad's brother George)
Anna Hribal Yezek was dynamic and ruled with a bending hand. Grandma had five boys, Dad was one of them, and the sixth baby daughter Eleanor, at least 90, last I heard. The sons were active and vital till death, to the exception of Mick with a heart problem. My Dad was 87 and he couldn't let go, kicking and screaming till the last. Charley finally succumbed. He had Alzheimer's, and wanted to kill me. It's a long story.
Milton Yezek, the fifth baby, worked for General Foods in Connecticut and the brothers worked in a coal mine, coughing up dust. Uncle Milt graduated from Penn State University and got the hell out of Dodge. He scraped up the tuition and bought a life. The little I saw, Uncle Milt was kind, empathic and harvesting fresh produce from the garden. Milton was a farmer at heart. He died about 2005 or 2006.
Charley had a brief stint in higher learning as well. Westinghouse picked up the tab bachelor's degree, unheard of a company-based tuition-assistanced in the 1940's. Dad was brainy. He discussed with Jo, the rigors of night school three times a week for six years, albeit a sheepskin; he chose no, and left Westinghouse.
Mom and Grandma didn't like each other, heinous comes to mind; stormy, infuriated and, well, insane.
Anna and Jo were fighting vehemently about nothing. Mom left the farmhouse with a huff, kid in tow and sheepishly Dad fired the pick-up truck, full of parts and plumbing supplies. Grandma was smirking and Dad was in the middle once more. Fierce Mom and fiercer Grandma. Not good, not good at all. I'm probably seven. My Mom left the farm, never to return.
Meet my ancestors? It's a crap shoot. The chicken or the egg?
I wrote The Bat Who Wore Rose-Colored Glasses, a children's book. A little brown bat, Oliver's looking for mosquitoes, a habitat for the winter and a wise owl with gleaming gold eyes. He was face-to-beak with a very large bird. Click Bat.