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It's In The Genes by Florence Zielinski

When someone asks me why I talk so much, I say: it’s in the genes.

When my story grows very long, and everyone is waiting for the bottom line and I just don’t get there and don’t get there, I say: Wait a minute it’s in the genes.

The entire family, brothers and sister too; even when we say we have no news and are just calling to say, hello, can talk for hours. It’s in the genes.

Weren’t Mom and Dad always talking, telling stories and making us wait for the conclusion? Mom was especially good at stretching a story and making us urge her to get to the end of the story. She enjoyed our suspense!

When I’m asked about my interest in foreign languages and in writing, I simply say: it’s in the genes.

I remember how my dad kept a little black book he called a “metryka” with records of special events and dates: something like a historian. I like to do that too. Dad and Mom spoke Polish and Russian and had some knowledge of other Slovenian languages. Once we had a radio, Dad listened to the foreign radio stations.

My brother, Walter, learned to play the piano on his own. He could paint a picture. He could fix a meal. He could make drapes, upholster a chair or make a bookcase. It is definitely in the genes!

Dad was handy with his hands. He built a summer house for the garden, swings and a playhouse for the children. He repaired shoes, and cut hair. He played the concertina, loved music and sang, what I call, “tremulo” tenor. He made root beer and wine, canned cabbages and pickles. Dad may not have been an expert in anything specific, but he was very creative and always learning something new.

My sister, Phyllis, crocheted rugs and did cut-work and embroidery. You guessed it, it’s in the genes.

Mom did beautiful work with her hands. She could look at a picture of a dress and be able to cut out the pattern for it. She could look at a doily and copy the design. She crocheted runners for the church altar. She sewed coats, trousers, dresses and fancy petticoats and bay bonnets. How did she find the time?

My brother, John, grew up disciplined, neat, organized, industrious and gregarious. It’s in the genes!

Dad impressed my youngest brother with military commands. “Comb your hair, shine your shoes, stand and walk straight, keep your elbows off the table.” He also stressed that one did not have to be rich to do all that.

My sister, Phyllis, broke away from home and tradition. She ran away to New York when she was a teenager. Later on she married someone who was not Catholic, not Polish, divorced with a young son. Was this in her genes?

Perhaps. Mom and Dad were immigrants who left family, home and country. They were the non-conformists, the dreamers, the searchers, the risk takers of their generation.

My sister, Almira, became a nun and spent her entire life serving God and serving the community by teaching, nursing, doing hospital work and training nurses for more than 50 years. She also surprised the family by breaking away from home and doing the unexpected at the age of 16. Was this in her genes?

Mom and Dad believed in commitment: religion, marriage, family, work. They believed that education was next to godliness and that education was the most important opportunity offered to the children in America. Almira, the first-born American in the Szpak family was also the first to receive a college degree, a Master’s and degrees in nursing and anesthesiology.

All five children of Salomea and Hipolit Szpak reached primary goals in education set by them and more. The second generation, eleven grandchildren all finished high school, eight earned college degrees and two of them, summa cum laude. Two received master’s degrees. In the third generation of eight children, three are college graduates, three more are in college and two are still in high school. Among the seekers and searchers in our family we have had a religious dedicated to nursing and community service, teachers, workers in the field of business and computers, a professional musician and caregivers. We see leaders in the family to continue following dreams and opportunities.

We carry some negative genes but that comes with every family. My father had arthritis and heart trouble. He was a smoker and died of cancer. He also passed on the longevity gene. His grandmother lived to be 100 years old! My mother died of a heart attach in her sleep. She suffered from angina which she called, ‘a sword in my back.’ She also had hypertension.

All five children, Almira, Phyllis, Walter, Florence and John inherited hypertension. John and I have arthritis. Phyllis and John were treated for cancer. Almira died of cancer. It’s all in the genes.

I will be 80 and now have two brothers left. Walter is 86 and John is 78. Not too long ago when all five siblings were alive and the youngest was 65, we all totaled 357 years of life. That’s all in the genes.

As I grow older I occasionally find something that I can blame or attribute to being in the genes. And, it is the truth.

Originally Posted (Jul 02, 2002)


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