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My Grandmother by Pat Baiocchi

My Grandmother, Anna Brania was born in Krackaw, Poland in 1883. She came to the United States as a young woman and maried Peter Klaja. They had 7 children. My father, Ted (Thaddeus) was in the middle. Peter was an alcoholic who could be cruel and he was known to beat his wife, very often. They lived in Chicago where fortunately, the apartment buildings were close together. My Grandmother was able to occasionally escape one his beatings by climbing out the window and on to a plank that a neighbor had put across the two windows! She crawled out her window, along the plank, and into the neighbors apartment, with her tiny baby in her arms. My grandfather died, probably of alcoholism, when their younges son was 6 years old.

My father ran away from home and joined the Army in 1926 when he was only 14. He used his older brothers identification, which caused a lot of problems later, when both brothers enlisted in World War II.

During World War II my grandmother had a tiny "Victory Garden," on a small patch of vacant land in front of her home on Division Street. "Victory Garden," was a term used by folks during the war years to signify the effort ordinary citizens were making toward the war effort by taking care of their personal food needs. In this way whatever large farms could produce with reduced farm hands because the men were drafted, would go to the armed services. My grandmother loved gardening and after the war, she asked her son to take her house hunting. She settled on a tiny frame house in Fox River Grove right across the river from the Norje Ski jump.

While gardening was important to her, she supported herself by sewing. She had a fine dressmaking business and she advertised the fact by have a huge sign made. The sign was so large that it sat on the ground in front of her house for many years, blocking the view out of her front winders. While she continued to support herself making clothes, she could not wait for Spring, so that she could begin again to work on her garden again.

Grandma made the best hamburgers in the world. We have all tried to duplicate them, but they never tasted quite as good as hers. She also made a very light cake with white raisins and other fruit in it called Bobka. I haven't been able to duplicate that either. I never thought to ask her to show me how she made her specialties, or ask for the recipe.

Our family drove to the country almost every Sunday to visit Grandma. My brother, sister and I would try to see who could spot the ski jump off in the horizon first. After many years, I finally realized my older brother always won because he had picked out landmarks that told him right when we would be able to spot the ski jump, before it really came into view. I knew he was "cheating" (in a way) but could never figure out how.

We often brought the entire meal already cooked to Gram(s when we were celebrating a holiday. My Aunts and Uncles would bring various parts of the meal. One year, when we had the turkey, our car broke down and it began to snow very hard. It was a long time before our car could be fixed. So, we spent many hours waiting in a bait shop, while everyone else waited for us back at Grams. The owner of the shop had been very kind to let us stay inside where it was warm while we were waiting. My brother, Jim was a great tease, and he said maybe we should have some worms for dinner. Every time he would suggest that my sister and I would squeal, and Mom would get embarrassed and tell us to be quiet.

My Dad(s birthday was on July 4th, and every year he threw a huge picnic in Gram's yard. All my aunts, uncles, cousins would be there. We would swim in the muddy river, or take the boat out or play baseball. When it got dark, Dad and my brother Jim were in charge of the fireworks; they had been shipped to us in a huge carton. I always wondered why they didn(t explode in the mail. There was a hill behind Gram's house where Dad put on his show. One year the fireworks started a fire on the hill. All the men had to run up the hill with buckets of water. It was a sight! But they got the fire out. Such were my memories of when I was a girl.

When I got married, Gram came into the city for my wedding. She had never done that before, and the family was puzzled as to why she wanted to return to the city. I think one of the reasons was her curiosity to see my "ready made" wedding gown. I think she would have been tickled if I had asked her to make my gown, but I thought she had retired from dressmaking by then, as the sign she had put up many years earlier had been put away. I always wondered why we didn't just say things to one another. It always felt a bit like a guessing game.

We were very young when we got married...

Originally Posted (Jul 02, 2002)


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