Sunday, November 15, 2009

helen & george

Helen was born to Angeline and George Nalepa in 1919 (Polish) and George was born to Lettie and Charles Wind in 1917 (Irish and Norwegian). Helen had an older brother, Stephen, and younger sister, Mae and brother, Ed (Achie.) George had an older brother, Andrew, and younger sister Adylin. They were part of the greatest generation, surviving both World Wars and the Depression. George was stationed in the south Pacific during World War II and proudly served as the cook at times for his fellow navy men.
When Helen was a child, she helped her folks in any way possible to bring home money and the kids would go 'junkin' by the railroads collecting cans and glass for nickels. They lived on the north side of Chicago initially and Uncle Steve tells the story of how he would watch his little sisters while they slept under the kitchen table while their parents played cards with their friends. They moved to the southwest side of Chicago, on 38th Street for a little while and Helen would go to the bar and carry buckets of beer back home for her Pa, sipping the foam on her journey. Their dad was fortunate to work as a boilermaker so they did have a meager income and yet Buscia always found ways to help the other not-so-fortunate neighbors by donating food and clothing. Helen's parents never spoke English. Eventually they purchased their first home on Sawyer for $9,000 in 1946 and they all lived together in this 2 flat.
Helen met George through her dear friends, Joe and Veronica Keller at Christmas in 1953. They were married the following July 24, 1954 and she only agreed to date him because he wanted to include her son, Jimmy, on their dates. Helen was previously married to Swede but he died of a bleeding ulcer after 11 years, bearing a son, James Samuelson. George was divorced and had a daughter but we never knew too much about his side of the family. Wayne found out his dad's family tree by sheer coincidence for his boss offered to provide this information as his hobby was researching family histories and he did this for the Winds. Helen and George lived on the second floor of the Sawyer home. Her parents (Buscia and Cisawz) and Uncle Steve lived on the first floor. Mae and her husband Frank had 2 sons, Bob and Ronnie, and Achie married Angie and had one son Ed (Butchie, Banyok) as well as stepdaughters Judy and Patsy. They all lived in Brighton Park.
Helen and George were proud parents of Wayne (Wild Bill) and Bobby (Bondiga.) George adored his sons. I remember Helen told us the story that when she married George, all he brought with him was one valise, and we have it with us still. Their union was one of the happiest relationships I have ever known. George settled down by this time for we heard many stories of how he obtained the nickname Stormy. He was a mild mannered man, but if you crossed his path with harmful intent, look out. He was no stranger to brawls as a youth and when a man flirted with Helen at a wedding, the guy had to be carried out of the hall. One time George came home with a black eye, telling the boys he ran into a ladder, when in fact a truck driver relentlessly harassed him and finally he pushed George too far and their altercation resulted in the other guy landing in the hospital. Wayne found out the true story from one of George's co-workers when they worked together at Strickland. George and his brother Andy would always pull pranks and one time put a truck in first gear and George made it look as if he was pulling the truck uphill into the little town. George was a master mechanic and Wayne worked with him when he was a teenager loving every minute of their time together.
Helen was always looking after her family - both core and extended. She did all the cooking, cleaning and shopping for her folks and brother as well as her own. Helen loved to do this. She was so organized and being Polish, her home was spic and span. When her eldest son, Jimmy, married Linda to avoid the draft at a young age, she paid for his wedding, all the girls' dresses and bought and furnished his beautiful home in Orland Park. Helen and George were very generous to people and had more friends than Carter has pills. It was not uncommon for them to be invited to 3 weddings on a Saturday and they attended them all, oftentimes bringing Buscia, Cisawz and Uncle Steve. They did everything together. Every Sunday they would go to Wissagurda, a forest preserve in the area, for picnics. They spent weekends in Twin and Gages Lakes in Wisconsin, but every summer beginning in 1960, they drove down to Miami Beach, Florida and stayed at the Blue Grass Inn. Mae and her family went as well so Wayne has tons of happy memories with his cousins, especially swimming and later on attending the best concerts at the local hotels. George spent his time golfing with Frank, all day, while Helen and Mae attended to the kids in the water. They would come home tan and refreshed. They vacationed this way for over 30 years and when Wayne and I went down there ourselves we found a plaque near the pool with the Wind and Mazur names reflecting their visits. I was told as they approached the southern part of Florida, the boys would put their swim trunks on and as soon as they arrived, jump in the pool. Fond memories of days past.
Unfortunately, life got more difficult and Jim and Linda (who had 2 sons, Jimmy and David), decided to sue Helen and George for their Orland home. The agreement was that Jim and Linda pay Helen and George $100 per month but after a few years they chose not to honor the agreement and took legal action. I remember coming over and seeing George on the porch with his head hanging low with hurt in his eyes and he showed me the papers. They went to court and the judge asked what they paid for the home ($23,000) and what it was worth ($67,000) and as karma would have it, the judge ordered Jim and Linda to pay the appraised value to Helen and George, totally reversing their intent with a slap on their hand as well. Typical of Helen and George, they declined and only asked for the amount they originally paid. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the family disharmony. Jim and Linda remained estranged, denying Helen and George time with their grandsons for many years. Helen was very close with Mae most of her life and even took care of her when she had TB, risking infection herself. Unfortunately, Mae was so jealous of Helen and her friends and lifestyle, she disconnected and after a huge fallout the sisters were estranged for 35 years. Their sons tried to get them to bury their hatchet and Helen was willing to, but Mae refused, so Helen went to her grave without reconciliation. These are harsh memories, but this is not uncommon in families.
Helen's dad lived to 89 and though he suffered from dementia (one time he put a bucket on his head and wondered why his hat did not fit) his demise was due to being struck by a hit and run in the alley and upon being hospitalized, he developed pneumonia and died. Helen's mom developed diabetes which caused severe gangrene in not only one, but both legs and amputation left her legless for 4 years. She was the best patient I ever had the honor of meeting, never complaining and always singing in Polish. Many times Wayne would make a big production running down the stairs with a purposely heavy foot making lots of noise and rush into her house playing Polkayashu on the harmonica. She roared with laughter every time. On Sundays their home was filled with the aroma of fried chicken and spaghetti sauce and the endless polka tunes playing on their radio. Helen and Steve took very good care of her, lifting her, changing her linens and I witnessed George and Wayne having to carry his grandma many times in and out of the house and room to room. Their care giving was a huge testament to family loyalty and it amazed me how beautiful their dedication was to each other. Mae and Achie visited often, but the brunt of their load fell upon these older two siblings. Buscia passed at age 88. This family has great genes. George's parents both died in their 50s.
I began dating Wayne in 1973. Our story will be told at another time, but just for reference sake, it should be known that when I met his family, they were not prone to PDA. Ever. Having come from a huggy family, I initiated this new affection and they gradually embraced it by hugging and saying I love you whenever we got together and that twinkle in his eye told me George liked this. George and I were each other's biggest fan. He called me Blue Eyes and I called him Bombhead. When Helen worked the second shift, she always cooked her meals during the weekends so Monday it was Wayne, Bombhead and me enjoying her delicious spaghetti dinner. All three of us smoked in those days and enjoyed doing so together after the meal, talking and sharing stories. Oftentimes when Wayne's friends came by to pick him up to go out for the night, Wayne would be all dressed up and ready to roll and once they got talking with George (they called him KnifeEdge) it was at least an hour later before those boys left the house. If they weren't eating Helen's cooking they were surely shooting the breeze with his Dad. I really wanted to get married but Wayne was not ready and George pulled me aside and explained how important it was that we waited. I took heed and after 7 years of courtship, we tied the knot on June 7, 1980. The year before our wedding, we planned a surprise 25th wedding celebration for Helen and George, inviting all their friends and had Eddie Blazonczyk polka band at Polonia Grove.
Our first home was on Christiana, only two blocks from Sawyer and George would come over every Saturday with his dog, Lady, to visit us. He was so proud of us and Bobby. He always entertained us with his stories and there was no shortage of laughter when he was around. Wayne played with his band at Ye Olde Place neighborhood bar, and one particular night he got a surprise visit from George, Helen and his godmother, Aunt Helen. That was one of the coolest moments I ever witnessed. One of his favorite quips to Wayne was use you head for something besides a hat rack and when Wayne was a small boy he called him newt. George put Helen on a pedestal and lovingly joked about trading her in for a new model and she would sarcastically tell him to go ahead. He was a pleasure to be with and I cherish our memories. Again, grief and sadness filled our lives for on New Year's Day, 1982, George died of a massive heart attack at 64. He worked diligently his whole life, as did Helen, and they even purchased a condo in North Miami Beach, Florida for their retirement in a few months. I was home alone New Year's Eve as I was sick and had to study for my finals while Wayne played in his band that evening. We spoke on the phone to mom and dad prior to their attending a party and I mentioned we were considering starting a family of our own. Dad was thrilled about this, but was not feeling too well. At the party, George danced with Helen, holding her so closely but Helen's best friend, Aunt Helen Florancic, noticed he looked sick. They refused to go to the doctor and the next morning called us. Wayne went over there immediately. I insisted they call 911 for the pain in his arm sounded like he was having a heart attack, but after talking to him he insisted he was alright and they did not want me over there to sound any alarms. Much to my chagrin I stayed home but later we went to get a heating pad for him and when we arrived at my mom's for new year's day visit, we got a call from Helen. We dashed over and dad was on the floor of the boys' bedroom and even though I performed CPR, I knew he was already gone, and the paramedics took him to Holy Cross Hospital where they pronounced him dead at 3:00pm. Our world shattered. The best of the best was taken way too early. Wayne was only 26, Bobby only 22. Once again, Helen was a widow.
I learned a very important lesson from this heartache - life is way too short and instead of always living for the future, we decided to enjoy the moments while we have them and just plan a little bit for the future, balancing work and pleasure. It is better to be safe than sorry. I would never take a chance like that again and if I suspect the worse, I dash to the ER even if it is a false alarm. Helen and George dedicated their lives to their family, core and extended, and their work ethic is admirable, but they waited too long to enjoy their moments in their golden years. No doubt they are rocking the heavens making up for lost time. xo