Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Daddy's Little Girl (part 3)

I was probably 12 years old when I learned my father's real first name.

My father was the youngest of 9 boys of an immigrant Polish family. 9 boys! Wow! Many days I silently ask my Babci to send me inspiration. I only have 2 kids and some days I can barely manage. But years ago things were different. Because my father was so young, he was frequently forgotten about and had to take care of himself. I think that was what made him into the great man that he turned out to be.

Well, back in those post depression days, if you had a lot of sons the church basically expected you to send one into the priesthood. (A lot of families generously did this because it would mean one less mouth to feed.) None of my uncles had been 'called' and so many of them ended up drafted into WWII that it seemed my father would be the one to go. So I think the whole family started to prepare for Daddy to enter the priesthood and in this process my father attained a nickname: 'Rev', as in reverend.....

He never did end up in the priesthood, obviously. He met my mother on a blind date and as they say, the rest is history. But he kept his nickname.

He called himself 'Rev' and so did everyone else, including my mother. All of my cousins called him 'Uncle Rev'. It was all I ever knew as his name. It was one of the things that made him so unique. Everyone knew Rev. When he bought his long dreamed of 30 foot cabin cruiser my sisters and I begged him to name it 'Rev It Up!'. He was a humble man and very grateful to my mother for allowing him to have such a luxury as a boat so he ended up naming it after her, much to our chagrin.


Rev was every one's friend. People seemed to flock to him and he always had a smile on his face. In fact he smiled so much that, while he lay in his coffin, people at his wake mused that even in death he was smiling.

It's not to say that he didn't have a temper. My mother would tell you that he used to bottle everything up until he exploded but after his first heart attack in his early 40's, he just let it all hang out. A couple of his temper incidents have grown into family lore. During the 1970's gas crisis, Daddy waited patiently in line to get gasoline. During that time you could only get gas on certain days based on the last number on your license plate. And even then you frequently had to wait in crazy long lines. So as Daddy waited in line one day, a much younger man quickly pulled in and cut in front of my father. Daddy got out of his car and calmly asked the guy, "Are you prepared to go to the hospital today?".......

Another time, my parents had taken my best childhood friend, Debbie, and I to a dinner theater to see my favorite play, Brigadoon, for our 8th grade graduation gift. The dinner theater was tiered so you would be sitting below the table above you. The man at the table above us had taken his shoes off and we were eating dinner. My father was so offended by the smell emanating down to us that he started to try to get the guy's attention. "SIR! SIR! SIR! Would you MIND putting your shoes on???!!!" As humiliated as we were then, the memory makes me laugh to this day!


He was such a blessing to so many people but I was lucky enough to have this man as my father. My goal is to smile as much in my lifetime as he did in his. If that's the only legacy I can leave behind then it will be a fitting tribute to the man who raised me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Buried Life

What do you want to do before you die?

Yeah, I'm addicted to this MTV show, 'The Buried Life'. Can't get enough of these 4 young men working on crossing things off their bucket list. It makes me want to formalize my own. Sure, we all have things we want to do but how many of us actually write them down and cross them off?

Here goes. It's a work in progress, so bear with me.

~Cruise the Greek Isles
~Visit Poland and the hometown of my grandparents
~Visit Sicily with my mother and visit the hometown of my other grandparents
~Hold a koala bear
~Swim with dolphins
~See Klimt's 'The Kiss' in person
~Own and drive an old school, dark green Jaguar
~Own a cottage at the beach, any beach
~Live in an ecologically friendly log home
~Have an outside shower at my home
~Snorkel in Belize
~See Tahiti
~Take my daughter to the Bob Marley museum in Jamaica
~Fantasy Fest
~Have lunch with James Delaney Buffett
~See Pink in concert
~See Natalie Merchant in concert
~See Bruce Springsteen in concert

So, there's only a few extravagances on this list and there's probably more I'll add at some point. I think there's an importance to writing it down. In Yoga it's called sankalpa; planting a seed of intention. Where attention goes, energy flows. Then maybe the seed will grow...

So, what do you want to do before you die?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Daddy's Little Girl (part two)

The following is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Ok, gentlemen! Trivia time! (Ladies, if you know this, give yourself an extra 100 points!) What is the part on an electric drill that holds the bit to the drill called??? Take your time. I'll wait....

Last spring, I was driving the kids to school one morning. We were listening to some random radio station that was having a weird trivia contest and that was the question. Before the dj even had the words out of her mouth I started screaming, "Chuck! CHUCK! It's called a CHUCK!"

I know this because my father invented it.
My father worked for Jacob's Manufacturing for most of my childhood and teen years. He was a self taught engineer. He never graduated high school but received his GED after he married my mother. He was a genius without an education, but he never let that stop him or ruin his confidence.

When he was hired by Jacob's, he had to sign an agreement that anything he may invent at work was property of the company and in return he would receive a cash bonus. His cash bonus for inventing something that everyone has in their home today was about $40. So he never made his million but it was one of his claims to fame.

My father was truly blessed with many gifts. He could sing and loved to dance. He was a talented painter, carpenter, and mechanic, among other things. All of his skills were self taught by way of survival. He was the youngest of 9 boys of an immigrant Polish family. They were their own baseball team.

Being the youngest of this family was not an easy life. He had nothing but hand-me-downs until he married my mother at age 18. His feet were damaged by frostbite from wearing shoes that were too small. The worst of his youth was when, at age 14, he found his own father after he had hanged himself. This story has only been told to me once by my mother on the evening after Daddy's funeral. After his own father had committed suicide, my grandmother remarried. She remarried a man with children of his own and my father was pushed to the bottom of this entire totem pole. So now, not only did he get the hand-me-downs, the step children resented my father and the one or two of his brother's that still lived at home. My father was frequently locked out of the house at night by one of them, forced to sleep in a cold barn.
He never had his own bed until he was married.

The fact that he had such a hard life was never forced down our throats. He would give us glimpses into his childhood but it was more of the fun stories he liked to tell. Like the time his brothers wouldn't let him tag along with the older boys, so in retaliation he smeared manure on their bike seats...

The story that always stuck with me was the time he had saved up to buy his own pair of brand new dungarees only to get to the store to find that the price had gone up from $1.25 to $1.50. It breaks my heart even now to think of his disappointment.

His hardships growing up only created a man who loved life more than anyone I've ever met. Here was a man who loved to fly on an airplane because they fed him in the sky. And he didn't care if it was only a bag of peanuts!

The only book he ever kept next to his bed was 'How to Make Friends and Influence People'. People loved this man. His best friend, Cesar, looked to him as a father figure in his own life. Cesar was so distraught when Daddy died that he insisted in riding in the front seat of the hearse. I saw more grown men cry at my father's funeral than I can remember. He was a man of integrity and grace and people respected him.

Women would line up to dance with him whenever he and my mother went to a dinner dance or wedding. One year, when my sisters were at Mercy High School he took them to the Father/Daughter Dance. Daddy ended up dancing with one of the nuns. The very next day she quit the convent.

True story.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Daddy's Little Girl (part one)

~Louis James Kmietek ~
June 30, 1933 - November 8, 1995
15 years. 15 long years.

My father was my hero. He could walk on water and I was in love with him. I know it sounds silly, but there are many days, still, after 15 years, that I forget that my father is dead.

He had the death he prayed for. He died on the golf course after teeing off the 4th hole. He hit the ball and said to his buddies, "Boy, that was a good one." They all turned to get back in their golf carts and he was gone. Just like that.

The week preceding his untimely death was full of premonitions. Exactly one week, to the minute, before his death, I had a doctor's appointment with a new doctor. As she was getting all of my medical info, she asked me if both of my parents were still alive. I said yes, but a voice in my head said, "Not for long." The doctor drew two, upward facing arrows next to "mother" & "father", as if to show they weren't six feet under. When I heard the voice in my head and saw those arrows, I became immediately nauseous.

A few days later I spoke on the phone with him for the last time. I was at work at night. We were talking and an employee needed me right away. After I hung up the phone and went to assist my staff, I felt two hands on my back push me. My feet went out from under me and I fell hard. No one had actually pushed me but I had the strong urge to call my father back. But I never did.

The day he died was the absolute worst day of my life and I can remember it vividly. The premonitions were acute that morning. I had grabbed a small pink rosary and stuffed it into my suit pocket before heading off to a meeting that I was feeling extremely nervous about. This was behavior that was strange to me then. It was unseasonably cold for mid-November. The wind was like a sharp whip that day. I was at a general manager's meeting in Middletown, New York. When I reached into my purse to grab change for the toll, a photo of my father fell out of my wallet. I was wearing a raspberry colored suit with a black blouse. I can remember every, single, minute detail of that day.

We had no cell phones then and when my husband finally got a hold of me and told me, I went into immediate shock. One of my employees had to bear-hug me up and carry me back to my office from which I had wandered out of. I called my boss to come and take me home. When he walked me into my apartment, like a rabid dog I tore apart the garbage in my kitchen. I still had my suit on and my boss stood there, awkward in my home, staring at me acting like an animal. I had a vague recollection of throwing out a note that my father had sent me. And sure enough, after pawing through the trash, I found the last note he ever wrote me in his distinctive handwriting.

The following days were brutal. I was 26 years old and my beloved father was dead. When my husband told me that Daddy had died, I couldn't remember what he looked like. It took me years to get over that weird guilt, even though I had read that that was a common grief effect. But these days, I can remember him like I saw him yesterday.

So as I prepare to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his passing, I will start to document what I can remember here. The good and the bad. The happy and the sad. My biggest regret in life is that he never knew my children and they never knew him. Maybe, here, I can find a way to let them know what an amazing man their Poppy was.