Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This is being written through sensory overload, so please pardon the literary shortcomings...but this is therapeutic the quickest way I can get the word out... Currently, I'm sitting next to my mom's bed; she is resting comfortably in contrast to last night. I've been camping out at the hospital; not my idea of a fun sleepover, but necessary from my perspective.

On Sunday, my mom and her 2 sisters and a niece went to pick out a casket for Aunt Anna. It was kinda of a last gesture for the Polka girls to do for their sister. Then they went out for a quick bite; returned home about 4. I tried to make my nightly phone call to mom, but the line was busy which was not an unusual thing considering the planning surrounding my aunt's funeral. I called several times throughout the night with thee same result. I finally called my Auntie Stella, she told me that they each had people to contact; I surmised that mom must have just not hung up the phone quite right; it's happened before. Auntie said that mom seemed fine over dinner. My brother called me around 11PM with the same complaint; he had been trying to reach my mom too. He suggested we call my Aunt Jean, the driver of the gang. She lives across town; it was late; she's almost 80 and doesn't like to drive at night; I knew it was a long day for them all. So I just tried to assure myself and him that by 9 the next morning, when mom tried to make her daily check-up call on Auntie Stella, it would correct the problem.

I went to work the next morning waiting for the minutes to pass by...figured I'd call around 9:15, giving the girls a chance to chat. Well, we were so busy....and when I looked up at the clock it was already 9:30....papers piled all over my desk, but I had to confirm my inkling. I figured my mom would answer the phone, I'd give her a gentle scolding, we'd laugh and I'd be back to my stack of papers. I did however, wake up to an uneasy feeling when I remembered that my mom said she would call me on Sunday with Aunt Anna's funeral plans...and didn't. So I dialed her number quickly and it was still busy.....I called Auntie Stella and she was just shy of frantic because my mom had NOT completed the daily ritual...and my stomach ended up in my throat. I didn't want to think the worst, but options were nil in my mind. My heart racing, I called Aunt Jean and she was not home, Before checking on my mom, she made the decision to stop at the florist with my Cousin Nancy for some floral arrangements. I reached her on her cell phone and she freaked out too. Nancy, her daughter Melissa and Aunt Jean wrapped it up quickly and when they pulled in the driveway, they knew something was terribly wrong....drapes were open (they should have been closed to block the sun)....the lights were on. They opened the door and mom was found unconscious on the kitchen floor next to the hutch. There was blood everywhere....from the kitchen sink to the hutch...all over the cupboards and floor. The doggie bag she brought home from the restaurant lay on the table, indicating that it must have all happened just shortly after they returned home at 4 on was now 10AM on Monday. The phone was on the floor. They called 911...

When I got the news, I just started shaking and sobbing... Julie, our receptionist came over to me and just threw her arms around me, stood me up and coaxed the news out of me....the office crew was terrific. My manager, despite the already chaotic day...knowing that I'm the only one in the office to do the month end billing said, " need to go." I mean I knew that....I just couldn't think clearly...or even speak coherently. They offered to drive me home, which I declined...I exited to a fire brigade of hugs and well wishes.

The post office responded to Mike in a similar fashion; we were packed and on the road 2 hours later. The boys rallied and were an hour ahead of us.

The reports got gradually worse....a massive deep brain hemorrhage; at first they were going to transport her to another hospital for surgery....then it was decided that she would never make the trip and the surgery may have only bought her a few hours and would probably cause more harm than they decided to just let nature be. Then we found out she had also had a heart attack. Judging by the bruises, she tried very hard to get help...and must fallen several times. She had a baseball size bruise on her forehead; cheek and chin bruised. Her right hand up to her elbow was purple as was her right shoulder (she was collapsed on her right hand)...knees elbows and hips have big bruises. The blood was from a wound on her right elbow...she had apparently dragged herself along the floor on her elbows, judging by the trail...somehow she had taken off her sweater. Nancy said when she picked it up, it was so drenched with blood that it pooled in her hand. Her cardiac, liver and muscle enzymes were all elevated; she was dehydrated. The terms feeding tubes, living will ...long term care...quality of life ...power of attorney...critical condition... kept mounting with each phone call. The car wasn't going fast enough (well, Mike did shave 1.5 hours off the trip, now that I think about it!)

When we arrived around 11 she was semi-conscious...her eyes were open, but distant and she was looking off to the side... she was just babbling jibberish...then there'd be an audible word like "hungry". She could not move anything on her right side. A 72 hour critical window was posted...if the bleed continued, she would not make it. If the bleed stopped the brain would still swell and possibly cause even more damage. I remember thinking, "At least she's not on a respirator."

Everyone else left. I curled up on thee sofa and prayed. The caffeine we used to stay awake for the trip kicked in....I may have slept a total of an hour. The staff performed numerous tests and labs on her throughout the night. Mike came to pick me up in the morning for my aunt's funeral...and we had a meeting with mom's primary care doctor and the neurologist to explain her prognosis....which was not the most encouraging. Patience, prayer and time were our allies in this fight. On a brighter note, her blood levels were improving...verbal input appeared logical; verbal output had a few more recognozable words and then would trail off to jibberish. The fact that she was even conscious was a miracle to me. A therapist was scheduled to evaluate her gag reflex: working=food; not working=feeding tube. We left so I could express my condolences to my cousin. It was decided that my brother and I would return to the hospital and the rest would attend Auntie Anna's funeral.

When we arrived back at the hospital, they were feeding her oatmeal and applesauce. Praise feeding tube!! I cannot tell you how ecstatic we were!! Weakly she said our names...and answered a few other questions...some she could not. The doctors said that symptoms would probably worsen over the next 3 days due to the brain swelling. They really didn't; we've seen steady improvement...

To date...Wednesday: She is speaking coherrently, with some distortion due to the right side of her mouth being affected...she speaks in phrases...slowly. Her short term memory is inconsistant. Her bruising is subsiding. Blood levels continue to improve, however she now has a UTI. They do not think the heart damage was extensive. She is still on a soft/thickened diet....things like mashed fruit/water gets a thickener to prevent aspiration. Although she has minimmal feeling on her right side, she can wiggle her toes and squeeze my hand. They sat her up and she has regained sitting balance. She will take the spoon and sometimes feed herself with her left hand....

Because she is cooperative and "alert x4", they are recommending her to an inpatient rehab center over a nursing home. But she will have to tolerate 3 hours of therapy a day (occupational, speech, physical). She has to make progress, otherwise will be "demoted" to nursing home where they have 1 hour a day of all combined therapies. She may be transferred as early as Friday. There was a stipulation that upon her release from there, we had to guarantee 24 hour care for her. Those aren't small details...we will find a way.

You prayer warriors have been so awesome...her progress has been so encouraging and nothing short of a miracle!! However, there is still a long, long road to hoe. Retraining a 90 year old brain is a challenge. And even after the blood in her brain is reabsorbed (6-8 wks), there will remain scar tissue that will not function as regular brain tissue. Our goal is to get her back in her own home, living independently. Hopefully, she will tolerate the aggressive therapy and not get is an exhausting schedule. We pray for no setbacks...this is still really early in the process. They are establishing a whole new medication regimine, which is precarious at best. And once we return to Iowa, she will spend days by herself in a strange environment...that will be intimidating for her. I will need more time off work...somehow....we are also in the midst of harvest(Mike returned today).

I am so grateful to the grandsons who set aside time to be here on a moments notice. Their youthful energy has been encouraging, destressing and supportive. Ryan and Adam have just been gems throughout...helping with meals/dishes...great strong shoulders....thoughtful input. Mike is a gentle warrior of patience. Jackie has taken charge of meals/laundry so Ed and I can be here. And for the gang back home...Kathleen, you are a dear in so many ways for all you've done...Ruth Ann, we are so grateful for the prayer campaign...God is so good! Kimberley, thanks for the support too....and to all who have taken time in prayer to invite God's blessings into our lives these past few days, we are indebted and so humbly grateful.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I wasn’t really sure why Mike asked me to head out to the fields with him. He arrived home from the mail route a bit earlier than I had planned. Maybe he could tell that I had been crying. Some people cry with dignity. However, my eyes swell, my nose explodes into a red bulbous nosrtilage, my face gets all blotchy…not a stretch to call me Bozo. So the clues were not subtle… more like a tornado siren in bad weather. I shared my “Auntie Anna” news and with the harvest ready to begin, he didn’t have a lot of time to console me. Instead, he asked if I’d come out and help him.

Farmers suffer from PHS (pre harvest syndrome). Mike probably has a milder case than most…but it’s quite obvious that the jitters set in. Symptoms of PHS: they get cranky, short-tempered (he was perturbed when I was "laughing too loud” at an email the other night); they either eat everything in sight and then some (we should buy stock in Planters and Mars) or want nothing at all because there’s no time and so much to do (even if it’s already prepared…grrr); by 3AM the bed becomes a trampoline (tossing and turning and tossing and turning, because they can’t sleep); describing them as “edgy” is an understatement. So I answered the invitation with reservation and trepidation…but when he said he “needed” me to help, I changed my clothes, turned off the grill (hungry, but no time) and then snarfed down some cheese and crackers, managing to force feed him as we drove out to the field.

Not having grown up on the farm, my exposure to the “ag” world over the years has been limited. I’ve hauled grain to town with the truck, but never had the opportunity to drive a tractor after my first lesson, which resulted in an expensive chiropractor bill. I’ve walked beans and have hoed down my share of weeds. I’ve assisted with transporting equipment. My current duties consist of “meals on wheels”, and I am “on call” to travel the state to fetch parts for repairs upon machinery breakdowns. So when I climbed into the combine, I was a bit overwhelmed. That’s one big piece of machinery…with lots of knobs, buttons, pedals and gauges! A short preview or explanation might have been helpful, but PHS guidelines don’t allow that, I guess. “Push the 2 yellow buttons” (when there were 3) was not my idea of a precise instruction. So the next half hour was spent with me sitting in the combine, while Mike jumped in and out, pressing buttons, greasing chains, raising and lowering things, opening and closing chutes and doors. So my first half hour consisted of warming a seat…which made me feel even more important when Mike said what he really needed was somebody to weigh down the cab………hmmmmmm.

I let that comment roll off my back. There we were…just the two of us…seated next to each other…huddled in the combine. “This is fun!” I thought. He was covered with dirt and grease…me in my bibbers…how romantic!! Start the engine…start the reel…start the auger …test the chute. It felt like we were bouncing over the back roads on a 4-wheeler and we weren’t even moving yet!! “Let ‘er roll,” I quipped…with a reply glare from my honey. Mike settled into the “cockpit” and like gliding down the runway we were readying ourselves for “take-off” through the field.

And harvest ’08 had begun. I was anxious for my next assignment, as the first one was kind of a dud. I mistakenly thought, since we were no longer in the “pre” stage, that the PHS symptoms would rapidly subside. So I thought we could play a game of 20 questions…which abruptly ended at 2. “So, there’s 3 pedals down there. (question #1): “What are they for?” I asked. “Stop, stop and park” he answered, as he continued to press buttons, make adjustments, check gauges, center the machine, watch the guides…he looked like a bobble doll. I pondered the answer. I really wasn’t trying to get under his skin…really. After a few moments, I queried (question #2): “ I don’t get it…so one pedal stops the machine…and the other pedal stops it some more??!” I could almost feel the daggers emanating from his eyes through mine…could have hung me on a bulletin board and used my face as a notepad! OK, so we weren’t in a conversational mood yet. I could wait…I had to wait.

We drove around the section…and again. I watched…observed…and I think I earned a gold star for keeping my mouth shut. I stared a little too long at the auger in front…should have gulped a few Dramamine before take off. I didn’t want to wimp out with a dizzy complaint, so I focused on the landscape. What a beautiful sight with all the fall colors!! I patiently waited for my next assignment. With each turn, there was more fine tuning, until finally we were just humming along. He grabbed a handful of beans to taste…and smiled. And I could feel the weight melt off Mike’s shoulders.

He started to talk…and talk…and talk. He explained the buttons…the knobs…the gauges. The right pedal stops the right side; the left pedal stops the left side…that allows a zero turn radius (now I know!!). He explained how the front reel turns and grabs and combs the beans into the auger, which rolls in the opposite direction. He has to center the machine over the red dot on the reel…he has to watch the dirt along side because it could be a sign that something is off balance…he has to watch for rocks…and uneven feeding…temperature settings…adjust speed to the moisture content to the beans. He has to keep an eye on the hopper to minimize fuel used to get to the unloading wagons. He has to listen for odd sounds that could warn against equipment failure. He checks the mirrors to make sure the blower is pushing the debris far enough out the back, otherwise there could be a fire…and I thought I was good at multitasking!! It’s a constant eyeball game and being off guard just a couple seconds could be disastrous. After all the weeks of weather events, planting, replanting…too much rain…too little rain; all the preparation and maintenance of the tractors, augers, combine, wagons, bins…it all boils down to these next few weeks. And until you actually get out there to see, hear, taste, touch and smell …well, like he said, “You just don’t know”. That’s a lot to shoulder.

When it was all said and done, the crop looked good…real good; the first day went well. I never did get another “assignment”. We just chatted.

I felt quite privileged to be there with him. How many women actually get a chance to see what their husbands do to put food on the table and a roof over their heads? Farming is not just a job though, it’s a life style. Nature has a way of bringing you closer to God.

I’m so grateful to be blest with a husband that works so hard. Early in our marriage, he held down 3 jobs just to make ends meet, so that I could be home with the boys. That was important to both of us. But what I’m even more grateful for is a husband who knew that he really didn’t need me out there to help him, but knew that he really needed to be there to help me. And just being with him helped a whole lot. May God keep him safe this harvest season.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


It’s always so strange…gut feelings…little signs…the cosmic connection. Last evening, in my nightly phone call to my mom, because of the presidential debates, we spoke only briefly. I wanted to touch base with her, but I also wanted to see the debates in light of the economy. Usually, I try to engage her in stories of old…she likes telling them; I’m always fascinated in the dramatic differences of her childhood vs. mine. Despite their poverty, she has very happy memories of her family life. Not all things were hunky-dory by a long shot, but her “that’s life” attitude…her ability to find a “pearl of wisdom”…their “making” it in so many “make-it-or-break-it” situations (attitude and grit…failure was not an option) …simply astounds me. The unassuming sincere faith that God would provide…their gratitude for what little they had…their commitment to family... were all interlaced with such a love for each other that we’ve joked that the Polka’s were all somehow connected at the hip. I sometimes think that since they had so few material possessions to distract them, they learned each other quite well…they talked, they played, they adventured, they cried they laughed with each other so much, that each knew the others inside and out...they "learned" each other…brothers and sisters biologically and spiritually.

Our family “vacations” were comprised of several families going to Grandma’s for a week, and “Spring cleaning” the house. Well, the brothers-in-law went fishing and the Polka girls worked. If there were some real “man” jobs, like shingling or sawing down trees, the guys worked that in prior to their trek north. But for the Polka girls, it was a week of volunteerism. Grandma and Grandpa had a full service crew for the duration. Curtains came down and were laundered; floors were washed and waxed; painting the house inside and out; caulking cracks around windows to keep out the winter winds (and summer bugs); wall papering (Auntie Bea’s specialty was redoing the inside of the outhouse!!). They mowed, weeded, planted flowers. Josie…and sometimes Grandma, would cook; (Grandpa had had a stroke, so he lost use of his right side); Anna was the seamstress/gardener; Jean tended to all the kids (it was like a daycare, depending on who all were there…6-12+ of us!!)…mom and Aunt Bea were the carpenters/painters/handy-women. Auntie Stella was the only one who was employed outside the home, so she rarely made it to the annual “festivities”…but she helped with the finances…and that was fine with everyone.

I have such fond memories of sitting in the kitchen up at Grandma’s house, with the Polka girls around the table…they finished each other’s sentences…they knew what the other one was thinking before anything was even said…there was a sororal intimacy. After a full day’s work (and even during), I remember lots of laughs… sides splitting, tears rolling, Buzzy’s root beer thru the nose sessions of laughing…over the silliest and simplest things. Yet, when things got serious, if one of them was in need, there was an army of 5 at their side. They had sort of a marriage, each of them with their unique assets and gifts, complimenting and sharing talents, making one pretty dynamic machine. Once in a while, even some of the brothers visited with their families…Tony, Joe, Chet, Wally, Steve, Ted, John, Frank…the more, the merrier…more cousins!! What’s another 10 when there’s already 20, right?? (of course, I didn’t have to cook!). We slept in the attic…like a sauna in the summer…beds lined up wall-to-wall…a symphony of snoring…one big happy family!! I know it sounds gross, but when it was time for baths, the cleanest kid got in the water first…and ended with the dirtiest! (the poor boys). Water was at a premium. Life was simple…we had fun. At week’s end, the house was ready for yet another year. I will always be grateful for the abundance of love in which I was raised…and dwelled…and was submersed. On those “vacations”, I saw hard work at its best. I witnessed family working together, side by side. I saw generosity at its peak. I watched respect being born from children to parents…and parents to children…lots of good life lessons. I never craved Disneyland.

Like I said, last night, because of the presidential debates, my call to my mom was short. But I always have a question for her…and last night, I asked her who was her favorite…sibling. She paused, and very diplomatically stated that she liked them all…but of the boys, she was closer to Joe when they were kids. He was about 3 years older than she was. They cut wood together..they always danced together at the neighborhood dances…and she was a major intervention in saving his marriage in later years. But of the girls, she couldn’t really choose…different points in life brought her closer to them all…connected at the hip. And then her next comment haunted me after we hung up. But, I suppose, in answer to my quesstion, it forced her to go through the catalogue of sibs. She said… “Yeah…now all the boys are gone…and there’s only the four of us girls left.” It was still a rather large family up until a few years ago…Tony, Josie, Frank, Ted, John, Chet all passed away within months of each other…that was a difficult time for us all, but especially for them, because they were all so close. So when mom said that, it just kept resurfacing to my consciousness…not sure why. I was watching the debates…maybe it was her tone…there was a nostalgic sadness in her words…and they just kept replaying in my mind. Not that it was any great revelation…but it just hit me that 4 will become 3 and 2 and 1…and then that Polka legacy will be up to the next generation.

At 9 this morning, I picked up the phone to call my mom…I just wanted to talk to her…that ill feelling still wreaked throughout. While the phone was in my hand, it rang. It was my mom. And I could tell by her voice that something was wrong. And then I heard the words, “Auntie Anna died this morning”. Prophetically, 4 became 3 overnight.

Auntie Anna was 92…these last years have not been easy for her, ravaged with the thief of Alzheimer’s. When I was in Wisconsin over Labor Day, we visited her. Ironically, she told us that she thought it was the end and I wondered…she’s had many close calls, but has always pulled thru…

Auntie Anna loved to sew…loved flowers…and was the family beautician for many years. From 1959-1980, their family lived just 2 doors down from us. She was like a 2nd mom…if I wasn’t home, I was at her house. My cousin Nancy was just a year younger…we were best friends back then. Auntie Ann came to my piano recitals, school plays…she encouraged me along the way. We (my mom, me, Auntie Anna and Nancy) had some fabulous outings to museums, carnivals, and shopping in downtown Chicago…especially during the Christmas season. She was a very generous lady to the family with her time and talent, often buying things for others when they were without. She took in family members when they were not able to be on their own. Christmas Eve celebrations were always at her home…full feast…homemade eggnog to boot. She was there with camera in hand…for my Confirmation, graduations, and proms. She called me “her angel”…not sure why…but I liked the thought that somehow, for as much as she brightened my yesterdays, I was able to bring some light to her last days.

What a wonderful reunion in heaven this day must be. Auntie, for all your service…kind heart…generous spirit…we thank you. We exalt God for transforming your pain and suffering. May our merciful God welcome you with open arms. May your brothers and sisters, Grandma and Grandpa and all lost family and friends be joyous upon your arrival…Polka dancing in triumph for sure! Although we mourn your earthly death and your passing from this world, we praise God for your life and the many ways you’ve touched ours. We will miss you, and please know from the bottom of our hearts, Auntie Anna, we love you!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

40 Days for Life

In light of the current upcoming elections, I've become a cable junkie, watching TV a lot, trying to sort out what is and isn't true about the candidates. I never really cared for politics, but as I've gotten older, it's becoming more pertinent. But with the political ads and campainging becoming increasingly negative, derogatory, vindictive and spiteful, I'm wishing this whole election cycle to be done. However, I know a lot is at stake...and it just chills my spine to think that a man who believes it's OK to let a live baby die after a "botched" abortion could be the next man running the country.

So I was pleased that our pastor took the time to make a notation this morning of the 40 Days for Life Campaign...a campaign with a much more postive atmosphere...that has major implications for this political cycle. I went online to do a little research and thought, "I can do that" and have to establish a strategy!! I invite you to do the same. Visit:

Some thougths:

"Give me one million families praying the Rosary and the world is saved.”

Blessed Pope Pius IX

“If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, in your country, assemble every evening to recite the Rosary.”

Blessed Pope Pius IX

“It will not then seem too much to say that … in families … in which the Rosary of Mary retains its ancient honor, the loss of faith through error and vicious ignorance need not be feared.”

Pope Leo XIII

“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers, it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God … and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.”

Pope Saint Pius X

“There is no surer means of calling down God’s blessings upon the family … than the daily recitation of the Rosary.”

Pope Pius XII

“It is important not to lose this precious practice. We must return to family prayer, using the Rosary.”

Pope John Paul II

Friday, September 12, 2008

The WOW of a YES

So the other day I was talking to my cousin, and she posed the question, "What if grandma had said, "no"?". "WOW".....Grandma Polka's one small "yes" eventually made a "Joyce"...and I guess I had never really thought about it that way until Nancy asked that question (so maybe I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree)!! I know Christopher West sparked a few similar thoughts in his TOB presentations with the whole baby-making thing of my parents. But my blessed Grandma (and Grandpa) Polka's "yes" to America made me possible!! Three little bitty letters started my destiny.....awesome!! Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the lack of sleep.....maybe is was the Holy Spirit trying to make contact....but I blurted out...."Yeah....and what if Mary had said "no" to God? Think about that one!!" Understand that in our 3 hour conversation we were packing a lot of past, present and future....and imbedded within that time was a capsule of trying to comprehend why my cousin abandoned the Catholic church. As I offered that morsel for her exploration, her furrowed eyebrow lead me back to Grandma Polka....and we spent the next hours rehashing Polka history with my mom (the 8th of 16 children), who turned 90 this past Feb.

I am just a 3rd generation contrast to Mike, who can trace the first Babbitt's coming to America back to the 1600's. Maybe because it's pretty recent history that it fascinates really wasn't that long ago. In January of 1910 (like just 100 years ago!!), Walter and Caroline Polka packed up a feathertick and a few clothes to make the voyage to America. I try to wrap my mind around the emotion....leaving parents and siblings behind, knowing that they would probably never see each other again. They didn't speak English. An added stress factor, was that their 15 month old baby, my Uncle Steve, had spiked a temp, as most babies do after receiving vaccines, which were needed for overseas travel. And that was a problem. As they boarded the boat, they were told that if he got sicker (possibly contagious)...or worse...if he died, simply stated, he would be thrown overboard. How hard it must have difficult to make the next move. Do they stay in Poland and lose maybe the only possible chance to better themselves and their family? The tickets were paid for and it took years of migrant "slave" labor to earn that money. Or do they chance burying their firstborn at sea....or worse, drown him in the ocean????? Shock...despair...fear???? They were told that they could send for him later...a cushion to their final decision to leave him with her sister . Not really knowing what the future held, they thought that after getting settled in America....maybe a few months, they would bring him and Aunt Mary, her twin, to the states too. What they did not know was that Aunt Mary would not be granted a visa for a long time....and that it would be 16 years before they would ever see their son again. Hard as it was, tear-filled eyes, they waved good-bye to family and friends...but said "yes" to America...a chance for freedom....a better life.

Arriving on the shores of America was exhausting....emotionally and physically. A nursing mother being cut off from her child...a whole new home. It took another 11 days by ship and 3 more days over land to reach Detroit where their "friend-sponsors" lived. Grandpa got a job in the salt mines in Canada. He could not read or write Polish, let alone English. Grandma was literate, but not in English. She often wrote to Poland, but it took weeks for the letters to arrive (and I now think about the internet...and even this blog!!). There were no social programs for free education medical care. The only thing free for immigrants at that time was the freedom to work your butt off to make a life for your family. Seven children later (my mom was the last to be born in Detroit) , following ads in the paper, they wrapped what they could gather in blankets used as luggage...and headed south to a small town in Peplin, Wisconssin where they lived in a windows...dirt floors...of course, no plumbing. Grandpa landed a job at the papermill to which he walked the eight-mile round trip everyday. With a meager savings, they were eventually able to purchase a small farm. Growing food for a now-family of 11 kids, made sense. Life was good according to my mom. They had each other. They played in the dirt...played in the streams, dodging snakes...they played in the hay. Their only toys were sticks, rocks and rope. My mom never had a doll (I bought one for her for her 50th birthday!!). Of course they all had chores. There were no school buses (duh) . There was a horse and buggy that picked up some kids, but for some reason they did not qualify...she thought they livved too close. They walked 4 miles to school....and usually the kids who woke up first to get the shoes were the ones who got to school...and the shoes didn't always fit. Early on, there simply were not enough shoes to go around!! There were no free lunches. Mom remembers sometimes taking a dry piece of bread for lunch...if they were lucky, maybe it had a swath of was wrapped in a 'kerchief. She was hired as a fifth grader to clean the school...she made a nickel a week and gave it to her mom for food. They had a cow, but they sold the milk for money. Coffee, which the kids drank, was made from drawn well-water. It had flavor....otherwise,the alternative was simply water. Food was heated on a wood-burning stove. But my mom kinda snickered when she talked about food. Maybe they shared a chicken about once a week....otherwise, it was porridges, soups and lots of potatoes...anything to stretch the little food they had. In the summertime, they picked wild berries and had a garden. In the winter, things were more sparse and bread with lard was a a staple. She often chopped the wood because she felt sorry for grandma; the boys kept the fires stoked. (There were eventually 8boys and 8 girls, however 2 girls were stillborn). They were the definition of poverty, but she remembers being content. The church was 7 miles away and they walked it every Sunday if weather permitted...and the only non-permitting weather was snow....only because not all the kids had shoes and coats. At one point, they did not have enough money to "buy" a pew, so they were turned away and returned home. Grandma taught them individually to say the rosary...that made for a lot of rosaries being said at the Polkas!! She remembers one Christmas, grandpa came home with a sack of apples....and each child got one...and they were so excited to receive a "present". Christmas was celebrated with a freshly chopped tree. On Christmas Eve, each child lit a candle on the tree (yikes) to light the way for Baby Jesus...they sang carols...and then celebrated with a pretty substantial meal...the only one of the year!!

And if things weren't bad enough, then came the crash of 1929. They evetually lost the farm. They received $150 on their $2500 mortgage. Of course, some of the older kids were getting out on their own. The boys went to Milwaukee for factory work. After 8th grade (we're talking 14 years old), the girls went to Chicago to become nannies for the rich Jewish people. We chuckled when she talked about grandpa getting on the train with Auntie Josie, the oldest of the girls. She of course, had her ticket bound for Chicago....grandpa, of course, did not. But he could not bear to say good-bye and send his precious little girl off to the big city by herself. He sat with her and went some 12 miles before they stopped the train and kicked him which point (cell phone anyone??) he had no choice but to walk home. He cried for the loss of Josie. The girls earned 50 cents/week plus room and board...which they thought was a pretty good deal. Food....a roof....and spending money. My mom said that she saved a quarter for herself so she could buy a train ticket home from time to time...and set aside a quarter to give to grandma for food.....

I've heard a lot of the stories over the years...I've barely scratched the surface...I never tire of them. They are etched in my mom's memories....even though, now, she sometimes has trouble remembering what she ate for lunch. I never tire of them because it's my heritage. It's strength in's's joy in the simple's courage, it's faith, it's hope and hard-work. It's's my family. They were tough...they were gritty...they were selfless...they were oh so humble. I feel close to it and I am proud...not haughty, just graciously grateful. (In contrast, when I think about all the gratuities given to and even expected by some in America these days, it certainly infuriates me!!). Our family gatherings have always been comforting (and big)...some really great times. I never sensed bitterness. On the contrary, every one of those little Polka dots made gallons of sugar-sweetened lemonade with the lemons thrown their way. Thirty seven grandchildren, some 90+ great-grandchildren, and the mental calculator is boggled beyond that. A simple "yes" to America, amidst strife and misfortune, has made me so blest. I am indebted and will always be grateful.

Dziekuje , Mama i Jaja, Polka....Bog blogostaw ciebie!! Zabawiamy sie jeszcze??

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Well, for somebody who is on the downside of the hill (I mean, really, chances of me living to the ripe old age of 114 is not very realistic!!), I'm not sure this blogging world is boomer-oriented. My days can be quite routine up here on the farm (although I guess we've had our share of excitement with ice storms, blizzards, tornadoes, floods, fires, droughts....ummm, once a tree fell in on the house...and then there was the time that a huge branch fell through the windshield while Mike was driving on the mail route...and let's not forget the time a lady dressed like an apple showed up at the cite a few blog-worthy stories). So yes, there will be times I will be able to share a laugh...a tear...a thought...a comment. But, not being a "techy", I'm quite intimidated with the artsiness of what I see out there.......maybe, with time, I will catch on??

I'm kind of a geriatric 'tweener...........a recent empty nester whose rocking chair is waiting in the not too distant future. It's kinda awkward to try to redefine oneself after pouring heart and soul into raising and homeschooling a family. 24/7 has evolved into about 2/7. A 30 year old degree means nothing in the new least not in what I earned my degree...and rural America, although a great place to raise a family, does not lend itself easily to reenter the workforce. To me, to us (me and Mike), there was no more important work than tending to family; teaching success, integrity, morality, joy....all with a grateful heart to God. There is no job out there, for me, that can ever compare to that of being a mom...working hand-in-hand with God, the Master architect, from the moment of conception build that brickless cathedral, a structure (soul) to house and honor Him. The challenge is overwhelming; the reward, if done well, is priceless. I will always be a mom, but the fact is, the bulk of my work is done there; the nest is empty. But I want to stress "the BULK"....because like my parents, I will always be there for my kids...advice, support, a shoulder, time, a sounding board...a free lunch...a fan...a prayer warrior...and hopefully yet an example...and when it comes right down to it, I'd give my life for them [someday I'll share the tornado story ...from :( to :)]. So, in the process of looking to the future and redefining myself, I'm finding a sturdy foundation in reflecting on the past. It's good for now.

And hence, the title of the blog........Bitts and Pieces. I love quilts. I grant such admiration to someone who can take tiny isolated snippets of fabric, piece them together in such a way to create a work of art....sometimes colors are subtle....sometimes they are bold. There are crazy quilts whose seemingly disjointed patterns still come together to make a cohesive unit. Sometimes life is like that... (city-slicker from Chicago ends up marrying a farmer). There are the patterned quilts whose pieces are more organized, but still made up of just small isolated pieces that fit precisely together... So goes life at times...(can you say "worked 8 years as a computer programmer"?). I really like the watercolor quilts....little pieces of fabric sewn together to move in a wavelike fashion, discreetly blending together without distinct's hard to tell where one piece ends and the other begins, but altogether it makes one beautiful canvas ....kinda like life for many... (have we been married for 28 years already??). The first quilt that really caught my eye was made by my sister-in-law's mother. She tore apart her father's ties and made a beautiful dresser scarf. It was gorgeous!! I was amazed at scraps transformed. My first quilt was less flashy. I made a denim quilt, using fabric from grandpa's bib overallls, mom's jeans, the boys jackets; there was denim in the quilt from something everyone in the family had once worn. I could identify just about every denim square...which conjures up memories of days past....hard-work for for others. I feel family when I snuggle in it.

Life for Joyce Bab-Bitt is a collage of Bits and Pieces of experience designed just for me by God....his perfect timing (although, I humbly admit that my faith has not been as strong as it should have been at times). I'm enthused by the concept of surrender to God's plan. It's not easy for a former control freak. He wants what is best, which is not always ovbvious to us at any one moment. Some of the smallest/simplest pieces and bits have made the greatest impact...and have drastically changed the course of what I thought my life would be. Let God. My quilt is still a work in progress, but hopefully, I will one day be the masterpiece God intended....and from time to time I may write about a little bit from the 'Bitts household that may interest you!!

I am so grateful for my life....the challenges...blessings...hardships...and graces. God, conform me to Your will.