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  • Writer's pictureTerri Tomoff

Dad, Happy Heavenly 100th Birthday!

My Dad was born on the kitchen table on March 9, 1924—100 years ago! Though he only lived 77 years, he did it with gusto. Below are some memories I'd like to share with you (thank you, dear readers, for reading along on this "milestone" day).

Last October, I was thankful to be able to scoot back to Cleveland, Ohio, to celebrate Mrs. Irene Pavlyshyn’s 100th Birthday . She is the mother of a good friend of mine—we grew up together—and I was so excited to go to her big celebration. In a way, we not only celebrated family, friendships, and good cheer but also for all of us to aspire to have our health and wits end if we should be so lucky to live that long.

My 2024 word of the year is Celebrate. Does it really matter if I send up some heavenly prayers to my Dad today on what would have been his 100th Birthday? I think not. No celebration with pomp and circumstance, but I hope he is rolling perfect bowling scores of 300s (you know, that’s thunder, right?), dancing polkas and obereks (similar to the polka with different timing counts), with my mom and his sisters, all gone now, and grocery and butcher shopping to rustle up some delicious Polish breakfasts on the weekends!

A quiet, blue-collar guy, John/Johnny was not really a drinker but loved life to its fullest and was one of those, much to my mother’s dismay, a buy-the-house-a-drink kind of guy. It never boded well when he didn’t have much of a paycheck left to feed the family. Luckily, on these occasions, my mom had squirreled away some cash to float us for a spell in G&G (gasoline and groceries).

My biggest joys in spending time with Johnny (besides the everyday, of course, in my youth) were two trips—one domestic and one international, and my wedding day (the eldest and first of three daughters to marry - a proud Dad moment). The domestic trip was a road trip to South Bend, Indiana, the home of Notre Dame. Before the trip, Johnny had bought an old police station wagon (think a hearse and painted over with white that never truly worked) that could haul many passengers. He volunteered to be a driver and chaperone to take a bunch of teenage girls there to compete in a National Track and Field and Swim Meet through the Polish Falcons of America in the summer of 1977. We were Cleveland Nest 141, one of 110 Polish Falcons nests across the U.S.

I swear Johnny was in his own little world as we traveled the four-hour trip with at least seven or eight screaming girls (the competitions in South Bend were almost a week long). Perhaps he was dreaming of how to roll his 16-lb. bowling ball to a perfect score while the rest of his precious cargo was shouting the words to the pop songs on the radio. Whoever sat in the front seat(s) were the disc jockeys of the local radio stations as we passed through in the old clunker. I sat way in the back and faced toward the cars behind us with two others on a bench seat.

Thinking back, I’m unsure if anyone settled down for the trip. I could tell you that NO ONE napped or shut their eyes because everyone was excited to be ‘free’ from chores and other boring tasks (heck, we were hormonal teenagers!). As my Dad rolled down the highway with seemingly no care in the world, he only smiled and never sang along. When Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell top song, Paradise By the Dashboard Lights, came on, at almost eight minutes long, it was sung (screamed?) in tune by the rest of us. At that time, the radio stations played this tune due to its popularity often enough, which seemed to happen every five minutes as we rocked and rolled in the old mule, creating a scene for passing cars.

What a way my Dad held grace to a carload of rowdy teenage girls…

In 1995, my Dad called me one snowy February morning to tell me that he had just purchased two plane tickets to Poland—one for him and one for his sister, Mary, leaving in July. He didn’t need my approval, but he was 72, and my Aunt Mary was 82—not exactly spring chickens. Aunt Mary was barely 90 lbs. soaking wet.

"How are they going to navigate the trip? Who would be their “sherpa?” Those were questions posed by Hubby Bill as I descended the stairs to tell him of this news as he began feeding our three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son at the time. I countered back, “Should I go?” The two of us went back and forth about the logistics of me being gone for (4) weeks that summer with young kids in tow for Bill to be the main caregiver.

That is still one marker I may still owe Bill for his grace and generosity in giving me the blessing to go.

The trip was magical. I loved seeing Johnny and Aunt Mary (both speaking fluent Polish with their first cousin, Mira, and her family in Ostrów Mazowiecka. I was thrilled then, and still am today, as I reflect back to seeing my Dad in his element and learning where his mother and father were born in that ancestral place in Eastern Poland.

The memories of that trip (thankfully) bring me right back to the summer of 1995, all in a positive way.

Yes, I did, sherpa for Dad and Aunt Mary.

And yes, Bill held it together that summer (with a lot of familial help) with the kids. I am so proud of him!

Happy (Heavenly) 100th, Daddio~! We miss you!!!


Photos: Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from the South Bend trip or that old Police car, sigh.

1) 1995- Dad/Grandpa/John chilling in Ostrów Maz., Poland; 2) Wedding day - June 13, 1987; 3) 1995 - Cle Hopkins Airport - Aunt Mary/Dad/and I ready to board July 1995; 4) Aunt Mary watching over the bags (my Sherpa duties in vivid color!); 5) Cousins Renata & Jerzy Trojanowski (I visited last year 2023) Dad/John& Aunt Mary in Kraków, Poland; 6) Mary, Renata, Jerzy, John and me in Zakopane (Tatra Mountains in Southern Poland on the Czech border); 7) 1998 - Grandpa with Ryan & Olivia - Washington, DC; 8) 1998- The Nolan's - me/Dad/Mom Sophie/Kimberly & Annette; 9) Grandpa and Grandma - 1999 with the grandkids so far: Brandon/Nathan/Ryan and Olivia.

The last photo is why the whole trip started. Johnny wanted to meet at least one first cousin. Of course, that meant travel to Poland; hence the trip. Seated: Zbigniew (visited with him in 2023, too), I think Anna's Mother-in-law and her name escapes me who is still alive!), Mary and Mira; standing: me, Anna, Ewa, Yvonne, Kasia, and Eliza, with my Dad behind us all.

Me/John/Mary spread out among our Polish family - their first cousin, Mira, sitting on the right of Mary in blue



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