Freedom’s Light Burning Warm

This Independence Day, I listened to the Neil Diamond classic, “America,” a song that pays tribute to his grandmother who emigrated to the United States from Russia in the early 1900s,  reflecting on my own heritage, family, and country. We performed this song as the choir finale during my 9th-grade year at Pound Junior High, dancing in the aisles, shining little flashlights (circa 1980.) I felt so proud of the United States of America and the light of freedom it provided.

… Far
We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Free
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

They’re coming to America today!

On a recent country drive, I passed through Prague, Nebraska, the small town near where my mother was born. I made a quick stop to purchase some freshly made kolaches, a traditional Czech fruit-filled pastry.

 

I also drove up and down the streets, noticing particularly the intersection of Elba and Moravia. Many of the town residents can trace their family roots back to Czechoslovakia and the Bohemia and Moravia regions. I imagined those first Czech immigrants who came to Nebraska—the familiar names and food of their homeland must have given them comfort, even as they sought a fresh beginning in this new country. The famous Nebraskan author Willa Cather wrote, “If security could ever have a smell, it would be the fragrance of a warm kolache.”

As a fourth generation immigrant, I am grateful their heritage was kept alive. My great-grandfather, Frank Blazek, arrived at Ellis Island in 1906 on the Barbarosa ship, not knowing a single soul or a speck of English. He came with only his work ethic and the desire for freedom and a prosperous life. He never saw the parents and siblings he left behind again. His family became his wife, Carrie Pekarek, and their six children—Lod (my grandfather), Rosalie, Frances, Bessie, and twins, Louis and Lillian. If he only knew that his great- and great-great-grandchildren would become park rangers, counselors, graphic artists, law enforcement officers, attorneys, biologists, bankers, teachers and more—I imagine he would have been surprised.

Bararosa

frank and carrie wedding.png
Frank Blazek, Carrie Pekarak and wedding party, 1909.

We are mothers and fathers, town and city dwellers, Republican and Democrat, Catholic and Protestant, single, married, divorced and re-married, high school graduates and college-educated. Most of us have stayed in Nebraska, some have moved out of state, a few have studied and traveled abroad. Each of us, offspring from a blacksmith shop owner named Frank, who until his dying day spoke mostly Czech, with his wife being his connection to the English-speaking world.

 

Photos: Frank Blazek’s Blacksmith shop (and advertisement) Weston, Nebraska 1908-1931.

When I traveled to the Czech Republic, I was shocked how the Czech traditions I had grown up with were not as apparent as I expected, sabotaged of their significance by World War II and the takeover by communists.

Czech Republic
Photos: It was surreal to see the Blazek name on a WWII war memorial in Telc, Czech Republic; likely not relation with spelling change from Frank Blazik to Blazek in America. Czech countryside resembles the area near Prague, Nebraska referred to as the Bohemian Alps.

All the more important, I realized, it is to preserve our heritage or it will die—a little more with each person who passes from this world. My dad, Tom Blazek, played his part by writing the book, My Valparaiso I and II, capturing the history of his hometown, Valparaiso, Nebraska, and the many families who lived there.

IMG_5111
To purchase either book, see the Valparaiso, Nebraska Memories Facebook Page.

Connecting to our heritage does not mean that we are stuck in the past; rather, it allows us to embrace where we came from as well as being open to new beginnings. My cousin, Mike, demonstrates this poignantly. Recently, he purchased my grandma’s old house, the house she bought after my grandfather, Lod, passed away. This tiny house packed three generations (my grandma, her five sons, their wives and seven cousins) in to celebrate every holiday.

 

Photos: My grandma, Helen Blazek and the seven grandchildren that celebrated every Christmas in the tiny house. Circa 1974.

Mike tore the house down to its frame and rebuilt it piece by piece with his own hands—new walls, floors, ceilings, windows, everything. Mike and I reflected that it feels a little smaller to us now, but it never felt small or crowded to us then. We had family and traditions and that was plenty.

 

The before photos: Mike Blazek, my cousin, tears grandma’s house down to the frame to rebuild.

I love how Mike has honored our grandmother and the family she nurtured, while also creating a new beginning for himself (just as she had done.) Sometimes we must tear things down to the foundation to begin again. He preserved the old and created the new; we need both.

 

The After Photos: Mike’s house after working on it for over a year. 

“As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys… Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.” Henri J. M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

 

Photos: Frank Blazek, my great-grandfather, was called “Doda” by all the grandchildren. 

In the spirit of remembering, my dad has gathered many memories, photos and artifacts into a family history. As I read the correspondence of postcards across the sea from father to son, sister to brother, I consider the immigration crisis my country, and many countries around the world, face today.

 

Postcard on left: My beloved brother! Another year has passed, your dear name day, your whole family wishes you what is best for every person, mostly health in your family circle. I have been able to live to this day. Wishes your sister, Marie Kytokova 10/10/62 Breelev  Other postcards sent from the home country through the years. 

 

My dad writes, “Now…everyone is protesting immigrants coming to America. We must remember we wouldn’t be here if our grandpa wasn’t one of those immigrants. (We) are lucky; we were born in America thanks to Frank Blazek. No one can tell us to go back where we came from like immigrants are told now.” 

My prayer for this Independence Day and for the tumultuous political environment we are in:

May we remember the courage it took for our ancestors and forefathers to seek freedom.

May we be compassionate to all those seeking freedom and safety today.

May we be the light—in our lives and in this country—a shining star for all.

May we recognize when we need a new beginning, a fresh start.

May we not cling to the past, but preserve it gently in our memory, keeping the richness of our heritage alive.

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America

Home, don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America

#KnowYourNeighbor

freedoms light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A House Blessing and the Holy Trinity

A few months after we had moved into our new home, one of my favorite monks, Fr. Thomas Leitner joined us for a special dinner and house blessing. After the introductory prayers and Scripture readings, Fr. Thomas sprinkled Holy Water that had been blessed at the Easter Vigil in each of our rooms—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen, upstairs, downstairs and even next door at Al and Beth’s house, our townhouse roofmates—and a little extra splash for our loyal Dachsy-Poo, Bailey. Our daughter, who was finishing her last year in college, would spend a few months living in our new home, but mostly it would become our empty nest. This blessing for our home was also a blessing for the next chapter in our lives.

Building Hacienda Drive.jpg

Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.*  He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home.

Fr. Thomas Holy Card

The three angels in the icon symbolize the three strangers that Abraham welcomes into his tent in Genesis.

Abraham’s Visitors

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent…he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them …He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice calf, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them, waiting on them under the tree while they ate (Genesis 18:1–8).

The three angels wear different colored garments representing their distinct role in the relationship of the Trinity. Viewed left to right, the angels represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The first angel wears a blue undergarment, symbolizing the divine nature of God and a purple outer garment, pointing to the Father’s kingship. The second angel is the most familiar as he is wearing the clothes typically worn by Jesus…The crimson color symbolizes Christ’s humanity, while the blue is indicative of his divinity. The oak tree behind the angel reminds us of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden as well as the cross upon which Christ saved the world from the sin of Adam. The third angel is wearing a blue garment (divinity), as well as a green vestment over the top. The color green points to the earth and the Holy Spirit’s mission of renewal…The two angels on the right of the icon have a slightly bowed head toward the other, illustrating the fact that the Son and Spirit come from the Father.” (Source: The Russian Icon that Reveals the Mystery of the Trinity, Alteteia, Philip Kosloski, May 21, 2016)

trinity2
A chalice sits at the center of the table representing both the literal meal the strangers were invited to and the table of the Eucharist we are invited to. It appears the Holy Spirit points towards an open space at the table, perhaps as an invitation to each of us, to all, to sit at the table—to be welcomed and received as Christ.

“At the front of the table, there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth. The observer. You!” (Source: Take Your Place at the Table, Tuesday, September 13, 2016, Richard Rohr)

Fr. Thomas’ gift was a perfect expression of what Joe and I desire our home to be—hospitable and welcoming. Ironically, or providentially, a nail hung on an empty wall near where we opened our gift, so I placed the icon on it. It is the perfect place for it—in our living room where friends and family gather, and at the entry to our kitchen where most entertaining takes place.

IMG_1129

Holy Trinity Sunday is celebrated in many churches this weekend. It is an opportunity to remember, “…this Table is not reserved exclusively for the Three, nor is the divine circle a closed circle: we’re all invited in.” (Source: The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell)

St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us.  If we are truly made in God’s image, lovingly invited to the Table and to dance with the Holy Trinity, then we are meant to extend that welcoming invitation to others.

hospitality

*A note from Fr. Thomas: This icon, which is used to depict the Holy Trinity, originally was meant to show the three Divine visitors to Abraham (Gen 18:1-15). The day of my First Mass in Noerdlingen was the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. On this day, Gen 18:1-10a is in the Lectionary in conjunction with Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha. The topic of hospitality, that we find as we combine these texts lent itself so well for the homily (preached by my former novice master, Fr. Meinrad) and also for my little speech at the reception. We practice hospitality and, perhaps without being aware of it, receive God in the guest.

Read more about Icon of the Holy Trinity by St Andrei Rublev

Marriage Moments: 32 years and counting!

Jodi Blazek ❤ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985scan0009

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

I believe more each day that it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together. Advice to young couples: Stick with it. Don’t give up.  I promise, with effort, love, respect, and forgiveness, your marriage will endure and you will be so happy it did!

A marriage is made of moments.

scan0008Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.

After 32 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.

A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments:

  • Joe sending little gifts to me for several days before our wedding that said: “7 days til a lifetime” (6, 5, 4 and so on). Each day a new gift arrived.
  • Working four jobs between us so I could finish college, sometimes with only enough time to exchange notes or take a break together at one of our shared part-time jobs at Montgomery Ward.
  • Buying our first home and meeting our neighbors, Cece and Bob. Cece, who became a widow just six months later, became part of our family and a grandma to our daughter.
  • Having our first baby and Joe announcing “You got your girl!”, when she was born…my secret hope.
  • Experiencing the loss of two babies and the grief of infertility while creating a family of three with more love than we could imagine.
  • Welcoming dogs (Ralph, Rosie, and Bailey) and cats (Peaches and Boots) into our little family…and missing their love and companionship when they passed on.
  • Being parents to Jessica, from diapers and bottles, soccer games and DECA competitions to college internships and sorority activities.
    wedding

A marriage is made of moments. Our life now:

  • Being empty nest parents to Jessica, staying in touch with our daily Fam-bam texts.  Everything from biking routes that Jessica and a friend took to pizza Joe and I made in a cast-iron skillet to a virtual shoulder to cry on during some rough patches. We are a family connected wherever we are. FullSizeRender (49)
  • Visiting Jessica at her home in Washington DC, letting her host us and be our tour guide. (Of course, we still pick up the check at all the restaurants she has been dying to visit.)20292910_10213492358253709_6210654865780852683_n
  • Enjoying what still feels like our new home, getting into jammies the minute we get home from work, making dinner, yelling at the news (rather than at each other) and thanking God that we have grown together, sharing the same world view in very troubled times.
  • Providing comfort, support and unconditional love for each other (and Jessica) during some very challenging and painful experiences this past year.

    20663676_10213608103347264_2563520287176871971_n
    With the Schoenings, friends we met Jessica’s kindergarten year. Just like family!
  • Becoming more adventurous as empty nest parents: enjoying fun times with friends, day trips to nearby wineries, and taking a special trip to the Bridges of Madison County just the two of us.

Desktop12

Thirty-two years of marriage is a threading of memories, a string of moments that hold the seasons of life.  After 32 years, marriage is about acceptance. We rest into acceptance of who the other is, rather than attempting to create the other into who we would like them to be. We enjoy each other with a lightheartedness that wasn’t possible in the newlywed years. Time is funny: it goes too fast, but it also unfolds so slowly that we don’t always see the transformation of the innocent into the mature, the immature into the confident. After 32 years, I know that this man is someone I can count on no matter what the season. I am so grateful for our marriage and our beautiful grown-up girl!

Happy 32nd Anniversary to us!

A Marriage Made of Moments is a blog post I wrote for our 30th anniversary in 2015. For our 31-derful anniversary, I shared a revised post with updated photos, new “moments” and fresh reflections. Check them out too. ❤

Lover of Life: Ode to Mary

Mary Gehr, my mother-in-law, was a lover of life and laughing, parties and planning them.  She loved going to Las Vegas, playing video poker, Bridge, and Words with Friends. She loved Budweiser, murder mysteries, giving hugs, eating great food, cooking for others, Thanksgiving Day, and being with family.

Gehrs.jpg

Mary Gehr was a strong woman, an amazing mother, the rock of her family, the epitome of hospitality,  a peacekeeper, devoted wife, and bad-ass grandma.  She was spirited, full of joy, selfless, generous beyond measure, supportive, spontaneous, positive and funny. She welcomed everyone as family, would talk to anyone, was so darn lucky in video poker and keno and never worried about what others thought of her. She had dimples and a smile that lit up every room she entered.

17523_10201253028158106_1030445452_n
Mary made friends wherever she went. Here, she’s getting to know some bikers in a restroom line at Branched Oak restaurant.

We never know how long we have, life can change or end in a minute, but Mary Gehr was just as shocked as her friends and family that life took a turn for her on July 24, 2015, the day before her 78th birthday and the day of our daughter, Jessica’s 21st birthday. The last words she said before having a surgery to repair a perforated colon were, “I don’t want to die on Jessica’s birthday. I don’t want to die on my birthday.” She didn’t.  The few weeks she was kept alive on life support, she couldn’t talk, but she could nod her head and she could smile. When my husband asked Mary if she wanted to keep fighting, she nodded yes. She gave the fight of her life to stay with us. 

DSC_0354
Thanksgiving Day: Mary wears her “Nobody’s Bitch” apron

Mary had just started to live a new life of independence, finding her voice and making her own choices. It’s not that she didn’t have that with her husband, Marv, but she came into her own in a different sort of way after Marv passed. She was just as happy, even though she was sad. She was just as strong, even though she was lonely. She loved being around people, even though she could be alone. She got to know herself better and we got to know her in just a Mary-way, without Marv. She was a feisty lady and so proud of the name “bad-ass grandma” she earned from Jessica. 217477_10201067686839796_754692611_n

Jessica’s birthday party was Grandma’s idea. She loves a party–loves to host, loves to go, loves to have fun. But instead, she is lying in a hospital bed getting life support from a ventilator. After an eight-week stay alternating between the hospital and rehabilitation center, Mary’s colon perforated, poisoning her from the inside. Without emergency surgery, she would have died within hours. But surgery to remove most of her colon and repair damages left her weakened even more than before, fighting infections, kidney impairment, and many other critical issues.  Because Grandma Gehr loves to have fun, we went forward with the birthday party…and we had a blast. Our friends and family are so supportive, praying for Mary’s recovery but also celebrating with Jessica. *Written the weekend after Mary’s surgery and Jessica’s party.

Mary lived long enough to smile again, to hold a hand, to hear our good-byes. Mary died two years ago today on August 10, 2015.IMG_8620

My husband, Joe, summed up his mom’s zest for life in her eulogy: “One of our good friends offered sympathy at Marv’s funeral, gave Mary a hug and said, “You will be with Marv again.” Mary’s response: “I hope not too soon!” Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she took what life gave her and began to live every day like it was her last. She had so much fun and joy these last couple of years. Of course, she missed my dad, we all have. I think she cried a tear every day for him and every conversation we had, we talked about him in some way.”

Joe also shared these words about his mother, “We were taught the meaning of selflessness, caring, patience and compassion for humankind. We were taught to see people for who they were, not for who the world tells us they are. My mother’s arms were always open and welcoming to anyone, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from or what you wanted, for my mom, it was about what she could do to help…IMG_8629Whenever you saw Mary, you would see a big smile on her face. It never mattered what kind of mood she was in; she was always happy to see you. If you didn’t want a hug, you were going to get one anyway. Sometimes I think she should have gone into politics. I think if she was the Secretary of State, a lot of countries would end their conflicts and hug each other instead. If you only met Mary for a few minutes, she would make an impression on you that would last a lifetime.” He closed with, “Couldn’t our country use a few more Mary Gehrs right now?”

The world could use a lot more Marys, but we were pretty darn happy to have our Mary. She was a one-of-a-kind-lover-of-life and it is with great joy we remember her today and always.

 

You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream.

never too old

My dad, Tom Blazek, had a dream to write a book about his hometown, Valparaiso, Nebraska—to create a timeline of its history and to share stories of growing up in a small town. Passionate about history, he would devour a book on a topic he loved—about World War II, the Civil War, the history of Lincoln or Nebraska. He could find bits and pieces about Valparaiso from different sources, but he had a dream of gathering it all into one book, from the birth of the small village up to the present. His love of reading about history turned into a passion for sharing with others.

For some, his ambition to write a book came as quite a surprise. My dad wasn’t a
particularly motivated student, he is the first to admit.  One classmate said he was the least likely of their class to ever write a book.  As a teenager, any reason was a legitimate one for skipping school. One afternoon, hanging out at the town gas station with his friends, my grandma (God-rest-her-soul-for-raising-five-boys) discovered his truancy, went to the gas station, and strongly encouraged him to get back to school. Mrs. Jean Ang, my dad’s 7th and 8th-grade teacher, commented, “the Blazek boys, they had a lot of life.” God love his teachers and parents for tolerating his alternative form of education. As a teacher, it’s important for me to remember that everyone learns differently. Regardless of what he did or didn’t learn in school, he always worked hard. 

grandma and pa blazek w boys
Grandma and Grandpa Blazek with the five boys that “had a lot of life”                 Jim, Tom, Don, Rick and Randy.

I’ve observed a work ethic in my dad that is unmatched. From delivering newspapers, farming and working at a gas station as a teenager; being a manager at Safeway grocery stores, working in dispatch, sales and management in the transportation industry; and, finally, in production and office management, my dad has ALWAYS worked hard, whether he liked his job or not.  And for many years he supplemented his full-time job with hauling jobs—cleaning out attics and basements, taking trash to the landfill, and helping people move their belongings.

He had a good example of work ethic in his own grandfather, Frank Blazek, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, who walked twenty-some miles to work on Sunday nights from Valparaiso to Gooch’s Mill in Lincoln, lived in a rented room all week, and, then walked home on Friday night to bring his paycheck home.  And his own dad, Lod, worked wherever, whenever, doing whatever he could to make some money, even if the job took him a distance from home. Work wasn’t a choice. Work wasn’t about self-fulfillment or purpose or happiness. Work was a means to an end—it was food on the table.

So when my dad finally retired, he wasted no time getting to work on his dream (and if you know my dad, you understand there is no such thing as procrastinating or wasting time—he gets things done and works fast! And if there is a free moment, he washes his car.)

Each morning, rain or shine, for three years, he drove to downtown Lincoln, found a cheap place to park for four hours and walked to the Nebraska History Museum. While reading through archives, he took copious notes by hand. He read through every edition of the town newspaper, The Valparaiso Avalanche (1878-1887), followed by every edition of The Valparaiso Visitor (1887-1945), before diving into the Wahoo newspaper, the county seat, for anything about Valparaiso from 1945 on. Over 600 hours he spent at the Nebraska History and Saunders County Museums.

After gathering a morning’s worth of information, he went home to type up his findings, adding old family and town photos and local advertisements throughout the text. And when he had questions about what he read, he tracked down people he could talk to. He interviewed dozens of people who grew up in Valparaiso, often accompanied by his brother, Don. People loved to share their stories and some even offered up old photos and newspapers that weren’t available in the archives. My Uncle Don said, “I was amazed to hear people tell their stories when asked a question about the past. One question could ignite a person’s memory, some that probably had trouble remembering what they did last week, but, man, how they enjoyed reminiscing about their youth!” 

10712921_10204550959124319_7738431348377206599_n
Tom Blazek with his first shipment of “My Valparaiso”.

Stories are as important for those who hear them as the one doing the telling. Being listened to validates our experiences; we matter when we are heard. When we were kids, my brother and I would beg for stories about our dad’s growing up shenanigans, a window into his life before we were in it. His stories helped us see what life was like for him and helped connect us to the generations before us. But these stories are lost if not written down. Writing this book was part fact-finding and part storytelling, both his own and others. 

My dad had a goal to have his book completed, printed and ready for distribution at the 2014 Valparaiso Heritage Days, an event that hundreds would attend. My dad was a town hero that day. Tom Blazek, the most unlikely person in town to write a book, had accomplished just that.

The skeptics who didn’t think he could do it or who didn’t think people would spend $25 on a book, were the same folks who couldn’t put the book down. (Pictured below on top-right is Mrs. Ang, his teacher—she still looks skeptical, doesn’t she?)

People, scattered throughout the American Legion Hall, were leafing through “My Valparaiso”, reading, laughing, reminiscing, and sharing their own stories.  It was a special day of recognition for my dad, a goal accomplished, and a dream come true. The response was overwhelming—people bought not just one copy, but two, three or more autographed copies for gifts.

Valparaiso Heritage Days
Top left: me and my dad. Top right: Mrs. Ang and my dad.

Over the next weeks and months, the reaction to the book was overwhelming. People loved it, ordering more copies, calling friends in distant states and telling them about it. From all over Nebraska and the country, people called and wrote to order a book or share their stories. My dad heard from people in every region of the United States, including Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Who knew that the small town of Valparaiso had scattered its townspeople so far? Who knew “My Valparaiso”, and my dad’s work, could have such a far-reaching impact?

The conversations that followed unearthed new stories and information; a second book was born. Some, like sweet old Edna Johnson, who enjoyed the first book so much, pre-ordered “My Valparaiso II” before it was even finished, but, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see it published. Another lady, in her eighties, said she read things about her family that she had never heard before.

my valp1a
Published in the Wahoo Newspaper

“My Valparaiso” and “My Valparaiso II” are chock full of events and anecdotes that warm the heart and keep the history of the town alive—everything from tornados, fires and blizzards; to the first automobile, electric lights, and pool halls; to horse and buggy accidents, train wrecks, burglaries and even suspected murder; difficult times during the Great Depression, illnesses like hog cholera and scarlet fever; and festivities including Fourth of July celebrations, the traveling circus, auctions and church gatherings. You’ll also find a list of every person from Valparaiso who served in World War II, every graduate from Valparaiso High School and every business ever established, along with photos and advertisements that span the years.

A topic of great concern for many years was alcohol—would the town be dry or not? In 1908, apparently “German and Bohemian immigrants brought with them the thirst for beer.” But Valparaiso was a dry town, off and on, for several years. The town newspaper reported in 1909, “If Valparaiso goes dry again next spring, the Visitor will be for sale. We, the editor, must simply have an occasional nip in order to ward off despondency and keep up a business appearance.” In 1912, fifty drunks were caught celebrating the 4th of July, and concerned wife, Lillie McMaster, took out an ad in the paper saying, “I hereby forbid any person or persons to give or sell my husband any kind of liquor. This applies to the saloon keepers of Valparaiso and Touhy.”

One of my favorite stories that my dad told, included in the first book, is the time he blew up his dad’s car. Yup, he blew up his dad’s car. My dad and a few of his friends had a plan to drive into Lincoln and “cruise through Kings on O Street”, a popular past-time in 1962. The first attempt, after some likely reckless driving, resulted in the “knocked-out rear end of the car.” They needed different transportation and my dad had a bright idea: “My folks, along with another couple, were in Lincoln… my brothers and I were told not to touch the car. Knowing my Dad always checked the speedometer, I unhooked it.” But then they needed gas. (You can see where this is heading.) Siphoning gas from one vehicle to another was the second bright idea: “We had a pretty big stream of gas running between the two cars when Richard Draper lit his cigarette and accidently dropped it causing the gas to go up in flames…and burning the whole back end of the car. Needless to say, when my folks got home I was in big trouble.”

My dad is a lively storyteller (he has pretty good material) and is an attentive listener. What a gift Tom Blazek gave to those he listened to and to the folks who learned something new about their relatives because of his books. What a gift it was to tell the stories that otherwise would have been lost and for the childhood memories that were stirred. What a legacy that will live on because of my dad’s dream and hard work! 

And yes, there will be another book. My dad says, “I may not live long enough to do Book 3 but people keep sending me stuff.”  He’s also been asked to write a book about Touhy, the town a few miles north of Valparaiso. He thinks he’ll have that one published in about a year.

This, among many other things, is what I’ve learned from my dad: Where we come from is important, but even more so is what we leave behind. 
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” -Martin Luther

For more information, see Valparaiso, Nebraska Memories on Facebook. 

 

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: