Friday, November 30, 2007

Bing's Dad

It's the end of November now and I thought I'd pay tribute to the third of our trifecta of parents who passed away decades ago in these Fall months. Bing's dad, Bernard Paul Ronyak, died 32 years ago on November 25th. Bernie was born, the fifth of seven children of Paul and Gizella Ronyak on June 2nd, 1915, in Clayton, Wisconsin in the northwest corner of our state. His dad was born in eastern Hungary near the Russian Ukraine border and came to Minneapolis, Mn. His name was Rovnyak which was shortened to Ronyak. Bernie's mom was born in Krupina, Hungary, in 1878 and came to America with her parents and siblings when she was 14. They followed their ethnic group to Minneapolis. Paul and Gizella married in 1900, started raising the first four children in Minneapolis and then moved to Clayton right before Bernie was born. We have some history of their life in Clayton thanks to Bernie's younger brother, Ray. He and the youngest sibling, Trudy, are still alive. In Clayton, the family lived on a barely subsistance farm and ran a small grocery store. They had kerosene lamps and outdoor plumbing. In 1926, the family moved back to Minneapolis when Bernie was 11. He finished his schooling and was active on the golf and hockey teams. He and his three brothers were daring and competitive athletes and rugged hunters and fishermen. Bernie and a friend from Minneapolis came to Milwaukee for work and moved to a rooming house on the East side. It happened to be the same rooming house where Millli Schreiter from Appleton, Wi, was staying while she learned cosmetology. Cupid took over from there and along came marriage, Paul and Bing, and eight years later, Sue. I knew Bernie before I knew Bing and he was one of the kindest, gentlest, most personable people you could meet. I knew him because he volunteered at our parish, working on paper drives and monitoring the halls during evening activities. He'd always have a cheery greeting and a helping hand. Bernie was a very high energy fellow. Most of his married life he sold flour to bakeries and would rise at four or five and be on the road to sell to the bakers who have to start early to get the goods out for the day. Then after work he'd get in a round of golf at various golf courses, ran the bakers' golf league and a bowling team. All the normal family things fit in there too and fishing, and hunting for small game, pheasants and deer. He'd rise early and crash early but crammed as much life into his days as possible. He and Milli loved sheepshead and cribbage and had regular times for card playing too. Bernie didn't talk much but his well lived life spoke volumes. He was a model of hard work, fair play, joy in living and courteous respect for everyone. One cold evening, in 1973, my dad had car trouble and he called on Bernie to come and help him jump the battery. Bernie wasn't feeling well but he went and helped . Returning home, he felt awful, then the next thing we heard was that he was admitted to the hospital with peritonitis - a serious infection in the stomach. Then came the diagnosis of colon cancer, about a two year reprieve when it was thought that the cancer was gone and then death. It was a sad sad journey for all of us and I will never forget the last time we visited him. Our boys were 1, 3, and 5 and it was evening and they were in matching royal blue fleece footed pajamas- I saw him look at them with such longing and wonder. He was very close to death and I could feel him thinking, that he would miss the growing up of these fine little Ronyaks. Thanks Bernie for being such a great dad and dad-in-law, showing us how to live and love.

I've written now about our three wonderful parents and it has struck me that somehow, somewhere this was all designed. People came from England, Ireland, Hungary and America and coalesced into this particular and blessed family. When I was younger, I was a bit smitten with the whole romance of the Irish ancestry with the smiling eyes and love of laughter and song and dance and I always said that our boys were born "all Irish." But with aging, usually comes maturity, and a better description would be that they are a marvelous batch of Hungarian goulash. Who knows what genes and traits have come through and where their wandering souls will take them but they can be sure that wherever thay are, generations of good people have led the way. Two of our boys have set off on their adventures to the west and they certainly come by it naturally when you consider that four out of eight of their great grandparents crossed the ocean in their teens for horizons unknown. Thank you God for everybody.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Dad

It's another memorial stone in the picture. This time I'd like to honor my dad who died 31 years ago yesterday. His name was Mark Louis Scobey. He was born on the south side of Chicago in June of 1902. His dad was Mark Clayton Scobey, born in Springville, NY in 1868 and his mom was Agnes Fleming. She was born of Irish descent in Liverpool, England in 1869 and came across the ocean at age 19. Somehow their paths crossed and marriage followed. Agnes gave birth to ten children in the next fifteen years and Dad was fourth last in the line. There were six girls and four boys. Dad's stories of the family always fascinated me and it was fun to think of my aunts and uncles as the children dad spoke of. As with so many of the large families of yesteryear, there was childhood mortality and sadly, three of the siblings died along the way. An older brother, Lawrence died at two days old. A brother who was two years younger, Paul, died at age two when dad was four and the sister, Mary, who was only three years younger than dad died at age 19. I saw a picture of Mary and she was a dark eyed, dark haired beauty and dad described her as an angel who played the violin beautifully. Dad's dad was a caretaker for a cemetery and that whole family lived in an abandoned railroad station on the cemetery grounds. In the winter they scavenged for coal along the railroad tracks and all the kids when they were grown talked of their mama with the utmost respect as they told of her baking and cooking and keeping the kids in line. They hopped rides on the streetcar to get to school and kept a cow for a while but had to peddle the milk after a while because it was too much dairy for just their family. When dad was 15, he was told by his parents to quit school and get a job. He found a job with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and he worked there for the next fifty years. Dad met my mom who was a typist for that railroad and they married at age 29 - pretty old by that day's standard. They suffered through a lot of miscarriages but then fortunately, Mark, Paul and I arrived by the time they hit their forties. Most of my memories of being with dad revolved around the supper table, holiday celebrations and always relished vacations. I didn't realize it at the time but Dad commuted on the train about an hour to and from work each day and worked an eight hour day so that filled his days and left most of the parenting up to mother. I know, though that he was the one who laid down the law and it was only after his retirement that I saw him as mellowing out. It was fun to get to know him after we had our boys. Somehow, the whole world of parenting opens up vast realizations of what a parent means and a realization that your parents were young fools at one time too, not just people who set down the rules. Dad really liked Bing and they liked to have long conversations whenever we visited. I was happy just to listen and learn. My mom never made it to retirement age and dad was a widower for ten years. He told me once that he was really happy to have lasted long enough to get some of his pension - I was happy too because fifty years was a heck of a long time to persevere with any job. Dad really loved reading - Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were his favorite authors, playing contract and duplicate bridge, Perry Mason TV shows, poetry of his dad, the Chicago Cubs and a Manhatten or two. When our second son, Danny, was born, Dad came up and watched Bernie while I was in the hospital and Bing was working. He did a fine job and now that I'm 65 and I look back on that, I see that he was quite courageous at age 70 to come and care for a 20 month old - I guess he must have liked it because he never said a word about not handling it. In the last six years of his life, we visited Milwaukee with our three boys a few times a year, alternating staying with dad and staying with Bing's folks. Dad would come up and stay with us a few days at a time a couple times a year also. One time, Dad said that we Rhinelanderites lived most like his mom and dad's family than any of the other children or grandchildren. He meant because of our baking bread and canning and raising chickens and generally living off the land. I was proud because he seemed to like it. At the end of October of 1976, dad came up to visit without telling us. He had never surprised us with a visit before and we were delighted. I remember as clear as a bell looking out the side window and seeing Tony who was two at the time. spot his grandpa and come running across the yard as fast as his little legs could carry him with his arms spread wide to be picked up by grandpa. My insides melted as I witnessed love, simply and purely. And I knew that that one gesture was enough to make dad's whole trip worthwhile. Within three weeks of that visit, Dad was dead. He entered St. Michael's Hospital with pain, had an operation, was told the cancer had spread all over and died in the hospital of kidney failure. Our boys were 2, 4, and 6 and that was their second grandpa to die in two years. Thanks, Dad, for living a life of integrity, love, self sacrifice and faith in God. You'd be real proud of what nice people all ten of your grandchildren are.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Shack

The accompanying pictures show our family's hunting shack. It's a venerable piece of our family's history even though, relatively speaking, it's pretty recent history. It only goes back to the 1950's. Bing's dad and four of his friends from Milwaukee leased an acre of land from a northwoods lumber company and built the little structure on weekends. It's about 250 miles from Milwaukee and they scavenged the wood and materials to build it. Bernie, Bing's dad, was in his 30's and the others were in their early twenties. The whole group loved fishing and hunting and the shack became their headquarters for both sports. It was nestled in the woods in a county of 1200 lakes and the tall timber loomed nearby. Heaven to the five guys who headed north to the shack whenever life offered the time to do so. I didn't know two of the five men well because they died pretty young. But the other three, Bernie, Don and Norbie, all were fun loving, hardworking, generous guys who really loved hunting and fishing. Their times at the shack were filled with love and laughter, fresh air, card playing and well earned sleep in the double sized bunk beds complete with mattresses. There was a national forest nearby where they pumped water from the ground for dishes and cooking and drinking. They had gas lights - no electricity. They had an old fashioned ice box for cooling and an oil burner for heat. A short walk out the door led to the outhouse which faced away from the highway because it had no door. As our three sons grew in wisdom and knowledge, they each were welcomed into the shack for the all important deer season opening weekend each November. Their grandpa, Bernie, was dead by then, but Don and Norbie and Bing and his older brother, Paul, mentored them and taught them the secret wisdoms of the shack. Of course, I don't know what they are, because long before the saying became synonomous with Las Vegas, the shack people had the saying, " what's said at the shack stays at the shack. " I do know that the shack is where Bing and his older brother, Paul, have excellent memories of their dad and their dad's love for nature - where they learned good old fashioned values of hard work and enjoyment of god's bounty. Where our kids in turn, learned to appreciate the powerful energy of our natural resources and the fact that one can get along in life and enjoy its moments with a very simple lifestyle. Today is opening day of this year's deer season and there are four at the shack for the weekend. Bing, Bernie the son, Don, who almost didn't make it this year and Bernie's brother-in-law, Doug, who seems to also have the hunting,/fishing gene. Tomorrow I'll know if any deer were slain. Part of our tradition is that when the hunters return home from the hunt, they back into the garage if they have a deer. If the truck comes home frontwards, I know that the hunt goes on and no venison yet!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

People, Look East

I'm geographically challenged - that is I can get lost coming out of a restroom, walking hotel hallways or often, finding the car in the parking lot. But there are two times a day that I know what's what. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Isn't that nice, I get to start the day knowing where I am. And what's even better, I can see the sun rise from our bed. The windows in the picture are our bedroom windows and we have our bed facing east, the right side of the picture. It's an awesome sight to see the blazing orange light up the treetops and then shades of pink and mauve quickly follow. It's an invitation from our maker to rise and see what wonderful things are in store for us today. And since our world is round, we can have the added joy to know that sunrises and sunsets are happening all day and all night. In the fifties or sixties a movie came out, The Fiddler on the Roof, and it had an excellent song that I used to know by heart, "Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly go the days....." It told of time going by so quickly and it seems that the older one gets, the faster that time goes. Or is it just that we slow down and it only seems faster? I don't know but when I saw the pictures of Michaela, our soon to be twelve year old granddaughter, in a dress and high heels and going to a dance, it hit me that the third generation of our family is on that march toward adulthood and independence. What an amazing feeling!