irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.
Something Achieved, Something Lost
The end of a hard, but wonderful era.
by Mike Hartnett (October, 2003)
(If you're looking to this column for insights into the craft
industry, you'll be disappointed. This isn't about the craft
industry, it's about America.)
My mother-in-law died last month. She was 92 and suffered from
Alzheimer's, so she was gone long before her body stopped breathing.
Mary Witczak was one of seven children, the oldest daughter of
Michael and Anna Tomaszkiewicz who emigrated from Poland to Chicago
as teenagers in 1905. Michael and Anna had no money and couldn't
speak English. Their first child, John, died shortly after he was
born, as so many babies did in those days. Michael found work in a
steel foundry and one day had three fingers cut off in an accident.
By then there were six kids at home in a two-bedroom apartment.
The owner of the foundry gave Michael some money and promised him
he'd have a job as long as he wanted. But the owner died soon after
and the son fired Michael. The son didn't feel obligated to fulfill
his father's promise, and didn't have any use for a seven-fingered
Michael took the money and made a down payment on a
"two-flat" in a Polish enclave in nearby Cicero, moving
the family into the ground floor apartment and using the rent from
the second floor to help pay the mortgage. Then came the Depression.
Dreams of educating their children were shattered; everyone had to
scour the Chicago area to find work to support the family. Mary
graduated from high school at 16, but had to decline a scholarship
to the University of Chicago to take a job as a secretary.
Eventually Mary and her five brothers and sisters married and
settled down within about five miles of their parents. There were 14
grandchildren. About once a week somebody would have an anniversary,
birthday, first communion, holiday, confirmation, or graduation,
reason enough for the family to get together. (Change the title to My
Big Fat Polish Wedding and you'll get the idea.) The food was
simple, but plentiful. The laughter was constant and the joy of
being together was always evident. It was a remarkable support
system for the hard times life brings to everyone.
The dream of education didn't die with Michael and Anna, however.
Their grandchildren earned 10 bachelor degrees, 8 masters, 3 law
degrees, and 2 doctorates. One grandson, Michael, became head of a
company that was the largest owner and renter of warehouse space in
the country. He told the Wall Street Journal that he got the
idea from his grandfather's two-flat.
Michael and Anna's children and spouses are almost all gone now. The
only ones left are Aunt Ceil, who also has Alzheimer's, and Aunt
Helen, who's sharp as ever at 85. The grandchildren and their
children are spread out across the country, from New York to
California, Arizona to Kansas. Everybody is busy pursuing new
dreams. Now the family comes together only for weddings ... and