Cheap Seats 2017
An American Story - 01/18
By Rich Trzupek
What follows is an American story. It is not a story that is uniquely American, for citizens of most nations can tell the same kind of story. Nor is it a story that is unique among Americans, for most of my fellow citizens can identify with the themes.
It is rather a story that, I hope, serves to emphasize the value of national traditions that emphasize freedom, opportunity and individual responsibility. America is not the only nation one planet earth in which these values matter, but given today’s atmosphere of internal distrust and self-doubt, this is the sort of story that matters now more than ever.
This story starts at the beginning to the 20th century. It might have begun in a nation that we now call Poland, but Poland didn’t officially exist back then. It had been officially abolished in 1795, its territory and population having been divided between the Prussian, Russian and Austrian empires.
Two Polish immigrants who entered the country through Ellis Island meet, get married and have a child. The year is 1917. A bloody war ravages Europe, a conflict that the United States will soon enter. Thomas Woodrow Wilson is President. Aviation is not yet two decades old and motorized transport is just a little older than that.
The Polish couple will go on to have four more children over the space of twenty years. When the Great Depression hits in 1929, the eldest quits school in order to find a job and help support his family. He is a very smart fellow and he will be an avid reader for the rest of his life, but he never goes back to school. Perhaps this is part of the reason he comes to value education so highly and all of his six children will earn college degrees.
He gets married in 1943 to the daughter of another pair of Polish immigrants. In 1944 he joins the Army, where he receives training as a medic and ships out to the Pacific.
When his service is over, he finds work in the booming steel mills that dot the landscape on the southeast side of Chicago and northwest Indiana. He works hard. He’s a good father. His discipline is hard, but fair. He values truth and honor immensely and his six children will try to emulate him in these things, not because he ever overtly instructed them to, but because of the example he quietly set.
He despises corruption, especially among politicians, and recognizes the Daley machine for the corrupt organization it is. He refuses to bow to the machine or support its candidates throughout his life, enduring the wrath of his alderman and precinct captain in the form of petty withholding of city services when the whim strikes them.
He likes to bake, enjoys a good cigar and a traditional gin martini. He adores his grandchildren. He loves the company of attractive, intelligent woman and could be something of a flirt. He’s a devout and traditional Catholic who never quite adjusts to the mass being said in English instead of Latin.
He is a stubborn man and he passes that trait along to his children too. He distrusts Communists, Socialists and Democrats, in that order, but makes little distinction between them. He’s a working man, but he despises unions – or more properly, union-leadership – believing that unions take far more from the working man than they ever give back, and predicting that unions would be the death of the steel industry in America.
He retires in 1982, spending a few years travelling around the world with his wife before illness struck. He died in 1989, at the age of seventy-two.
His name was Walter Trzupek. He was my father. This past weekend my siblings and I, along with other members of our extended family, celebrated the centenary of his birth. We celebrated with pictures, with the polkas and big-band music he adored and most of all, by sharing the memories we have of the grand old man.
His is one of millions of American stories. Each of us knows of many. I share mine with you in the hope what you will be moved to share yours with succeeding generations. Those stories make us who we are and when we recall them and retell them, we find that the people we thought we had lost are with us still.