Christmas is approaching, but many of my family’s traditional get-togethers have been canceled. One of them is our cousin’s Christmas party called Droby Fest. For those who are uninformed, a Droby is a Slovak sausage made from various ground meats, rice, and potatoes. It is usually baked wrapped with bacon, and it was one of the classic dishes that my grandmother served on Christmas Eve.
As far as I know, Droby sausage can’t be bought; you make it. I have some less-than-fond childhood memories of turning a hand-cranked meat grinder for hours. Besides my past grinding torture, I love Droby and look forward to eating it every Christmas.
My cousin, Ken, took over the manufacturing of Droby for the Cousin Christmas party, which is a pot luck affair of salads, main dishes, and desserts. Droby Fest is one of several other cousin-wide get-togethers that were canceled in 2020. Others included the Kousin Kampout and the KFR (Kuna Family Reunion).
My cousin Kathy suggested that in place of Droby Fest we do a recipe exchange and ZOOM call. Somehow that morphed into my niece, Jeannine compiling all of the recipes into an on-line cookbook, which then became a family history/cookbook/photo album. As far as I know, Jeannine and my cousins Kathy and Kris have formed a committee to accomplish this monumental task.
I contributed a couple of recipes, but Jeannine also needed old photos. Unfortunately, most of my old pictures were on old computers… and we all know what happens to old computers. However, I remembered another option. Around 20 years ago I wanted to digitize old family photos, burn them on a CD, and give copies of that CD to my siblings. At that time, I also labeled names on the photos as I knew that pictures without identification would be useless to future generations.
All that I needed to do was to select the photos and email them to my niece. However, there were two problems.The first was finding the CD ROM that I burned 20 years ago. The second was finding a way to play a CD ROM since none of my current computers have a CD drive.
After some searching, I found the photo CD, and luckily Julie has a plug-and-play CD drive that she uses to watch old TV shows. I connected the drive to my MacBook, inserted the CD ROM, and held my breath. It loaded! However, there were no thumbnail images, so I had to manually click on every single file to view it. Since the process was a bit of a pain, I thought I would get some extra mileage for my efforts and post some of the photos here. Grab a cup of tea and come down my memory lane. These are common photos of a typical family, wholly unremarkable… and because of this, I find them charming. (but I may be biased)
Here are my grandparents on their wedding day. Both of them spoke only Slovak to me, and so my memories of them are limited. When my sister Carol introduced her Irish husband to them they were able to speak perfect English to him. I think their refusal to speak English to us kids was a pride thing… they were very proud of their culture.
Here is a photo of my mother’s mother. I never met her as she was long deceased before I was born. Sadly, there are no photos of my maternal grandfather in existence.
The Kuna’s first car! Quite a big deal. It looks like they are at the cemetery on Memorial Day. We would all go to the cemetery on that holiday and have a picnic. My mom would usually bring a big basket of friend chicken as well as a huge Tupperware of homemade potato salad. Naturally, she also brought desserts-usually cookies and cake squares. When I was a kid I thought it was perfectly normal to picnic at the cemetery. I actually looked forward to it!
Grandma and Grandpa Kuna. This photo looks so ethnic, don’t you think?
My dad. Apparently, he was so good looking that women would fake faint in church because they wanted him to carry them out (he was an usher). I know that this story sounds fantastic, but I have had it confirmed from multiple sources.
My mom as a young girl. My mother was a product of the 1920s. She saw her role only as a wife and mother. With that said she was brilliant and extremely talented. She was very creative, a good artist, and an excellent writer. Her brothers (who were dismissive of girls) were shocked when she received the award for the most gifted student when she graduated.
My mom in a snow ball fight. She is far right.
I’m not sure what this photo is from, but my parents were styling. You have to love the 1920s fashion hat and dress. Many of my mom’s early photos show a gap in her front teeth. She apparently got the gap fixed because I have no memory of it.
My parent’s wedding day. My mother said she hated the photographer but felt forced to use him due to parental pressure.
Hamming it up on their wedding day.
Another shot of my mom. It looks like she is wearing church clothes. Church was very important to both of my parents, they said the rosary on their knees most nights.
My dad, second from the left. Here he is a fireman for CPS. He eventually became the chief operating engineer for one of the largest high schools in Chicago. I have always had a fascination with mechanical stuff. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t have a lot of interest in teaching me. This is probably one of the reasons that I went into science. No one in my family had a science background, so no one could criticize me.
Another shot of my father, as a fireman.
A later photo of my dad as a fireman. He is older in this picture (in his late 30s?). My father had a limited initial education but worked his way up the ladder to become successful in his career. He spent years in night school and eventually took classes at Amour College (which later became the Illinois Institute of Technology).
My siblings. My parents felt that they had a complete family in the 1940s, then 7 years later I came along in 1953. Surprise! Four is company, five is a crowd?
My mother, and two of my siblings. You have to love the 1940s style. I bet this was some sort of church activity.
Me in our old run-down bathroom. The toilet would spit at you when you flushed it. I’m glad that the photographer respected my modesty by skillfully shooting me above my waistline. By the way, it looks like we were using Ivory soap-it floats! Am I asking for the towel?
Me as a baby. Is that a crown on my head? I imagine that my mom is singing to me. I like this photo.
Me on top of our old Nash. The car originally belonged to my uncle Nick. I think he sold it to my dad for a “good price.” We acquired several cars that way. We only had one new car growing up-a 1965 Ford Custom (A stripped-down Galaxy).
Me with a baseball glove. This had to be a staged shot. I’m poorly coordinated and have no depth perception- I will never be a team’s MVP. I have never liked sports, I’m not good and I don’t like not being good at things. Go figure- Well actually, anyone who knows me well will agree with the above. I like doing things well.
I’m guessing that I’m around 3 years old here. I always have been interested in how things work, even then.
My sister Carol, likely her high school graduation photo. Every lady had a string of pearls in those days.
I love this photo. Apparently, no one can stop eating for a 30-second photo! Typical Kunas. The photo includes my family as well as my Godmother and her daughter Suzanne. Suzanne is now a retired biology professor. Also in the photo is my aunt Lill, I’m guessing that the little girl is my cousin, Mary Lynn. I’m not sure who my aunt Mary is holding. Her son, Rudy? Her nephew Stevie?
Santa and me. I would visit Santa at the Talman Saving and Loan on 55th street. Santa’s assistant took this Polaroid. I remember being absolutely fascinated with the fact that the photo developed “instantly.”
For Christmas that year I asked Santa for, “A device that can convert battery power into AC power.” I guess was asking for an inverter, but I didn’t even know that they existed. Instead, I got a battery-operated train. Skunked again. I’m holding the train’s battery box in this photo. When I asked my mom why Santa didn’t give me what I wanted she told me that sometimes Santa gets confused by my requests.
My parents with my sister, Nancy. It looks like she is going to some sort of formal dance. She is so young and pretty in this photo. I’m the kid who is still wearing his school uniform-I didn’t have a lot of clothes. The man behind me is my bachelor Uncle Nick. When I was in grade school I desperately wanted the electronics kit “101 electronic projects.” I begged, but my father said, “No way.” Uncle Nick heard me talking about the kit and gave my father the $29.95 to buy it. Nick didn’t want the credit, but when I profusely thanked my father he made sure to let me know that the kit wasn’t from him, but from my uncle. It was an incredibly kind thing for my uncle to do.
Bowser and me. My sister found Bowser as a puppy. She was running across the street and was almost killed. I absolutely loved Bowser. She would listen to my troubles and patiently comfort me when I was down. She was an awesome dog. She had to be put down when I was in college and I felt like I lost a true friend rather than a pet. It took me some time to get over the loss. Note the fishbowl. One sister (I won’t identify further) used it as an ashtray, killing my pet goldfish. She did say she was sorry.
I’m not sure how old I was in this school photo. Third grade?
Here I am sandwiched between my Godparents-Mary and Laddie (Ladislav)
Why do I look so awkward in this photo? Cousin Kris seems more in tune with the photo shoot. When we had parties my mother made everything from scratch. On rare occasions she would buy a decorated bakery cake. She did so for my first communion. I remember that it had a big chalice on it with a host sticking out of it. I was very impressed-and thought it was the best cake ever. In reality, my mom was a top-notch baker and could bake rings around any store bought cake.
Just one of those “booth photos.” I’m guessing I was in 7th or 8th grade at this time.
8th grade graduation photo-there is not that much more to say.
My sister Nancy was a very popular teen. She had the looks and the personality. She must have taken more than her share because sadly I didn’t have either.
Sometime in the 1960s. My parents with my brothers Tom and Dave. Tom passed away at 32 from cancer, and Dave passed away in his70s from a neurological condition. They look so young in this photo-so ready to tackle the world. I didn’t have a strong connection with my brothers, they were older than me and into their own things. However, I am more than fortunate to have great connections with my two sisters.
Family shot at my sister’s wedding. I’m third from the right with my head cut off. I was in high school at the time.
My brother Tom’s college graduation. I’m on the far left. Before the ceremony, a freak storm came and lightning hit the tree that I was standing under. It actually split the tree into two! I remember feeling the static-tingling feelings right before the tree cracked-thankfully I was OK.
This is the way that I remember my parents. I think my dad was 43 and my mom was 41 when I was born. My parents were often the oldest parents in my peer group. It always felt strange to have parents who seemed to be as old as some of my friend’s grandparents. So what did I do? Well, I was 48 when William was born!
High School Senior Photo. Everyone who sees this says I look angry… I was just trying to look serious! With that said, I didn’t like high school for a variety of reasons.
A photo of some of my college friends. I really loved college, both the hanging out part and the learning stuff part. In high school, I never wanted to act “too smart” as it could mean being targeted (I went to a really tough high school). In college, I decided that it was time to be true to myself. I took on my classes with zeal. Surprisingly, people still liked me even when I busted the curves! Yay!
I have know John for over 60 years, and his now wife Barb for 45. I last talked to John yesterday.
My mother died suddenly at 65. Shortly there after my father started to date my future step-mother, Lill.
I think this was in Dad/Lill’s basement. In the photo you can see my two sisters, and two of Carol’s kids. This is probably a party to celebrate something-I’m just not sure what.
I married my first wife, and we had my daughter Anne. The marriage eventually ended. Prior to being married I never wanted to have children. I think this was because my father constantly told me what a burden kids were. When Anne came along it was love at first sight. I changed my attitude about being a parent and saw it as a great gift. By the way, you may see Anne referred to as Anna-she went by a couple of different names over the years.
If you were cool in the day you had to have a kick-ass stereo system. It is uncertain how cool I was, but I did manage to put together a killer set of components. Around this time I became a lover of straight-ahead jazz… I still love jazz.
Here is my daughter, Anne (holding a My Little Pony) with my two Godchildren, Jeannine and Jenny. In between is little Wendy. She is now a senior VP for a major bank.
Northwestern University/Evanston Psychiatric Residency program. Somehow I managed to become chief resident of the residents. I’m standing in the back row, once again with part of my head cut off. This was a really nice group of people, very smart too!
Dad, Davie, Kathy, and Carol. At this point, I was divorced and living in this “garden” (ie basement) apartment in Skokie. I couldn’t afford to live in Evanston even though I was being paid extra to be chief resident. How much more? One hundred bucks a month-and a whole boatload of extra work. The apartment wasn’t too bad, but you had to learn to ignore the occasional rat screaming after it was caught in a snap trap.
Single Mike. I remember that I had to iron that shirt. I don’t think I had an ironing board and so I would lay towels on the kitchen table.
Single Mike a few years later. Wow, a Christmas theme outfit.
I had been divorced for quite a few years. Early on I had dated a lot of very nice women, but I just couldn’t see myself getting married again. Finally, I gave up dating altogether (it was too much work, and I hated upsetting people). I decided that I should just become a single person. I didn’t date for almost two years and I thought that I was happy during that time. Then I met Julie.
This is what happened next. You can also see Best Man, John, and Maid of Honor, Amy. In the front is Junior Bridesmaid-daughter Anne. This is the same “John” as the young guy 12 photos above.
Julie and daughter, Anne. They both had to adjust to one another, but it all worked out in the end.
Me and Kathryn. OMG, they grow up so fast.
Dr. Gracie with Grandma Avis.
Christmas 2000- Do you remember Y2K? The world was supposed to end when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000. Several prominent engineers and a few Fermi Lab scientists warned me about Y2K. I listened and bought cases of dehydrated food. Ten years later I tossed the cases out-and yes, I never heard the end of it.
I did other stuff to prepare for Y2K. I have been an avid radio DXer since childhood. However, I decided I needed to have the ability to transmit (communicate) if the phone lines were down. In 1999 I took the amateur licensing exam for the technician class, then I took the test for the general classification. By the end of the year, I passed the amateur extra licensing exam (the highest level) which allowed me to transmit on all amateur bands and modes. I over prepared-again.
One thing led to another. Here sisters Kathryn and Grace welcome brother William.
My in-laws, Bob and Avis were visiting in Naperville when William arrived. How great it was to have them around for that special event. We really needed them too, as I was spending time in the hospital with Julie while our two little girls were at home.
Anne in a glamor shot. These head shots were a big deal a few decades ago.
William. Note the sign in the lower left. The family was about to celebrate Father’s Day. I bet they made me mandarine orange cake, which is my favorite. You can never go wrong by adding Cool Whip to anything!
Teaching Will and Grace how to cook has been one of my great joys. I cook a lot of the meals at home, and more often than not Will, Grace, or Kathryn will help me. Actually, sometimes all three will be in the kitchen at the same time. I really love spending time with my kids.
Grace, Will, and Kathryn taken just this year. My babies are now adults. This makes me both very happy and very sad. However, I’m going with happy.
Family! I’m have gone a long way from never wanting kids. To me, my family is the most important and most significant part of my life. Never base your opinion on someone else’s opinion. My dad felt that kids were a burden, but I now know that they are really a joy. They are my most important accomplishment.