My uncle, Joseph Holasek, was a constant gardener. Every decade of his life from young adulthood onward involved a garden. He was my father’s brother closest in age even though they were seven years apart. He is standing on the left next to my father and was born in 1914. He was closest in age to Josephine and his younger brother was Fred, far right. There was another child born between Joseph and Josephine, Florence who died very young.
Joseph worked in the store with my dad as soon as he was of age. But I am sure but don’t have anyone to verify the information, that Uncle Joe had some kind of garden going next to the family store/butcher shop. And from the second picture, you can see is was interested in agriculture for sure.
As I have mentioned before, My grandfather had a dilemma on his hand during the depression. No jobs were to be found, so he made the decision to buy a small farm, and sent Uncle Joe and Aunt Josephine out there to tend the farm year around. It was fairly primitive, but that is really where Uncle Joe’s love of gardening fermented. But when I really studied more writings, it wasn’t just Uncle Joe’s love of gardening that was fermented here. It was his brother, Fred, who also loved growing things, and in the future would want to make it a career. I would imagine a lot of the produce in the summer was taken to the store, and years later he and Aunt Josephine would still work together canning the summer vegetables he grew. Below is a picture at the farm with all the siblings and grandma.
The United States was gearing up for war, and many Americans were drafted. Uncle Joe was the first to be drafted in the family. When this happened in 1941 before Pearl Harbor, the family auctioned off the farm, and then one by one all the sons were drafted. My father, the oldest, enlisted, but was rejected for bad veins.
Uncle Joe was drafted into the army and trained as a cook. He had some really great pictures of those days. He was stationed in Hilo Hawaii after Pearl Harbor.
And then one day he was put on guard patrol. Now that was a serendipitous moment.
A young Hawaiian boy started to talk to him. Now if anyone knows anyone with Holasek blood in them, we like to talk. And we can talk to anyone about anything at anytime or place. And Uncle Joe with his constant smile won over this little boy who invited him home. There he met the Johnston family, mother, father, and two sons. They loved my Uncle Joe. And from then on, they had him over for dinner every Sunday and Mrs. Johnson washed his clothes. They all became life long friends.
The native Hawaiians like the other native Americans were a discounted people and they lived in poverty. They shared what little they had with him while he was there.
Uncle Joe was then sent to Japan to cook with the army.
Uncle Joe was gone for four years. He missed my dad’s wedding, but was sent a letter describing it which I mentioned before.
Uncle Joe never forgot the Johnson’s kindness. As soon as he was able to travel to Hawaii after the war, he visited them. And after the war, he sent them money on a regular basis. He visited many times, and as did my entire family. Even I visited Mrs. Johnson in 1968 and gave her a lei to thank her for her kindness. I still have many letters she wrote to the family over the years.
He also left her sons money in his will, and my generous Uncle George continued to send them money after Uncle Joe died. (By this time there were grandchildren, and they all lived in poverty.) The Holasek generosity had no bounds. . . .
After the war, the family settled into their new jobs, since the store was out of the picture. They still lived on Nursery Ave. and my dad lived on the West Side with his wife and soon to come first born. By this time Aunt Lillian had also married.
Dad, Uncle Joe, and Aunt Theresa went to work for White Motor Company making White Trucks. They were part of the United Auto Workers. Dad kept the supply room for the engineers, and Uncle Joe worked closely with him delivering the supplies. Uncle Joe and Dad got to see each other everyday. They were very close, eating lunch together, and playing cards for about 15 min. of their lunch hour.
This picture was taken in 1953. Notice the calendar in the background.
Because this was a Union job, the workers got a paid two week vacation every year. And the Holasek family learned to love to travel. They started small with car trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, fishing in Maine, Florida, and then they branched out to Hawaii, the West, Northwest Canada, and Europe. They took Tauck tours and came back with family friends they met in the tour group. Carol has the list of all their travels that two weeks every year and the list is two pages long.
Besides travel, this is how the middle class thrived under unions. They could afford to take a vacation, buy a home, live simply, but have food and shelter and a good life.
My goodness, people now just don’t get the benefit of unions. They are maligned and put down because the corporations have to actually take care of the workers with unions. And the powers that be, like the petrol gods, HATE unions and anything to make the middle class strong. (White Motor Company ceased to exist in in the 80’s, but Uncle Joe got paid his pension til his death in 2000. Dad’s wife, Joan, got paid her widow’s benefit 25 years after the company ceased to exist. How is that possible? UNIONS!)
After my mother died, dad and I lived with Aunt Lil and Uncle Jack before moving back to Nursery Ave for one year, but in 1948 the family made the big move to the West side, and the house on Archmere they would call home for 60 years.
What astounded me was the amount of pictures of Uncle Joe with me as a baby. The first three picture are at the Wilson’s.
Then Carol was born 8 months later, and Uncle Joe had two little ones to love. This picture was taken at Archmere.
Here is another picture I loved of Uncle Joe and I sitting in the garden when I lived on Archmere. My dog Skippy is in the picture. Uncle George won Skippy in a card game. He was a runner and unfortunately always had to be on a chain or a leash.
The family had these wonderful dinners with family and friends. In this picture was their friend Zoila.
Another wonderful event after the war was the marriage of Uncle Fred to my Aunt Evelyn Loucka. This event is where my mother’s and father’s family came together. Evelyn was my mother’s first cousin.
I must add that Uncle Joe walked with a brace crutch and had ankle braces because he had a back operation. (And we know how they turn out. It gave him foot drop.) His taking care and lifting Aunt Theresa for her 8 year disability with Parkinson’s took its toll.
And finally we come to Uncle Joe as a constant gardener. Cleveland winters can be brutal, but even then he worked on his garden. He mapped out his garden plans, decided on what seeds to order, made lists of what new was added, and waited until early spring.
At that time, he would till the ground, and start the seedlings in the basement. Of course, he was always weeding, and he made his own compost. That yard on Archmere had soil of gold with his 50 years of composting.
Next was planting season. He planted one vegetable just for me, the peas. And I would patiently wait to eat them right off the vine. Of course, I didn’t have to worry about pesticides poisoning the plants and the ground.
When I was a child living in that house on Archmere, I was always photographed in the garden by the azalea or snow ball bush.
Uncle Joe was also a bee keeper. So not only did he make his own fertilizer, but he had his own bees to help with pollination. He was this all encompassing, extraordinary gardener.
Aunt Lil helped Uncle Joe sometimes with the maintenance of the flowers. When his mobility was even more compromised, he gardened from his chair.
No matter what the year, we always went back to the garden. Fred Holasek , my cousin, and his children loved the garden too, and Fred is quite a gardener himself. He takes after his father, Fred, who was already packed up and ready to go to California to start a life of growing things when his untimely death happened at at 39 probably from war injuries.
Here is a picture of my cousin Fred with Uncle Joe in the garden. They spent hours talking about growing things.
Here is a good picture of Aunt Lil holding her great niece, Josephine during Jonathan and Leslie’s visit. The snowball bush is about 50 years old. And the next picture is of Stacy and me early in the growing season.
Harvest time was special. He mulched his corn for the compost pile. A framed picture on the Holasek table in my hour is Uncle Joe with his pumpkins.
Stacy loved Uncle Joe too. And this is my favorite picture of Uncle George, Uncle Joe, and Stacy in the year 2000.
When one talks about the love of family, Aunt Lil and Carol went above and beyond after Aunt Josephine died. Every Sunday they had the uncles over for Sunday dinner, starting with appetizers and their Manhattans and ending with a wonderful full course meal. Then the leftovers would be packed up to take home. (Aunt Lil and Carol always made a lot of extras so they would have food for a couple of days). After Uncle Ed died, it was continued with Uncle Joe and Uncle George, and then Uncle George alone. By this time, Carol was doing all the work because of Aunt Lil’s mobility problems.
Here is a cautionary tale. Uncle Joe would have continued gardening forever except medicine goofed with him. A simple thyroid blood test would have shown his thyroid was failing. Well, it failed. When that happens, a thyroid controls muscles and guess what? One’s heart is a muscle and he had a heart attack in his sleep. His heart became so compromised that he was sent as an emergency to the Cleveland Clinic.
We were all right there when the doctor said, “We have to slowly give him thyroid hormone so his heart is not overwhelmed.” Well, they did not do it right. The Cleveland Clinic overwhelmed his heart with fluids and thyroid hormone, and threw Uncle Joe into Congestive Heart failure. Now that can be managed, but they also did something that is often done to old people. They let him lie in bed for a week. Anybody with limited mobility in the first place and then weakness will not be able to walk. This is repeated over and over with old people every day.
IF AN ELDERLY FAMILY MEMBER IS IN THE HOSPITAL, MAKE THE DOCTOR ORDER THE NURSES TO WALK THEM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
The next thing the hospital did wrong was discharge him when he was too weak to walk. Carol had a terrible time getting him into the house. It was such a burden and danger placed on her. Once the visiting nurse came, he was back into the hospital, and then had to be transferred to a nursing home. Now since the Holaseks took care of their own like Aunt Theresa, grandma, grandpa etc., they were devastated. Everyone cried and cried.
And for the next six months of Uncle Joe’s life, Uncle George visited with him everyday. Aunt Lil and Carol came most days. He never went a day without a family member there. That was the best they could do. And when summer came, he was always taken outside in the courtyard to be near the flowers, and he always had a smile on his face.
I got to visit him in the fall. Carol and Aunt Lil always kept flowers by his bedside and so I brought him flowers too.
Uncle Joe was very ill by Christmas. I rushed flowers to him as a Christmas Present. He died the last day of 2000. These days people say it is a waste to buy flowers for the funeral home. We said no such thing. It was a fitting tribute to Uncle Joe to have beautiful flowers there. I came to Cleveland and gave his eulogy. Carol and I played music. First In the Garden:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=59yKqBhyrFg and then Aloha Oe
As a writer, these blogs are very difficult to write because just looking at all the pictures makes me cry. But Uncle Joe lead a remarkable, but quiet humble life, devoted to family, and to his garden. And of course, there was his generosity. His money to the great nieces and nephews, was just enough to put a modest deposit on a small starter home for Holly and Will 15 years ago. Holly’s first house was a townhouse with the prettiest garden in the back of the property. Uncle Joe would have been so happy, and they had a garden sign that said, Uncle Joe’s garden.
Every time I enjoy a fresh organic vegetable, or see a snow ball bush, or roses, or azaleas, or dahlia’s, I think of my Uncle Joe and his beautiful smile and his beautiful gardens. God blessed us all with Uncle Joe. He was an amazing son, brother, and uncle and great uncle and even great great uncle. We all still miss him so much!