Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Elusive Grammy Josephine, Part Two -- A "Sepia Saturday" Post

My grandmother, Josephine Matukaitis (later Josephine
Stremekes, then Josephine Darasz), in the 1950s. An odd
shot, admittedly, which looks almost like a police mug shot!

I hope this Sepia Saturday post won't be too much of a let-down after my last Sepia Saturday post, "The Elusive Grammy Josephine, Part One." Part One shows a younger woman that was much more colorful, I'm afraid.

As I wrote earlier: By the time my mom, "Grammy" Josephine's youngest child, was two years old (circa 1919), my grandmother had given birth to at least seven children -- I say "at least," for there are rumors that one or more may have died when very, very young -- in the space of fifteen years. Then, for reasons never explained in any detail to those of my generation, she left her husband (and my grandfather), Peter Stremekes... and her children.

My Grammy ran off with a man named Dominic Darasz, and for a while, during Prohibition, she was known to sell bottles of "bootlegged" booze to people who'd knock upon her door and pay a couple of bucks for an illicit thrill, 1920s style!

I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision to leave her children. I can only guess at the handful of variables which prompted her actions. And while I was growing up, no one -- not my grandmother, certainly, nor my mother's brothers who were old enough at the time of her desertion to remember things clearly -- ever deigned to discuss such matters with the young and far-from-Silver Fox.

Somewhere around the time when her ex-husband died in 1927, Grammy Josephine made her initials attempts to rejoin the family. I'm told it was a slow and painful process, as you may well expect. That's probably the main reason I don't have many photos of her until almost thirty years later.

I didn't see a lot of my "Grammy" while growing up, mainly because most of my family lived in Massachusetts, while she and her husband Dominic lived in Rhode Island. We didn't visit often. In fact, the only clear memories I have of that period are of a very realistic (but artificial) stuffed cat with long white fur that she owned, and a conversation she was having with my mother about Dominic -- who was in the same room, I should add! -- and the fact that his mental faculties seemed to be failing somewhat. I would have been about four or five at the time. "He talks a little funny," she said, to which Dominic -- no doubt a tad upset with being discussed as if he weren't there -- replied, "He talk funny, he talk funny," in a mocking, sing-songy way.

Dominic died in 1963, I believe, probably a year or two after this odd visit.

Luckily, my sister Kathy has more vivid memories of our Grammy than my own, and she was nice enough to supply me with some rough notes:

"Grammy" used to always have a bottle of Coca-Cola and a Clark bar every time we saw her in Providence, RI.

Used to have only one type of houseplant -- OXALIS. As long as I have had my own home, I have had at least one for myself. So far, after 4 varieties, still haven't got the kind she used to have in her kitchen. [Good luck finding the right one, Kathy. There are over 800 varieties of Oxalis! -- S.F.]

Used to sweep porch, steps, and sidewalk. Every now & then she would take dishwater and pour it out on the walk to wash it. I guess she was a clean freak. I never washed a sidewalk w/out poop on it. [My sister owns two dogs, and although their "poop activities" are confined to her backyard, the same cannot be said of her neighbors, I guess. -- S.F.]

Every Easter I got a stuffed toy.

Ah, yes, the stuffed toys. Below, you'll find two photos of my grandmother. The first shows her beside my mother, dated "Mother's Day 1955" on the back. I suspect my four-and-a-half-year-old sister took the picture, because of its upward angle. The following shot, presumably taken by my mother on the same day, is of Kathy and Grammy Josephine. Kathy holds her present for Easter, 1955.
Awww, the poor little kid. Doesn't Kathy look miserable?

The next photo was taken in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I have no idea who the two women are on either side of my Grammy in the front row. In the back row are my Uncle Eddie, my Uncle Al, and... well... whoever the third man is, I'm pretty sure it's not Dominic. This guy looks too short, upon comparison to a 1927 shot of Dominic published in my last Sepia Saturday post.

Finally, this 1960s photo is of my Grammy and her sister, my mom's flamboyant Aunt Julia. Julia will get her own post -- or two -- sometime in the future.

When my Grammy died in 1969, I was twelve years old. My sister and I were present when my mother was going through Grammy's belongings. This was at the height of the so-called "hippie" era, and Kathy and I were amazed to see an ancient purple handkerchief, which had been "tie-dyed" several years earlier. And we thought the hippies had invented tie-dyeing!

At Grammy Josephine's funeral, I remember detecting an eerie lack of emotion from my uncles, no doubt caused by Grammy's earlier abandonment of the family. But be that as it may, whatever her faults and failings as a mother, she was a damned good grandmother.

I miss her...

But not as much as my sister does, I should add. Kathy remembers her much more clearly, of course, being six years older than I.

Shortly before my sister Kathy graduated high school in 1968, she gave my Grammy one of her senior yearbook pictures. (The photo fell into the hands of my mother when Grammy died, and when my mom passed away last year, I wound up with it.) On the inside of the folder which contains the photo, my sister wrote "to my favorite grandmother," which says more about my family history than I may ever share with you here.

Thanks for your time.


  1. I love the photo with the white rabbit...Your Granny must have been quite some lady!

  2. Part two was certainly no let-down. I enjoyed every word. What a lady!

  3. It is very interesting how people can be viewed so differently by the different generations.

    One thing you can say about your grandmother, she really LIVED!

    And left you with a great story to tell.

  4. Regardless of the circumstances you will always spin a good yarn. I love to read your stories. Everyone has drama in their family, that is just life. In my family my brother and I are 8 years apart and see our grandparents so differently since my brother never knew our father. Everyone has a story. I love the SS just for that reason.

  5. Coca-Cola and a Clark bar are a perfect combo!

    I miss my grandma, too. Every day.

  6. This was not the least bit disappointing...she was human and that is what makes life interesting. Years down the gene pool we are not upset with their actions as those who were there when would have been. Oh, I too remember Clark bars, do they exist anymore? Wasn't there a commerical with a giraffe saying, "I want a Clark bar?" Good combination of memories here..

  7. Wish I had had a grammy that I could write such a loving tribute to. But I'm so happy that you did.

  8. I don't think Kathy could have been any happier with her rabbit and her Grammy.
    That's an interesting hairdo your Grammy had.
    She certainly was an interesting person.

  9. A wonderful story! I'm so glad she got to be a much-loved grandmother.

  10. When I looked at the first picture of your Grammy, and before I read the text, I thought, "This person looks full of sorrow and pain." I was glad to see that the later pictures show her looking much happier. What a story!

  11. I agree....a good grandmother...possibly trying to make up for earlier years. Still, at least she did that, and I give her credit there. The annual stuffed animals was a cute tradition. You don't have the full story, but you have done a great job at putting together the bits and pieces! :)

    Clark bars...yum...both with coffee please. :)

  12. It would have made strained relationships with your kids. It is interesting how she worked back into the flock somewhat in her own way. Very interesting descriptions of the people in your family.

  13. If you were 12 years old, then you and I were born the same year ... 1957. I enjoy these little personal family vignettes, and they're even more enjoyable when the people portrayed have real quirks and foibles. Funny how often we'd rather read about a 'sinner' than a 'saint'! Thanks for sharing.

  14. I agree with Martin and the rest : this was no let-down at all. All-in-all it is the kind of "ordinary" and yet "extra-ordinary" story that exists in many families. You try to work out motives for actions but there remains so many unanswered questions : and that somehow keeps the story alive.

  15. A wonderful post--between you & your sister & the pix you've painted an interesting portrtait of this woman. I also like the stuffed bunny pix.

  16. David,
    I was glad to read that your grandmother was eventually accepted back by most of the family...another fun chapter...thanks for writing it!

  17. I have loved this tale about your Grammy and the splendid photos giving us the reader a great insight into your family. Wow! what a game old gal. I hope I appear a least a bit of a cool Grandma to my Grandson but I doubt I will be running off anytime soon.
    Great story.

  18. hi fox!
    i wanted to thank you for commenting at my own sepia saturday post.
    i'm glad you had such a great grandma, i barely knew mine.

  19. I love Josephine! She was so colorful and I love the tone you write in. My grandmother was one of the most influential persons in my life and it's so good to hear about other grandmothers. Grandkids are the best part of growing older. Thanks SF.

  20. Glad nobody was "disappointed" that my Grammy -- I only call her "Grammy Josephine" in these posts, btw -- turned into a "good citizen" in her later years. I'll try to have something posted for SS next Saturday. Ever since my infamous "it's only an effin' blog" post, I'm a lot more relaxed about scheduling anything.


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