How I Became Grandpa Don

Chapter 14
A Perilous Voyage
  1983 - 1985

Recorded by Donald J Plefka (Grandpa Don) 
February, 2004

This period of our lives started on a calm sea and a glorious sunrise, then quickly turned foul. It was a period of constantly changing weather which proves the adage, "Life is what happens while you are planning something else." But it ends with a glorious sunrise! ... another calm before the storm!
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1983   1984   1985
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This part of our odyssey began with a great event. On March 2, 1983 Anthony Albano came into our lives. We now had two grandsons and were delighted.

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Anthony comes home from the hospital.
Little Dominick gazes in wonder 
as their proud father looks on.

The joy of Motherhood!

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Brotherly love!

The Oil of Baptism is applied as the Godparents look on.
Uncle Tom and Aunt Chris.

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Anthony has been Baptized.

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Dom, Dominick, Chris,
 Anne Marie & Tom

My career was also advanced during this time. Kelso-Burnett management had often talked about opening an office in Will County. Circumstances were such that it was an opportune time for me to suggested I do it. I would keep the Corn Products Argo account to give me a customer base as I tried to develop new opportunities in the Joliet area. We opened an office and my son Dan was my assistant. This risk (father/son office) worked out very well. I think the two of us got to know each other in ways fathers and sons seldom do. Shortly after opening, we bid and won a contract to perform the electrical portion of the work to remodel one of the big round cell blocks at Statesville Penitentiary. It was quite an experience, requiring us to walk through prison corridors along with the inmates to get to and from the work area. The project lasted over a year and was a financial success for us. I was now a Branch Manager It was a satellite branch with all financing handled through the main office. At first it was just the two of us but then we hired Shelly to do the clerical work and "anything else she could to assist". I told her that I never wanted to hear the statement "That's not my job." She turned out to be a great help, taking on the role of doing minor purchasing when we were not there to respond to a need from the field and even to the point of picking up and delivering small items. The most important thing was that she knew her limitations,  knew when to ask for help and was a fast learner.

We took the Albano's with on a visit to Anne's Brother's summer place in Indiana

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Dominick loved the water and shows no fear as he flies into our back yard pool.

In August, Anne's mom was not feeling well. She was never one to complain and would just stiff it out on the assumption that the problem would go away. Anne finally talked her into seeing the doctor who sent her to the hospital. She had had a heart attack! After a day in intensive care, she was feeling well and immediate danger seemed to be over. Anne Marie went to visit her in the morning and she was in very good spirits. They had a pleasant visit. Afterward, she was given a portable heart monitor and transferred to a 'normal' room.

Her room mate reported that she was laughing and joking and suddenly said, Oh!, I feel so good! At that moment she had a massive heart attack and was born to Eternal Life. It was August 20, 1983.

Anne took the lead in making the funeral arrangements. She knew what her mom wanted.  Her dad and brother followed along. They were relieved that she was strong enough to handle it. I was amazed that she could. She was so very close to her mom. It was a great loss for her because her mom was her best friend. A grave site was selected at St. Casmir (Lithuanian) Cemetery. It had always been grandma's wish to be buried there. She was of Lithuanian heritage and they have a very deep respect for the dead as well as a tradition of respectful grave sites and monuments. Grandpa wanted to buy a six-grave site to accommodate the his two children and their spouses. Anne's brother did not want to be included. The thought of having a grave site waiting was not what he wanted.

Sometime after the funeral, we went with Anne's dad to select a monument. A suitable marker was selected and it was decided that It would be inscribed "Lawler ... Plefka" with our names and birth dates along the bottom. For the inscription, Anne selected words from the last line of her mother's favorite prayer, "The Prayer of St Francis" ... "In Dying ... We Are Born to Eternal Life". Anne commented, "If we don't believe that, what is there?"

That was a spiritual jolt for me. Eternal Life is the goal. It was the promise of Jesus. It is what this life is all about and nothing has as much importance. It was not a bolt of lightning but a gentle nudge. I saw in it Anne's deep faith in God. It was a start toward my recognition of my own spirituality.

In October Anne and I drove to Massachusetts for a vacation. We needed to 'get away'. Anne was depressed due to her mom's death and also due to her own health problems. Our intention was to visit Marist Brother Frank Kelly in Lawrence and take him out to dinner. We did that but he insisted on being out tour guide.

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Here is Frank at a very famous statue in Gloucester.

(Click the thumbnails for a good look)

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Anne was enthralled with the ocean. Something on the rocky coast caught her eye.

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In Rockport we ate a delicious lunch at the quaint Peg Leg Restaurant.

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Rockport is a picturesque artists colony with many shops. It was a delightful place and we loved it.

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A Visit to "Old Iron Sides" is a "must' if you visit Boston.

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A visit to Boston demands a visit to The tavern that was the setting of the TV show "Cheers"

Anne & Frank at "Winged Victory in Boston Commons.

Anne & Frank 

After leaving Frank and the Boston area we drove down the coast. We arrived in Plymouth in the pitch dark, got directions to a motel and checked in. We didn't know we were right on the harbor until we awoke in the morning.

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A view of the Mayflower from our motel window.

A close-up from the dock.

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A trip to Plymouth must include a visit to the replica of Plymouth Colony.

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The visit to Plymouth Colony was the last straw for Anne. Walking the unpaved paths was too painful for her feet, even in the best shoes. I had wanted to continue down the coast, making a few more stops but she just couldn't manage it. We ended a great vacation and headed home. 

We both enjoyed the vacation very much but it was better for me than Anne. I did not realize the pain she was having due to the neuropathy in her feet, which of course was the direct result of her diabetes. We both enjoyed the visit with Frank. Since getting to know him as one of Tom's teachers I have had a great admiration of him and his dedication to God. It was something that at that point I admired but did not quite understand. 

Life moved on and it soon became evident that Ann's dad was struggling. He missed his Anne as a companion and mate but he could cope with that part. It was the fact that he had relied on her to handle family financial matters to the point that he had no idea of what needed to be done. There was a more serious problem. He could not write a check!

During his life as a truck driver and a part time foreman for a delivery service, he refused promotions. We all knew he was able to handle the jobs but we didn't know he lacked good writing skills. He had quit school when his father died in order to help support the family. Anne talked it over with her brother and I. It was decided that her dad would move in with us. The house in Mount Greenwood was too small so we started looking for a larger home. The Orland Park area was the target because it was half way to my branch office in Joliet.

(For more about my father-in-law, mother-in-law and their heritage I invite you to visit the page dedicated to Harry Lawler & Anne Montrym )

My mom was now living in an apartment near 63rd and Kedzie. She had friends there and a senior center a block away. A grocery store and a drug store were very close as were restaurants and many other stores. It was the city setting that mom grew up with. She also liked the idea of being able to get on a buss and to go down town. Thankfully, she didn't do that. 

She was beginning to get "anxiety attracts" which caused shortness of breath and convinced her that she was having a heart attack. It seems that every spring the condition would result in a stay at the hospital. Then on Feb 16, 1984 Aunt Kate died. She had gone to her room after lunch because she felt tired and was later found in bed, having very peacefully left this world. It was a big shock to mom and afterward she often said she wished that God would take her. However, she still wished to live on her own in her city apartment.

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Anthony has his first birthday party and his big brother Dominick is there to help blow out the candle. 

At the end of the table Grandma & Grandpa Albano are gathered with Great Grandpa Lawler & 
Great Grandma Plefka. My mother's face shows the redness of a nasty case of shingles.

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The other end of the table is occupied by Tom & Diane.

We had found a floor plan of a house that suited us but we wanted to make some modifications. The builder had a reputation of charging high prices for plan modifications and so we took the plan to Don Hartz. Don had built 3 homes for Harry & Carol (Anne's brother) so we knew we could rely on him. He had an oversized lot at a location we liked. Construction started in Orland Park, Illinois in the spring of '84. I stopped by every day on my way home from work to check progress. Several times I found problems and they were quickly corrected. With the help of the boys and Dan's father-in-law, Ted, we pre-wired the house for telephone and TV antenna outlets. There was a phone outlet in every room. Yes, bathrooms too!

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It starts by clearing the top soil

After the foundation is in, 
framing is well under way.

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When the roof is on
Interior work can begin

The new house gets its "skin"

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The house plan had been selected as a very "private" layout of rooms. It had to accommodate three generations giving each it's 'space'. But as with all such "plans", the three generation aspect would be short lived. In May, Tom and Diane became engaged with the wedding planned for the fall of '85. 

On July 1, 1984 we moved to our new home. The day before the closing we got a call from the builder who said there had been an error and we needed to bring an additional $1,000. We did but when we gave it to his attorney, ours objected. When the builder's lawyer placed the check in his brief case and left the room to make a phone call our lawyer reached over, retrieved the check and tore it up. When the lawyer returned with the news that we did not have to pay the extra money he was startled to find the remains of the check on the table. It pays to have a good attorney at times. 

House8.jpg (109253 bytes) Soon there was grass and some landscaping.

Anne joins her dad at one of his favorite places, watching the world pass by.

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It was difficult to leave Mt. Greenwood, the place where Anne and I both spent our high school years and raised our children. We were leaving good neighbors and the parish in which we had married. But we did not completely break our ties. We sold our house to Anne Marie and Dom and so would be visiting old Drake Ave often. Anne continued to bowl with her friends from the neighborhood. And, ... the bonus was that we finally got rid of the closet full of clothes that Anne Marie never took when she married Dom. We just left them there for her.

On July 5th 1984, William Lawler died. He was Anne's uncle. Although he was her dad's brother, they were not close. But still, coming so soon after the death of Anne's mom, it was a shock. That was followed by a blow to Anne and I. John Beuink, one of our good friends died suddenly while playing cards with family. John was only a year older than I and he and Carole (Jones) along with Dick and Jan (Jones) Halford got together often for dinner and cards. After John died, Carol did not want to continue so it became "Dinner & Cards with the Halfords" from then on. 

With our move to Orland Park, we started going to Mass at St. Julie Parish in Tinley Park. I did not like it! We came from a very traditional parish. St. Julie was anything but traditional. The church building was built at a time when Cardinal Cody mandated that new parishes build "all purpose" buildings to serve as meeting halls and churches. We sat on stackable chairs and there were no kneelers. The hymns were modern, certainly not the traditional hymns to which I was accustomed. It wasn't that I was all that comfortable in church to begin with, but I was more uncomfortable here. But, we went to church every Sunday along with Anne's dad. 

Anne's dad settled in to our new house very well. He had a large bed room with his own TV. Early each evening he went there and left Anne & I to watch TV in the rec-room. When we had company, he would say his hellos and leave us to be, unless it was immediate family. I forgot what it was to take out the garbage because he did that and many other little chores. When I cut the lawn, he always had the can ready to collect the clippings. In short, he went out of his way to help and give us our privacy. He was a joy to have as a part of our family.

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In '85 we purchased a 24' round pool and I started to install it. 

I gave up and we called in the experts after encountering the hard clay of Orland Park. It was too much for me but they made short work of it with the small bob-cat.

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On Aug 24, 1985 George Lawler died. George was grandpa's "little brother" and they were close. It seems when a brother, a spouse,  or other close relative dies, a part of our life dies with them. Especially when we are older.

One evening Anne Marie called and told us that she was pregnant again. Anne put down the phone and crumbled up her package of cigarettes saying that this grandchild would not smell tobacco on her breath. That vow was kept. 

In April of 1985 I was elected to be a member of the board of directors of Kelso-Burnett Co. When asked by Cal Cooper if I would want to serve as a director, I replied that I would be honored. He said that it was good I felt that way because the position was one of honor and not much substance. We met once a year to fulfill the corporate requirements and received a small stipend for that meeting. The power in the company was firmly in the hands of the president. Still, it was an honor and it made me feel more secure in my job.

Pool85.jpg (95816 bytes) Dominic and Anthony were enjoying the water.

They are under the watchful eye of Anne & Anne Marie

Summer brought the news that Karen was with child, ... joyous news of our expanding family. Then on July 20, 1985  Marc Albano was born. Another grandson for Anne and I. He was healthy, for which we were all grateful. Dom said he was trying for a basketball team of his own. There were now three players on the roster.

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The tag says "Albano"!
Marc is seen through the window of the nursery.

There were several months of wedding preparations and just settling into the new house. Several boxes had remained unpacked in the basement. We decided that if they remained that way for too long we probably didn't need whatever was in them and could throw them out. Eventually, however, their contents found a home. Then in October another great event occurred, Tom & Diane's wedding.

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Oct 26, 1985 Tom & Diane Wedding

The Bride & Groom

Tom Long reads from Scripture
"Love ... "

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The Program

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Click for a better view

Wed85b.gif (169038 bytes) The Participants

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The Bride & Attendants

Ring Bearer & Flower Girl

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The Groom & His Men

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Only one ring bearer came down the isle.
Dominick did the honors while Anthony spent most of the time outside the church with his dad. (He kept crying for his mother)

William (Chico) & Marylyn Marks
with Daughter Diane

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Together with ...
Tom and his parents, 
Anne & Don Plefka
It was a great party and provide the opportunity for a couple group photos that are priceless.
Wed85g.gif (195982 bytes) Don & Anne Plefka surrounded by immediate family.
Standing: Dom & Anne Marie Albano; John & Chris Lawler; Dan & Karen Plefka; Harry & Carroll Lawler; Aunt El, Matt Lawler, Uncle Andy Kalabus.
Seated: Grandma Plefka, Anne, Tom, Diane, Me, Grandpa Lawler

Anne & I surrounded by many good friends.
Neighbors from Drake Ave,  friends from Mount Greenwood Youth Baseball, the Halfords, Carol Beuink, and the Buchlers.

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It is great when a wedding party can include people you love but when your children include among their friends, the priest that maries them and Marist brothers who taught them, it it an added bonus. It is also of interest to note that both our daughters-in-law celebrate their birthdays on the same date and their mother's share the same first name, Marylyn. We were blessed with the fact that our children's in-laws were great people with whom we had a mutually pleasant relationship. We all became good friends.

As time progressed, Karen was having problems with her pregnancy. There were strong indications of a possible premature birth and medications were administered to slow things down as well as fortify the baby's lungs. Bed rest was essential. Everyone was deeply concerned. 

When word came that Karen had gone to the hospital, Anne was in a dilemma. It was her bowling day. She decided that to keep herself occupied she would go bowling. After all, it could be another false alarm.  When the call came to the house, Anne was bowling. I called bowling ally and had it announced rather than upset her by being called to the phone. The ladies of the bowling league erupted in cheers to the news that on December 30, 1985, Nicholas Plefka was born weighing only 3lb, 4oz. Because he had received such good care, Nick was only in hospital for 4 weeks before he was able to come home. He hasn't stopped growing since. (Thank you God.) And ... we had an heir to the Plefka name. There were now four grandsons! (Would there ever be a granddaughter?)

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This was Nick's world for a couple weeks.

Just a handful but 
Karen could not have been more proud.

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This chapter was to end in 1985 but I must include the fact that Nick was released from the hospital on the day prior to Super Bowl XX. Anne and I, Great Grandpa Lawler and Karen's parents gathered to watch the game at Dan and Karen's. It was a great celebration. What a combination! Nick is home and the bears win the Super Bowl!!! 

We had given ourselves a video camera for Christmas and it got it's first real use on this festive occasion. 

NickPlefka86-35.JPG (131594 bytes) A SUPER SUNDAY! (The picture at the left is a video tape taken of the TV screen at the end of the game. It was played back on the TV and a digital photo taken for use here.)
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Nicholas sleeps peacefully through the excitement.

Proud Parents

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Anne and her new grandson.

Marylyn gets
her turn too.

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Great Grandpa Lawler

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Ted & Don
A pair of Grandfathers

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This had been a very busy time in our lives and a very stressful time. It was also a time of great change. Anne lost her mother and we welcomed her dad into our home. We left our old neighborhood and entered new surroundings. There were deaths and births and one of the births had been perilous. Our life was truly an odyssey, a perilous journey with  storms followed by calm seas, one after the other. And, ... Anne was hurting. Her diabetes was getting out of control and the side effects were causing problems. Although she mustered strength to support our children she often showed deep depression at home. At times she was very difficult to live with and I didn't know what to do. I was failing to give her the support she needed. She was sure that the diabetes was going to overcome her and was getting desperate. And lately she was having pains which she attributed to gallbladder problems. She "knew" a painful operation would be required. I wondered how long this could last. I had a little spiritual boost but it was overshadowed by my many questions about religion as well as my dislike of the new parish. I still didn't get it. 

And so it was that we journeyed on into 1986.

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