My Polish-immigrant grandfather played a curious-looking concertina accordion every evening in his third-floor flat. It had a floral pattern in the squeeze-box folds, an incomprehensible series of round silver buttons in the right hand, and just five base notes in the left. But could he make that instrument sing with polka-tunes! As a little girl I wandered upstairs to sit at his feet while that lively three-step dance beat its way forever into my soul. A few years later when I began piano lessons, player and audience were reversed. I practiced relentlessly on a tinny old castaway upright that my father had dragged into our basement. But no matter — my grandfather sat in rapture, assuring me I played like Paderewski. Perhaps he heard the Polish rock-star pianist in 1939 in his last concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, overflowing with his fans. Of course at that time I had no idea. I only knew my grandpa listened to me tirelessly and admiringly.
In those days there were Polish weddings in our family every season. The traditional Catholic morning wedding mass had brimming bridal parties but afterwards families just scurried home to do afternoon chores. Guests came back at night in their finest suits and cocktail dresses for a copious banquet – always family-style – with Polish Sausage/sauerkraut the signature dish. And then as the local polka band soared, the dancers began to fly! Women predominated on the dance floor – moms, and aunts and girl cousins — and I bobbed with them all. But my father was the special dance partner I coveted more than any other. An excellent ballroom dancer who courted my mother at Chicago’s Aragon and Trianon ballrooms, he began my tutorials as soon as I was old enough to stay awake. Guiding me with firm hand and twirling me around so my dress billowed, we circled the dance floor endlessly until the chandeliers were spinning and faces a blur. Wedding after wedding we danced, with our last dance at my own wedding. He’s been gone for many years now but there’s still no one who can ever replace him as my polka partner.
The women in my Polish-American family were singers. Choir singers, soloists, accompanists. The church choir at St. Fidelis was their faith and their social scene wrapped together. And they brought song to every Christmas celebration. The Granackis’ life in Chicago started as an extended family in a crowded 6-flat in Humboldt Park, each flat filled with family. So by the time my own family had moved to our 3-flat on a wide, tree-lined street in Old Irving Park it seemed like an estate. One year Christmas was at our house, the next, upstairs at my Aunt and Uncle’s. But each flat had a piano and after the last Wigilia plate was cleared and the men begun the kitchen clean-up, the women launched the caroling. English songs at first, but then the Polish ones – Dzisiaj w Betlejem, Gdy sie Chrystus Rodzi, and Auntie Joy’s special favorite, Lulajze Jesuniu. We had sopranos, we had altos, and soon the men wandered back in to provide the baritones. After my accompanist aunt could no longer play, I was an inadequate replacement, but I hoped if I loudly led the song, the piano errors would go unnoticed. Age eventually diminished the sound of the song but not the enthusiasm of the singers. These days I sing alto in a thoroughly American Catholic Church choir but my aunts’ voices on their favorite Polish carols continue to haunt me every Christmas Eve. Music of all kinds has been woven into my life, but it was the Polish-Catholic flavor in Chicago’s old parishes that gave me the base.
Victoria Ann Granacki, Chicago, 2015
If you are planning on attending the Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference: The Mexicans on 7-8 November 2014, please take a moment to register for the event.
Registration helps us keep track of numbers, and provides each registrant with a free lunch!
To register, please click here!
A tentative version of the schedule for the 2014 Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference: The Mexicans is now available! Please take a look at the attached PDF, and also check out our conference website.
CCIC: The Mexicans ~ Conference Schedule
Take a look at this partial scanning of the Centennial booklet produced in 1981 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Chicago”s first Italian Catholic Church – Assumption It was edited by Perter Pero who will do a presentation at the conference that revisits the story of Assumption Church on Illinois Steet, in the shadow of the Merchandise Mart. Assumption Centennial Complete
Mother Cabrini depicted in a stained glass image at Assumption Church
Recent color photo of Assumption Church
A slide show of images taken from the Italians in Chicago collection to create ambiance for the Nov. 8-9 Conference at Loyola University Chicago.
Please add to this video by sending identified jpg photos to <Dominic.Candeloro@gmail.com>
Click Here to View the Slideshow!
Chicago’s Lincoln Park is one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city. But it’s also home to a sacred place honoring a champion of the poor. The shrine and chapel dedicated to Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini had been shuttered for a decade, and there were concerns that it might never reopen. But it has. The site was rededicated on Sunday with a mass celebrated by Cardinal Francis George. The struggle to save the shrine to the sainted Catholic nun was tough, but with a lot of faith, the mission was accomplished…
Click here for the full story – and video! – from WTTW
Tom Dreesen explains the need for including Italian American studies in the university curriculum. Memory of the Italian immigrant experience is fading fast and the only way to capture that slice of Italian and American history is serious study and teaching university level teaching, research and writing about the epic struggles and the remarkable success of Italians in America in the 20th Century. Dreesen explains Loyola Pres. Fr. Michael Garanzini ‘s generous offer of a $500,000 match to create a permanent, endowed position at Loyola devoted to Italian Americana. As Dreesen concludes, “once the money is raised, it will stay raised, providing a permanent seat of learning at a major university that will preserve OUR story.”
Click Here for YouTube Video of Tom Dreesen