February 2015

News & Events...

EVENT! Featured Reading by Dammit Author John Highberger at the Millvale MASH @ Grist House Brewing (10 E. Sherman Street, Millvale, PA), Monday, February 9 @ 7:30 p.m., 21 and over event. Come hear John read and discuss “Becoming My Mother” while enjoying a brewed beverage. For more information, click here.

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RETAILERS! Dammit Books are now available at Bear Pond Books (Montpelier, VT), Carnegie Mellon University Bookstore (Pittsburgh, PA), Classic Lines Book Store (Pittsburgh, PA), East End Book Exchange (Pittsburgh, PA) and Tambra's Touch (Munhall, PA).

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Happy New Year, Dammit!

In this issue, Anita Kulina tells some family stories
and talks about what they mean to her.

Learning Through Story
by Anita Kulina

I’ve always understood everything better through story.

In high school, I hated history. Dates, battles, it all seemed stupid to me and I couldn’t figure out why anybody cared. Then, at community college, I had a professor who taught with stories. History, it seemed, was about people. Who knew? I was hooked.


Dammit author Judi Resick-Csokai talks about her
great grandfather’s surprisingly soft heart.

by Judi Resick-Csokai

My great-grandfather, John Vavrek, came to the U.S. from Slovakia in 1907 and settled in Johnstown, PA. I never met “Upo,” but from various sources I know dozens of stories about this man who was a steelworker, tavern owner, Prohibition bootlegger, writer, musician, aspiring real estate tycoon, stern father, indulgent grandfather, melancholy widower, boarding house patriarch, and a sponsor who vouched for scores of young Slovak newcomers a century ago.

My favorite Upo story is about a boarder he once sponsored. His daughter, my grandmother Pauline, recounted that she usually dreaded when Upo brought strangers from Europe to live with them. She said their clothes were impossible to clean from the mill soot. She complained that they ate like horses and that, as the youngest girl in the family, she had the worst job of having to clean their chewing tobacco residue from spittoons. She did, however, fondly remember one young immigrant steelworker who desperately missed his wife. Upo, a stern middle-aged widower, must have really felt for this young man because he somehow secretly organized and financed the immigration of the wife. My grandmother told me of her glee when the young woman finally arrived. Under Upo’s direction, she snuck her through the back door of the house and up to the boarder’s closet. When the exhausted young man returned from a shift at the mill, his bride emerged from the closet and shouted, “Surprise!” He promptly fainted.

My grandmother could not recall the name of this couple or where they ended up. There were, after all, so many boarders and so many families with whom their lives intersected. I often think about the lives Upo influenced, not only in his generation but for generations to come. I wonder if there’s a family somewhere recounting the other side of this story, with different details that my grandmother was not privy to. Did they know that my grandmother had to scrub men’s work clothes and their dirty spittoons? Do they have the missing details of how Upo orchestrated the reunion? There are so many people in Western Pennsylvania with Slovak ancestry—might I unknowingly have encountered the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of this couple? Oh, the possibility for more stories!

What happens when someone shares a story with us—a true story, a story from their heart-of-hearts?

We feel connected. We realize the commonality of our emotions. How we are, as human beings, all the same. We all falter. We all fear. We all stumble. And we can all come back stronger.

This book contains those stories.


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