Christmas Trees, customs and traditions, Kwiatkowski, Olean, New York, Szadlowski

(n)O Christmas Tree

Part Four of Four–Dad’s Story


I hope you had a Merry Christmas. Today’s post might seem anticlimactic, but I think I just got too ambitious by adding Midnight Mass to my Christmas celebrations. (It was truly beautiful, though.) I gave serious thought to saving the fourth Christmas tree story for next year, but I promised a fourth story, so here it is.

I saved the best for last.

Dad is the only person I know who laughs harder when telling his stories than anyone else does. His laughter is contagious, which makes his stories all the more entertaining. Dad is also the only Pollack I know who told Pollack jokes when Pollack Jokes were trendy. His light bulb joke comes to mind:

  • Dad: How many Pollacks does it take to screw in a light bulb?
  • Me: I dunno. How many?
  • Dad: Five. One to hold the light bulb, and four to turn the chair.

Ba dum bum ching.

I think the best Pollack joke told by Dad, is actually a story that happened to him. It happened just before a staff meeting at work several decades ago. A man had come from out of town, and when introduced to my father, said, “Oh, yer a Pollack, eh?” Of course, the man had to follow up with a Pollack joke. Dad laughed. He could appreciate a good joke after all. But the poor man couldn’t be stopped. He continued telling every Pollack joke in his repertoire, and as time went on, the jokes became more off-color and inappropriate.

Dad was no longer laughing, and finally interrupted with a question, “Do you speak Polish?”

“No.” The man replied.

“How does it feel to be dumber than a Pollack?”

That put an effective end to the Pollack jokes.

Dad’s Christmas tree story is a story that sounds more like a Pollack joke, but it really is a story. It’s also more my grandfather’s story than my dad’s; but I never knew my grandfather. Dad told the story many times over the years, usually around Christmas time, and I never got tired of hearing it. Of course, I had him retell it at least three times this year in preparation for this blog post.

The story happened in Olean, New York before my father was born and before my grandparents were married in 1931. Grandma was seventeen and my grandfather was nineteen when they were wed, so he would have been a teenager at the time. Probably in the late 1920s. Grandma was not involved in the story, but it would not surprise me if she had also been one of the storytellers over the years.

Chester John Kwiatkowski, “Chet” This is currently the only photograph I have available of my grandfather.

In the Kwiatkowski family, the boys were responsible for getting all the trees for heads of households. This was quite a big job because the family included households on the Szadlowski side (my great-grandmother’s side). It probably included living grandparents, married brothers, and uncles. In all, the amount of trees required numbered about fifteen. That’s just an educated guess from counting all the males older than my grandfather who were living at the time.

As was the tradition, Chester John Kwiatkowski (“Chet”) and his brother, Dad can’t remember whether it was Edward or Michael, set off to locate and chop down suitable trees for the whole family. I’m guessing that they must have driven to the hills nearby, because it certainly would not have been easy for two young men to get fifteen trees home in one trip. Either way, it would have taken the better part of a day.

Their job wasn’t done when Chet and his brother arrived home, though. They still had to allocate each tree to each family. I can imagine the brothers breathing a sigh of relief when the last tree was handed out. Maybe the brothers were getting ready for bed. Or more likely, since the job probably took at least a couple of days, the brothers were getting ready to head off to other activities when a knock came to the door.

It was Uncle Matt Szadlowski.

Matt had come to collect his tree. I’m sure the boys exchanged guilty looks. They told Matt they’d be right back with his tree and headed for the back door. Uncle Matt must’ve wondered what took the boys so long.

At the back door, the boys scanned the horizon, wondering how to come up with a suitable tree, and fast. It was at this point where one brother turned to the other and said, “What are we gonna do? It’s too late to go back to the hills for another tree.”

After a bit of thinking, one of them pointed out, “Matt’s got two trees in his front yard lining his walk. He won’t miss one of them.” Off the boys ran to Matt’s house. After a longer than usual wait for Uncle Matt, the boys came back in with a very nice tree.

Photo by Photo Collections on Pexels.com

I don’t know if Matt noticed right away, or if he figured it out when he arrived home, but Dad tells me that Uncle Matt was no dummy. It did not escape his notice that there was a sawed-off stump in his yard where a tree had once been. It wasn’t the stump that Matt brought up to the boys, though. It was the tree’s uncanny resemblance to the one that used to be in his front yard. It was a perfect tree, Matt told them; just the right size and shape for a Christmas tree, but it did look an awful lot like the missing tree.

Not so, the boys told their uncle. The tree in Matt’s living room was shorter and had been chopped. The stump in the yard had been sawed. Matt verbally accepted the explanation, but I’m pretty sure that both my grandfather and his uncle Matt knew that they couldn’t hide the truth that they had chopped the tree down, cut it to size with the ax, then sawed the stump in an attempt to provide an alibi.

I wonder if uncle Matt ever replaced the missing tree?

Now that Christmas is over, and the majority of us have made it through the season with our landscape intact, I hope you have a very Happy New Year!

6 thoughts on “(n)O Christmas Tree”

  1. Funny thing, my dad(Leo Michael Kwiatkowski) used the same joke in a Department Head Meeting at the Honolulu City Hall (he was the Fire Chief of the City and County of Honolulu). Seems one of the other department heads was doing overtime on the Pollack jokes and my dad asked him the same question about being able to speak Polish and then “How’s it feel to be dumber than a Pollack?”. Fun times in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    Liked by 1 person

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