The Party Line: Listening in on Celina and Pattie

The Party Line:  Listening in on Celina and Pattie

Johnny is a good brother. He really is, even though he teases me something awful, and we argue. I know he would stick by me no matter what happened. Our family is like that. Dad and Mom and their brothers and sisters are the same way.

1950s glamourRemember that time in high school when he threatened to let it slip that I had tried smoking?  In the year 1950, nice girls did not smoke. And that was that. Just ask any older person my mom’s age. But we junior girls thought we’d be glamorous and  give it a try.

That brother of mine and his buddies thought it would be funny to follow us beyond where the busses were parked and see what we were up to.

Five of us gathered around Ewa who brought cigarettes from her dad’s pack, one for each of us, and showed us how to hold the match and inhale to get a mouthful of smoke. I don’t know what I did wrong, but that smoke came out my nose and mouth and I coughed till my eyes watered. When that happened, I could feel myself turning green, and dizzy, and nauseated. Remember how you and Stella got sick too, but not as bad as I did. That’s when the boys jumped from around one of the busses laughing, and pointing, and teasing us. I was too sick to quarrel when Johnny said he would tell Andy and Dad I had been smoking.

When school was dismissed, and I climbed on board the bus, I was still sick as a dog and didn’t want to talk to, or look at, anyone. Johnny threw his books on the seat in front of me, and said, “Jeez, Missy you can’t still be sick from one little cigarette.” All I could do was reach for the latches on the window and put it down so I’d get some fresh air. When he checked out the black circles around my eyes and my ashen tinged face, he turned around and raised his eyebrows at Mike, his best friend.

CigarettesI should have known better than to dread what he was going to say to Dad. When we got off the bus he shook his head when he glanced at me, and said he wouldn’t tell Andy or Dad. I can still hear him saying, “But I don’t think girls should smoke.” When I told him I would never light up another cigarette as long as I lived, he believed me.

What was your first experience of smoking a cigarette like?


In the man’s world of 1955, Celina is determined to resist the coal mining tradition of her Polish-American family and find a life and love of her own.

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Interview on Bibliophile Book Blog

I enjoyed answering the questions for my interview on the Bibliophile Book Blog Interview: Carol Moessinger.

It is interesting how each question makes one think about how to give a heartfelt answer in a concise way.

I hope you will take time to look up the blog and read the interview


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A Woman’s Role

AWomansRoleCoverA second generation American is determined to find her role in society during a decade unlike any other in the twentieth century.

A Woman’s Role  is set in the man’s world of the 1950s. It explores the complications that impact a young, Polish-American, woman when she determines to have a career, asserts herself at home and at work, and falls in love–all in a decade when few women were strong enough to challenge the dual pressures of traditional culture and family.

The fifties appear to have been complacent, conservative and conventional. but much more was happening–many women wanted not only a home and family, they wanted                                                              greater equality and career choices. The desire for                                                                       egalitarianism did not suddenly appear years later with the                                                        advent of the women’s movement.

How do you feel about the may roles women must play in our society?

Here are a few links that have appeared so far where the book can be purchased:

Amazon print (create space)

Amazon Kindle:


The print version will appear on Barnes and Noble’s webssite in about a week

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The Glass Ceiling: Were assertive women accepted in the 1950s?

The Glass Ceiling: Were assertive women accepted in the 1950s?

Advertisements in women’s magazines of the 1950s, showed women of the decade, as sparkling eyed housekeepers who wore high heels and party dresses as they mopped their kitchen floors.  Are scrubbing and dusting a true form of entertainment and fulfillment?  Celina will tell you that cleaning and scouring can be satisfying, but it’s not a lot of fun.

Like Celina, many women of the 50s hoped for additional ways to enhance their lives. Few options existed, and women had to be assertive, as well as tenacious, in order to change the status quo.

In A Woman’s Role, Celina is determined to become a journalist. She may think that she is alone in her quest for a career, but she is not; although few women had bylines in either local or national newspapers.

Betty_Friedan_1960Groundbreaking writer and activist, Betty Friedan, was nothing if not assertive and resolute. Even as a young girl, she said she had “a passion against injustice.” She carried that passion with her all of her life. After graduating from the University of California, she became a journalist and freelance writer. Through her work, she gained an awareness of women’s issues. In 1957, Friedan conducted a survey among college graduates, and found what she called “the problem that has no name.” Like Celina, there were women who wanted both home and career, but most submitted to the pressure of the times, and gave up their career aspirations. The information Friedan gathered led to the publication of her bestseller, The Feminine Mystique. She spent the rest of her life fighting for justice and equality.

Althea_Gibson_NYWTSAlthea Gibson was a tennis player and professional golfer. She was the first woman of color to win the French Open, in 1956. She was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, in 1958. No small feat for a young woman from Harlem who learned to play sports at the Police Athletic League designated play area during the Great Depression. Celina’s family struggled through the Depression. Gibson’s determination enabled her to be the first African-American woman to be part of the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, in 1964.

Margaret_Chase_SmithPolitician, Margaret Chase Smith, served both in the U. S. House of Representatives and the      U. S. Senate. Like Celina, she grew up in a small town. Her father owned a barbershop, and her mother worked as a waitress and store clerk. As a young woman Smith taught at a one-room school. She married Clyde Smith, representative from Maine, and followed him to Washington, D.C., working as his secretary. In 1940, when her husband fell ill and passed away, she stepped in and won a special election for his open seat. In 1948, Smith won election to the Senate. In June of 1950, she took the courageous act of speaking against McCarthyism at the time when Joe McCarthy had the power to remove her from the Senate. Smith voted to censure McCarthy in 1954. The Senator from Maine exercised her independent spirit throughout her career.

Helen_Thomas_2009When speaking of women reporters, who can forget the feisty Helen Thomas? She was one of nine children born to an immigrant family that came from Tripoli, what is now Lebanon. Tomas knew she wanted to be a journalist while she was still in high school. After graduating from Wayne University in Detroit, she obtained her first job as copygirl. In 1943 she joined United Press and reported on women’s issues. By 1955, the year our story takes place, Thomas was covering the U.S. Department of Health and Capitol Hill. She and other female journalists pushed the (men only) National Press Club to admit them to an address given by Nakita Khrushechev. Forceful and unrelenting, Thomas earned the respect given her by the press corps and world Leaders.

The decade of the 50s may have appeared placid and conformist, but women were making it known that they wanted a more equal role in the work place. Celina tells her mother that she read about women stepping out and into careers that had been denied them in the past. Maybe Friedan, Gibson, Smith, and Thomas were among the women who inspired Celina.

What is your view about the roles women were assigned to in the 1950s?





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The Family’s Sunday Dinner

family dinnerSitting down to Sunday dinner with your family is as American as the red, white, and blue; mom; and apple pie. And so it is with the Pasniewski household in the 1950s. Everyone who lives within driving distance congregates at Tomas’ and Marian’s house. Andy’s family, Grandma and Grandpa Dombroski arrive with Aunt Mary and Uncle Stanly, and friends like Mike, usually show up. Often, the women bring something to share like Aunt Mary’s garlic laced pickled beets, grandma’s chow chow, or Ellen’s chocolate-marble coconut-frosted cake.

Celina can’t imagine Sundays any other way. She’d tell you that she had been taking part in these gatherings as long as she can remember and loves hearing all the people talking at once at these get togethers. She is a twenty something, and when the family arrives home from church late in the morning, she joins her mother in the preparation of the midafternoon meal. They start as soon as she and Marian change into more comfortable clothes. Celina’s job is to take orders from her mother who’s the undisputed monarch of the kitchen.  Not even Tomas, the head of the house, can usurp her authority in this domain

The coal stove is stoked and the embers in the firebox are red hot. Gingerly, Marian places the chicken, they have breaded, into a huge cast iron frying pan filled with hot oil. The drumsticks, thighs, and breast pieces sizzle and brown before being placed in a large baking dish that Marian slips it into the oven next to a large blue granite roaster filled with halupki. The fragrance soon fills the house. Celina is dispatched to peel potatoes, and snap green beans, and husk corn. It’s July and the chores are not always easy. But she enjoys preparing the fruit laden jello for the children.

She wonders if she will ever have a special someone to invite to Sunday dinner.  She’s talked it over with Patti, her best friend from work, often enough. They both have dreams of the most handsome and perfect man coming into their lives. Celina, being more practical than Patti, doubts that it will happen according to their fantasies. She dawdles and sighs and Marian demands that she stop daydreaming and finish slicing the bread, since the relatives will be coming at any minute.

Family members arrive, and greet each other with traditional old-country signs of hospitality, hugs and kisses all around.   Andy’s boys, Marty and Tommy give Celina hugs and noisy little kid smooches. The men drift outside to talk over the inevitability of the Dodgers and Yankees going to the World Series again this year. They always talk about the state of the coal industry, close calls at the mine, and the price of used trucks. The women set to work carrying laden bowls and platters to the table and share local gossip. Marian watches Ellen and nods her head knowingly—she always could tell when a woman was pregnant and she thinks Ellen will be making an announcement very soon. Her glance shifts to her unmarried daughter and she wonders if Celina will ever marry and start a family. Oh, the things mothers have to worry about.

What are your memories of family dinners?



A Woman’s Role will be available on January 30, 2014, through Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Sony, and Apple.

The novel explores the complications that impact a young Polish-American, woman when she determines to have a career, asserts herself at home and work, and falls in love–all in a decade when few women were strong enough to challenge the dual pressures of traditional culture and family.



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A Long Ago Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in Rural Pennsylvania during the 1950s

winter1-30-09 046As a little girl, growing up in central Pennsylvania, I remember the excitement only a kid can feel on Christmas Eve. Not just because I expected gifts on Christmas morning, but because for our family, as Polish-Americans, it was an exceedingly special day.

When my sister Irene and I heard the clanking of the coal furnace early in the morning, we knew Mom was downstairs in the kitchen kneading the dough for poppy seed and nut rolls. She put Dad to work grinding poppy seed. We knew for sure it was Christmas Even when we heard the low rumble of complaining about how hard it was to grind the near unbreakable, tiny black seeds that she brought home from the grocery store, in a two pound brown paper bag tied with white string. Somehow, I can’t imagine the day being the same if he weren’t grumbling. He never seemed to get the mixture fine enough and she insisted he run it through the old-fashioned meat grinder at least three times. Anyone who has turned the crank on one of those contraptions would understand why he complained.

winter1-30-09 042Later in the morning, we trooped behind Dad through knee-deep snow onto the “reclaimed” strip mine near our house. With our breath steaming the air, Irene and I kept the axe and saw from disappearing into the show while he chopped down an evergreen. Only one kind of tree grew there, white pine. The trees sport soft needles, and the limbs are far apart and somewhat sparse, but a heady fragrance they give off is so much better than any store bought evergreen. I remember enjoying the Christmassy scent while brushing clusters of needles across my cold face. Our house in the distance, the arctic-like snow filled air, what more could we ask as we held onto branches and helped our dad drag the tree home.

Once inside, muttering about straight and crooked trees, he set the tree up in the rusty red three legged stand, brought down the decorations, and strung the lights. We, along with our older sister Virginia, were drafted into cleaning the entire house. And we did clean every nook and cranny—even putting up fresh curtains in each room. There is an old Polish maxim that says if home is not sparkling at Christmas it will be untidy during the coming year. Our house glowed. And the old adage always proved accurate the following year. Mom took breaks from the kitchen and worked alongside us while the heady scent of baking Christmas goodies filled the house.

No Christmas Eve dinner, Wigilia as it is called in Polish, is possible without pierogi. House cleaned, nut and poppy seed rolls baked, it was time to make our favorite comfort food. Mom prepared the ingredients, and we girls sat around the kitchen table stuffing the little dumplings and pinching them together. They took only minutes to cook, and Mom stirred them into hot butter and delicately browned onions. Oh, the aromas!

When the house was gleaming, daylight was rapidly fading into wintery darkness. Virginia and Mom set the Wigilia table, and Irene and I decorated the tree. Dad reached the high branches but mostly sat on the couch and supervised. When the last candy cane was hung, he reminded us that we had to watch for the first star to appear in the eastern sky; otherwise, we could not start the Wigilia supper to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We knelt on the chair in front of the window and watched. When we saw it, he came to make sure it was there, and pronounced it time. Time to enter the candle lit kitchen and approach the beautifully set table. There was always one extra place set just in case a stranger should stop by and be in need of hospitality. We Polish-Americans are welcoming people, and say: A guest in the home is God in the home.

The array set before us still glows in my mind after all these years. The white and pink Oplateki was arranged on a glass plate in the center of the table covered with a white tablecloth. There was mushroom soup, thick and velvety, laced with the mushrooms my mom had dried after we helped pick them in the fall. A pierogi filled platter drizzled with onions browned in butter, bowls of peas, beets, kapusta, sauerkraut, a small plate of garlic sprinkled with salt, and fruit compote. Christmas Eve is a fast day and no meat is eaten. A tray of goodies, including cookies as well as the rolls baked earlier in the day, sat nearby.

To begin the meal it was necessary to share the Oplateki. The symbolic bread is a flat rectangular communion-like wafer, about four by six inches, imprinted with scenes from the biblical Christmas story. Dad stood and said a prayer, he broke off a piece and held it while reaching across the table to each of us, and we in turn broke off a small piece. He wished us a happy and prosperous life filled with goodness, luck, and joy for the coming year. Mom did the same, followed by each of us children. The candles gave off an ethereal light, and the tree glowed in the other room.  Wigilia is the most special and solemn meal of the year. We passed each dish and enjoyed every bite after the long and eventful day.

Full and tired, we were glad of the old custom that said clearing the table of the still laden bowls and platters could wait till morning. This was in case the spirits of our ancestors should want to stop by and share the feast. I don’t know where that practice originated, but it was part of our tradition. My sisters and I still mention it whenever we talk of Christmases from long ago.

Dad loved to sing, and one of the few times each year we heard him was when he sang the koledy, Polish Carols, after dinner. There are dozens and dozens of beautiful Polish Christmas songs.

We didn’t open gifts on Christmas Eve as many Polish families do. We waited for Santa Claus. Irene and I crawled under the covers warm, snug, and excited looking forward to Christmas morning.

Wesolych Swiat b ozego Narodzenia

Merry Christmas

What are your Christmas memories?

Christmas 12-15-12 020-1 


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The next excerpt from my novel A Woman’s Role

All of the excerpts I’m posting are from the “cutting room floor.”

The kitchen was comfortably cool until she plopped a few twigs, and egg sized lumps of coal on top the barely living embers in the firebox of the massive beige porcelain cookstove. She slid the damper open and small flames danced around the dusty lumps. The kitchen grew hotter by degrees. She wiped her brow with a sweaty forearm.

She slid a pot of peeled potatoes over the fire and darted to the refrigerator to retrieve a brown paper package and a glass bowl of chilled peas.

With the wire loop-handled lifter, she removed the stove lid, and a red-gold ember buried deep in the firebox popped, scattering red-hot sparks in all directions. They seared the tender inside of her left arm. “God damn it to hell,” she yelped while sprinting to the sink and running cold water onto the pock-like blisters rising on her tanned skin. “Damn it, damn it, damn it to hell, anyway.”

Tears welled up, and she brushed them aside with a swipe of her hand. What’s wrong with me? Crying over a stupid little burn. Returning to the stove, she unwrapped the pork chops and tossed a chunk of lard into the cast-iron skillet heating over the fire.

Celina heard her mother at the back door. A well-worn apron covered the faded housedress that hung loosely on Marian Pasniewski’s thin body. The red cotton babushka covering her hair revealed gray streaked waves that had once been brown.

She used a skinny elbow to keep the screen door from slamming when she entered the kitchen. “Frankie doesn’t want to come out from under the porch. Poor dog. He won’t even come out for a few laps of water.”

Marian pulled a small saucepan from the cupboard. “Fill this and put it on to boil. I found enough snap beans for supper. As if speaking to herself, she said, “If we get some rain, there’ll be tons of them in a few days.”

“I’m surprised we’re getting any at all. It’s been so dry.”

“They’re growing, and, thank God, it looks like a storm’s coming. I hope it pours all night.”

Marian wiped her brow. “This heat is bad enough, but going through the change at the same time, I feel like I’m burning up all day long.”

She got herself a glass of ice water, found a bowl in the Hoosier cupboard, and went back outside to snap beans.  Frankie poked his head over the edge of the porch and disappeared beneath it again. She said, “I know how you feel old boy,” A moment later, she yelled, “Are the pork chops on?”

Celina called back. “Yeah, they’re sizzling.”

“Good, supper will be ready when Dad gets home.”

“Yeah,” Celina answered. She rearranged the utensils on the stove. The percolator gurgled, and the heady aroma of fresh coffee joined the smell of frying meat in the sweltering kitchen. She didn’t know how her dad and brother could eat all that food in the heat.

Tomas’s 1932 jalopy rumbled up to the house. “Dad’s home,” Marian pointed out.

A moment later the outside cellar door slammed. Tomas would clean up in the basement. He Andy, the oldest living son, had installed a shower in a back corner. Over time, the shower had become such a convenience that the whole family descended the steep wooden stairs to the whitewashed room.

“He must be starved.” Marian added.

Celina mumbled, “Hungry as a bear. One with a sore ass.”

“What’d you say?”

“Nothing, Mom.”

A few minutes later, Celina threw the chops on a platter, and Tomas, a graying, barrel-chested man in his fifties, entered the kitchen through the cellar-way door. He had taken his shower, but the wrinkles around his eyes held traces of coal dust, and his lashes were lined in black as though someone had painted them with a mascara brush.

What kind of relationship does Celina have with her autocratic father?


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