Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The story behind the flower and hams - a Wilebski family tradition

While many of you, perhaps most of you, are familiar with the Wilebski family tradition of the ham and flowers at the funeral, I thought it may be worthwhile to share with you its start and how it continues today. Of course its a story according to my recollection, so if it's not correct historically, I am to blame.

The first "ham and flowers" were part of Grandma (Mary) Wilebski's funeral back in July of 1961. It was Grandma's request that at her funeral there be ham and flowers for the family and mourners. In fact, she provided funds in advance to ensure this. The instructions to the children were very clear to "have enough ham for all the guests and some flowers for a proper send off". However, at a kitchen table meeting at the old Frank Wilebski farmstead, the 12 children took up an additional collection to make sure there was enough for everyone. For those of you old enough to remember, Grandma's wake was held at this residence and in those days it was the job of a family member to stay with the body all night. Hence the name wake I guess.

After Grandma's death, the tradition took on a life of its own with each passing of her children. By this time of course the remaining siblings took up a collection at each death to ensure there would be ham and flowers for the funeral.

Well all went well with this scheme until about 15 years ago. One sibling, Auntie Ella, starting getting worried about her funeral and the shrinking pool of siblings that would be responsible for getting her ham and flowers. Although it was brought up occasionally by her, it was at Uncle Frank's death in 1992 that it became more of an issue with her. Then in 1993 when her brother Walter passed away, she knew there were only 2 siblings from the original family of 12 left. Ella and her sister Aunt Gertie.

As the story is told by numerous cousins, Ella's obsession with the ham and flowers seemed to increase exponentially. Lon recalls driving from the Twin Cities with Ella in the car and he claims that she brought up the subject and her concerns a minimum of 50 times during the 5 hour trip. To hear him tell it, he eventually could not contain himself any longer and let go with an outburst which may have even included some profanity. In a nutshell, Lon promised Aunt Ella in no uncertain terms that The Cousins, and he himself if need be, would ensure that there would be plenty of ham and flowers for her funeral.

At this event or others, the same concerns were voiced by Ella and there were additional promises by other Wilebski Cousins, some of which were Frankie Jr., Joey, and Johnny Michalec.

As such, the hams you see in the pictures above were from those cousins and were used as a centerpiece at the lunch following the funeral. The Wilebski Cousins also made sure Aunt Ella had flowers. The arrangement below was one of 2 at the wake and funeral courtesy of them.

And so now you know the story of the Wilebski Family tradition of Ham and Flowers. God bless you Grandma Wilebski for starting it, and the same to you Auntie Ella for making sure none of us ever forget about it.



Grandpa Jerome said...

I believe the story of the ham and flowers is fairly accurate with a possibility of some embelishment, but not too bad. I don't remember using bad language, but I do remember telling Ella in no uncertain terms, there would be ham at her funeral.

By the way, thanks for putting this all together for the cousins.

The flowers are beautiful and your are to be commended on the hams. I would hope that all had enough to eat today and that you did not run out of ham, that would be a sin.

The blog is great, keep up the good work.

Your Cousin

AKA Grandpa Jerome

Carrie said...

Uhh. . . .dad (AKA Grandpa Jerome) . . .as I heard the story - FROM you - there was definitely profanity. And I believe you said Auntie Ella brought it up at least 70 times in that car ride! :)

Fred - awesome blog - way to go - and WELCOME to the 21st Century!

:) Cousin Carrie

Fred from the far North said...

Thanks for the fact checking Carrie. I did seem to remember it as you did, including the number 70, but thought I'd downplay it in an attempt not to exaggerate. In any event, I think the story is fairly accurate, and we now can watch and see if any historic revisionist intercede.


Katey said...

Ok I only remember meeting you only once in my life and we have the same blog background....we must be related :)

Katey~Larry's daughter

Kathy said...

Thanks for including me on your blog mailing.

The flowers that were sent to grandma's funeral were beautiful, thanks to everyone who sent them. I know that my dad "Bill" would also like to say thank you.

I personally loved the hams and the story behind them. A special thanks for keeping grandmas wish and the story alive. Grandma was smiling down on all of you!

Kathy Barta (Antoski)

P.S. please keep me on the mailing list for your trip. Have a safe and fun time.

Fred from the far North said...

Thanks for the feeback Katey and Kathy. And, yes I do remember you Katey. You were up in Lancaster for the all school reunion if I recall. Thank your mother again for a contribution to the flower fund on behalf of your father Larry.

Kathy, I am sure the cousins will have many stories about your grandmother and her unique personality at subsequent get togethers. I'm glad the family appreciated the effort. In any event, I think Auntie Ella would be happy.