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.