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Postcards from Prague : Eastern Europe

by Todd Walsh / Arizona Coyotes
This one’s personal, if only for a moment.

Eastern Europe.
Sounds pretty far away, doesn’t it? I never really imagined that life would take me there. And, because of that, I never really spent any time taking my mind there. But, as I sit at 30 thousand feet headed in that direction along with the Phoenix Coyotes, I have to pause and reflect. It dawned on me just the other day that I actually have a connection to Eastern Europe.

I am just two generations removed from there. (Don’t bother doing the math…..I wasn’t planned.)

The prospect of traveling to Europe never really entered the equation growing up.
We were at or just below middle class and that was just fine with me because it had to be fine. And let’s face it, the Baby Boomer generation was born into three, count ‘em three, television networks and had to endure the task of actually GETTING UP TO TURN THE CHANNEL ON THE TV! The horror! The indignity. The simplicity.
Dreaming your way all over the planet through the miracle of 150 different channels and the horizon’s that they bring to your living room and your mind just wasn’t in our DNA.
Neither was hop scotching the globe in a nano second via something called the information super highway.
You knew that Europe was there, but it was sort of like Farah Fawcett. Sure you wanted to be with her, but come on. Really? The world just seemed like a bigger place.

Still, my family had a few brushes with Europe. My older sister went to France for her senior trip. I remember her bringing home a giant loaf of bread.
Now, given the wisdom of age and practical experience, my hunch is that she bought that loaf at the airport. Or, if she didn’t, she should have.
I have heard that my brother has tried to save souls and spread the Gospel all over the globe and I honor him for that.

My father, it turns out, has been to Europe, too.
Chet Walsh, born in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twelve, enlisted in the Army for the “Big One.” WWII. He was already 30 years old by the time he landed in North Africa. Soon thereafter it was a march through the south of Italy. He and his anti aircraft artillery unit saw horrific action at the battles of Anzio, Sicily and Palermo.

Upon the conclusion of the war he decided to stick around for a bit. So, he cashed in his pension and made it to Switzerland where he learned how to ski.
Still, the ravages of the reality of war lingered. My mother says that she saw him have nightmares for the first ten to fifteen years of their marriage. And that was almost 20 years after the armistice.
Needless to say, while he had some wonderful stories to share about his experiences overseas, it wasn’t something that we as a family brought up.
I regret that now that he has been gone for a decade or so.
I often wonder what his take on the state of foreign affairs would be. And I wish like hell I could have skied the Alps with him.

And believe it or not, this is not my first experience in Europe. Janet and I made an incredibly stupid “rookie” mistake trying to encounter three countries in eight days.
Adding insult to injury, our airline baggage handlers went on strike the morning of our flight home. 16 days it took to get my luggage. 12 of those days were on the road with the Arizona Diamondbacks. I have purchased underwear and socks in just about every city in the National League West.

The Pennsylvania
Which leads me to my grand parents on my father’s side. For years and years I heard the expression that they came over “on the boat.” Now I know what that means and now I know what the actual boat looks like. My grand father and his brother left Poland in the winter of 1907 and on February 7th of that year landed at Ellis Island and made their way upstate to Rochester, New York. It was there that the cycle of life of my family would begin. I wonder what it must have been like on one of those immigrant boats. I wonder what they were thinking and what they were planning for. I wonder what they hoped for and what they feared. I do not think for one minute that I could have done what they did.

I also wonder what they would have said if I had bumped into them on board back then and was somehow able to read the future and fill in the blanks. What if I told my grand father Alex that in a few short years the world would be engulfed in the smog and the fog of World War I? And, that he and his new family of a wife and son would be heading toward the Great Depression and yet another war.
Or, maybe I could have explained that he was about to live a long and healthy life and that he would spend his last days living in the suburbs of a place called Webster, New York, just a few short miles from one of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario. Alex would die in the house that his son built in the down stairs that was designed just for him.

Do you think he would have believed that his son would live to be almost 90 and would be survived by a wife of 37 years, a son and two-step children and a pile of grand children?

I would love to tell Alex that his son did something that few people did in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He defied the culture of the day, fell in love with and married a divorced woman with two young children. He took their hands and they took his name.

Alex’s only son Chet made a name for himself as a local golfer and bowler. In his later years he was a golf club President and Pro and a hustler! He always had a handful of “walking around money” come Sunday afternoons after a couple of rounds on the links. If he wasn’t golfing or bowling he was hunting or fishing. He lived life to the extreme. He soaked the marrow out of it and told his young son to “Enjoy the Ride.”

And, as I write this, that’s exactly what I am doing.

I can’t help but pinch myself as we embark on this journey. I am well aware of just how lucky I am. And, I am well aware that the focal point of our coverage will NOT be me writing about my own family tree.

But, I hope that you don’t mind if for one minute, maybe two, that I remove myself from this journey and take one of my own.
On Wednesday we fly to Latvia. But, to get there we will cruise right over the heart of Poland. As I fly over I will be thinking of my grandfather Alexander Wasilewski of Warsaw. I will laugh to myself at the thought of what brought me here: a hockey team and a television network from Phoenix, Arizona! They’re both just a stone’s throw and a couple of lifetime’s away from Ellis Island and the “Pennsylvania” and Anzio and the shores of Lake Ontario.

So this one’s for you, Alex. I don’t know why you left Warsaw for the great unknown and the great promise of the American Dream, but I’m glad that you did. It’s been a helluva ride. And it’s getting better every minute.
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