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What The Mutts is a Busia?

Busia is the what I called my father's mother, Alice Josephine (Gularski) Stempky. I knew this woman for 19 years of my life. Today, May 18, 2024 marks five years since she met the Lord. My first year of college was, in part, spent watching from afar as she slowly declined from cancer. During at least the first semester, I would occasionally call her and speak with her. Though these conversations were often short, they are some of the most cherished conversations I have had with any family member. As she has been gone for five years, I wanted to reflect on her affect on me as a woman, as a person. While a top five would make sense as it's been five years, since her birthday is March 7th, I will be dong a top 7. So here is the rundown of the lessons, ordered from least to most important: 7. Mornings Are For Coffee (and a Cookie), 6. If You're Polish, You Must Polka, 5. Special Occasion...Get That Blackberry Brandy, 4. Put That Dang Phone Down! 3. Go With That Flow, 2. Cooking Is A Love Language, 1. Faith Comes First. Now, what the mutts, let's get going.

7. Mornings Are For Coffee (and a Cookie)

The first lesson (number siedem (7)) I learned from this lovely woman is a fun one. Whenever I was up north, that is in Cheboygan, Michigan, she would have coffee in the morning, and very often it was paired with a cookie. It really made me note the importance of routine. It also showed me how to take it slow, even if you are, like I am, a morning person. This time of coffee and a cookie gave her time to settle into the day, or I am sure it did. I even remember waking up once and joining her in the kitchen. I am not sure what our conversation was, just that it is one of my favorite memories of the morning at her house. Now let’s go down to number sześć (6).

6. If You're Polish, You Must Polka

The next one is another fun one. It’s about polka, no not the dots, the dance. I vividly remember sitting in the rocking chair near the radio one Sunday while visiting my Busia, maybe over the summer, and something happened which took me completely off guard. What was this? Well, on Sundays my Busia never failed (to my knowledge) to listen to Polka Party on the local radio station in Cheboygan. So, she first coerced one of my brothers (I think) to Polka or rather to learn to Polka. Then, well guess who her next student was.... Yes, it was me. I galloped around her front room while she led me in this traditional Polish dance. Since then, I have never miss an opportunity to Polka at family events, ok mostly weddings. But talking special occasions let's move on to lesson pięć (5).

5. Special Occasion...Get That Blackberry Brandy

My Father's entire side of the family (as of Summer 2012) at the Stempky Family Reunion July 2012

As the picture caption states in 2012, my dad's Stempky side had a reunion in July 2012, but the year also his mother's, Gularski, side had one in August. There was one of the first times I tasted alcohol. The type...Blackberry Brandy. The children were allowed taste because growing up, my great-grandfather Edward Gularski, would allow his children to have a taste of brandy on special occasions. And since then I have had this brandy from time to time on a special occasion or even sometimes when I have a scratchy throat. Time for lesson cztery (4).

4.Put That Dang Phone Down

Now, this lesson took a bit of time to sink in, or rather years to sink in. I have a memory of many of my cousins, my siblings, and I sitting around on our phones with Busia going through the room telling us to put them away (and maybe even go outside). At the time, I think we all just laughed and continued doing whatever we were doing on our devices. Yet, she was trying to point that we were together physically, but mentally and emotionally we were not connecting. She was encouraging us to spend our time in the real world and cherish the time together which we were, at the moment, taking for granted. Years later, I do try harder when I'm around other people to not be on my phone (ok mom and Veronica, I hear you, I'm a work in progress, be patient please). I wish, though, I would have better understood or grasped the message that Busia was teaching at the time, for it could have created more meaningful memories. But I guess that leads in to lesson trzy (3).

3. Go With That Flow

This admirable woman, who was my Busia definitely had a knack for going with the flow. She often had more than 30 people at her house, especially when she was in her later years. So there was a lot of in and out. There was constant chaos with brief reprieves. There would be sometimes where a few were playing games, the suddenly the entirety of the family was playing something. There were those years that she had a dog. The one I remember more is Buddy. He would sometimes "mysteriously" get into the house (he was an outside dog) though my family likely knows who the troublemaker was who let him in (His name starts with J and ends in Y or to me also starts and ends with D). So of course we'd hear Busia bark, "Who the mutts let the dog in here?!" or some exclamation along those lines. It would make the whole family laugh. But these weren't the only moments of joy in the house. This sets the stage for lesson dwa (2)...

2. Cooking Is A Love Language

My Busia in her kitchen cooking up something wonderful

My Busia was an amazing cook. That is an unquestionable fact. I wonder what her love language was because she surely poured herself into all the dishes she made. She ran her kitchen like a well-oiled machine (a well-greased pan, I guess0. Of course, that was necessary, especially on days like Thanksgiving when over 30 mouths waited for turkey and mashed potatoes (and so much more). She certainly passed on her knack for kitchen mastery to her children for I only had two requests for my high school graduation party, Chik-fil-A and my Aunt Vickie's fruit salad. Also, one of the most popular desserts at Thanksgiving was by far my Aunt Mary's pumpkin pie (yes, my dad's older sister is named Mary. so, is my mom's, and my mom has sister-in-law named Mary. it's very confusing at large family gatherings).

By far the crowd favorite creation of my Busia's was her chicken soup. Her homemade kulski, surely, was the secret ingredient. If that soup was made, everyone would suck it down like it was the last bowl they'd have, savoring every last bite. Even my mom learned how to make this soup, and often makes it (and made it ) when people in the house are (were) ill, or just simply on a cold winter day. It's one of my Busia's greatest legacies. But her biggest legacy is lesson jeden (1).

1. Faith Comes First

I stand in a praying stance before one of my family's statues of Blessed Mother Mary on my First Communion Day in 2009.

My busia was a woman of faith through and through. Though in more quiet ways, as like with lovingly preparing breakfasts for her children and grandchildren. Her faith showed in how she was hospitable, even if it meant tolerating more noise than, perhaps, she would have liked to in her later years. She, of course, went to church every Sunday. She made almost every sacrament for almost all of her Grandchildren (my youngest cousin, Samuel, was only three when she passed) before she died, except for maybe a few weddings near the end. This somewhat applies to her great-grandchildren as well, however, the eldest of those, I believe, had only made it to first communion before she passed away. When I was in elementary or middle school, she acquiesced to my request she teach me the sign of the cross in Polish. She had to do it at least three times before I had it down. Yet, it was just before she died where she made the largest affect on my faith.

Beginning in Fall 2018, during my freshman year, I began to go through a difficult period in my faith. During those conversations which I had with my Busia, I revealed these struggles. When I (and my family) visited Cheboygan for the Thanksgiving holidays (at the time we knew it might be her last, and it was), my Aunt Vickie gave me a book for me to look at; it was ,obviously, a religious one, flipping through it, I realized it was my Busia's first communion book. I don't know her exact reason for choosing this item to give me comfort during my struggle, but I teared up, realizing that keeping me faithful to God was obviously important to her. None other than this one, that faith comes first, could be her most important legacy to me (and to the rest of her family).

Through the sharing of these 7 lessons, I hope you have gained some insight into who my Busia, Alice Josephine (Gularski) Stempky was. She was a woman of faith. She was a woman of family. She was a woman of culture. She above all was a woman, a daughter after God's own heart who died surrounded by her children, and some of her grandchildren, while they sang religious hymns and songs. One last anecdote before I end this post. In the Catholic Church, as someone nears death, it is standard to grant them last rites, a final confession and Eucharist. Well when the priest came to give my Busia last rites she quipped "Why are you here? I'm not dead, yet". So, I guess God wanted all around her, who were probably already beginning the process of grief, to remember her joyful, humorous spirit, and to remember that in sadness there is also always a little joy. Requiescat in Pace, Busia, requiescat in pace.


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