Jul 8, 201311:56 AMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
Nothing celebrates Independence Day like peas, explosives, beer, and euchre in the Blaska family
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All credit to the younger generation for reviving that hallowed Blaska family tradition of a July 4 family reunion. Tip of the visor to Jessica Blaska-Grady, cousin Johan’s second daughter, and husband Brian for hosting the 2013 edition at their Monona home, right next door to the fireworks at Winnequah Park.
The earliest of those reunions I can remember were held in the early 1950s at Grandma and Grandpa’s (kitty corner from Dad’s), later at Sun Prairie’s Angell Park, then at the homes of various of the nine aunts and uncles. But most and the greatest of the reunions were held at Uncle Cy’s farm north of Watertown. Along with the nation’s birthday, the family celebrated the amazing coincidence of three sibling birthdays on July 4: Cy’s brother Jerome and sisters Evelyn and Dolly.
All nine siblings are gone now. We buried the last of them, Aunt Burdette Blaska, age 94, at Sacred Hearts Cemetery on Friday after a wonderful Mass celebrated by Father John Silva, with full military honors. Birdie retired in 1972 as a U.S. Navy nurse captain and encouraged higher education throughout the family with encouragement and generous checks.
Cy was the oldest brother and so was accustomed to giving orders, even if they were sometimes ignored. He barked those commands through his ever-present blue and white bullhorn.
I could not locate a bullhorn for this year’s festivities so I rented a portable loudspeaker. To commemorate Cy’s diktats, from time to time one or the other of us would pick up the microphone and intone these words: “Feed the foreigners.” It has become something of a family slogan.
THEN: Cy Blaska leads a parade of kids now grown.
Those words commemorate the time Uncle Greg brought his Bulgarian exchange dairy farm workers, six or seven of them. I think the year was 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reopening of Eastern Europe. The Bulgarians waved their flags enthusiastically but were slow to grab the sweet corn and brats.
Father Val Schuster, a cousin of Grandma Rose’s who grew up on the farm across from Dad’s, was Cy and Grace’s parish priest in Oconomowoc. He attended that year as well, so the bullhorn squawked, “Feed the priest.” This command was also issued last Thursday in Monona in memory of those reunions past.
Uncle Greg would take whomever he could lure out to Cy’s cornfield to point out the one corn plant that stood a good foot taller than the rest of the field. Greg invited speculation on how that one plant could be doing so much better. Extra fertilizer? Of course, the disturbed ground around it was the giveaway that Uncle Greg had just transplanted that plant from his own field. It was his way of gigging his older brother’s farming abilities. His corn was taller! He did this every year. We never grew tired of the joke.