Source of Information & Advice: Interview of My 92 Year Old Neighbor
Several months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing a very lovely senior member of my community, Amelia Kalinowski. Having lived for92 years – and being married for 64 of those years – I knew Amelia had a thing or two to teach me and my readers about life, love and marriage. Boy, was I right! Though Amelia and I may not have been on the same page with all of her advice, she said over and over again “and that was how it was”. In other words, Amelia’s perspective and advice is based on a time when social rules were simpler and most people were more than willing to follow them. But depending on your perspective, much of Amelia Kalinowski’s advice is still very much applicable today. And, most important, Amelia’s methods of keeping a marriage solid certainly worked for her – for 64 years!
Our interview centered around the techniques, philosophies and methods that Amelia used during her marriage to her husband, Stanley, which lasted longer than most of my divorce clients and myself have even been alive! Specifically, I wanted to know:
- Did Amelia find life-satisfaction and happiness as a result of being married to the same person for 64 years?
- Did Amelia believe that her 64-year marriage was a match made in heaven?
- Did Amelia attribute her nuptial longevity to hard work?
- Did Amelia attribute her long marriage to a tenacious dedication to the belief that marriage is forever (as a result of her religion, or otherwise)?
- Are there other secrets or, perhaps, a magical formula, that Amelia applied to her marriage that might help the rest of us?
Preliminaries of Interview: What is “Blogging”?
Amelia and I started our interview with a tutorial on “what is blogging?” This was followed by a short-session on how my laptop works . . . followed by an even shorter session on how the internet works (since I really have no idea). I asked Amelia’s permission to publish her wisdom, her stories and her advice on this blog and she obliged with pleasure. “I have nothing to hide!” she said. I got the impression, when interviewing this lovely woman, that she saw my blog article as one way of memorializing her husband, Stanley, who had recently passed away only a matter of months prior to my interview. I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I enjoyed my time interviewing Amelia Kalinowski.
Where You Come From Has Bearing On Who You Become
Amelia found it very important to give me some background on her and Stanley’s lives before they got married. This led to a very interesting historical journey through life in upstate New York in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, and helped me understand and appreciate where Amelia’s beliefs, convictions, and methods came from. I have printed Amelia’s anecdotes because, as I have learned through my practice, people’s histories often have a great bearing on the success or failure of their marriage . . . including whether or not their parents were divorced (which was not a topic of my interview; but, which I know to be true), the values they were raised with, and their perception of the world.
“People’s histories often have a great bearing on the success or failure of their marriage. This includes whether or not their parents were divorced, the values they were raised with, and their perception of the world.”
Amelia Kalinowski née Jaros was born in 1923. She was a first generation American-born little girl with Polish immigrant parents. Amelia did not grow up with much at all in terms of material possessions. Nonetheless, her family was grateful to be in America after having endured a hard scrabble life in Russian-controlled Poland.
The family originally settled in Niagara Falls, New York, along with many other Polish immigrant families. Eventually, young Amelia moved to Buffalo, New York, where she ended up spending the majority of her life. Her father, who was literate only in Polish, worked at a factory weighing and grinding bones into animal feed. This was a tough, dirty job that polluted the lungs of the workers, with Amelia’s father being no exception. Her mother, in addition to being primarily responsible for the care of the children and home life, also worked hard as a cleaning lady. Though she never learned to read or write, Amelia’s mother was smart and believed in encouraging all of her children to be successful and productive in this new country of opportunity.
Amelia had three brothers. Two out of the three eventually married. The third brother, just a year older than her, never married and, as was customary at the time, stayed on at the family home. She also had a big sister. Amelia was the baby of this family of five children. As kids, they all went to public school and also attended half-day Polish Catholic School. Like a lot of families, both then and now, hide-and-seek was a favorite pastime. Amelia was not shy to tell me, though, that beer and moonshine drinking (at least for the boys) was quick to replace hide-and-seek in their teenage years. This carousing, however, was never permitted to get in the way of the boys working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, building parks and sewers, during the Depression years. Despite their hard work, the love, and the support of a big family, life was pretty hard for Amelia’s family and for the other immigrant families in pre-World War II New York State.
As a result of the challenging life conditions, Amelia told me that “there just wasn’t divorce.” As she clearly stated, “More kids, less divorce”. From my perspective, I found it interesting that Amelia never mentioned, in our interview, the prohibition against divorce by the Catholic Church. This never came up. Instead, she focused on the fact that divorce was such a mess for families that most people simply did not consider it an option. “You had to learn to get along.”
I got to wondering, then, if our high divorce rate these days is really just one of the many ugly consequences of our wealth and privilege, much like pollution, clinical depression, and heart disease. People today do not “have to learn to get along”. We can operate as individuals due to our economics. . . and we even have a term for how this is accomplished when there are children involved: “co-parenting”. Too bad we all aren’t clever enough to learn to live the good life, but without half of our American families splitting apart as a result.
During the Great Depression, “ . . . divorce was simply never seen as an option.” I got to wondering then, if our high divorce rate, these days, is really just one of the many ugly consequences of our wealth and privilege, much like pollution, clinical depression and heart disease?
Amelia spent a good portion of our interview, too, talking about her husband’s childhood. Amelia’s husband, Stanley Kalinowski’s, upbringing was similar to Amelia’s, but with one great exception: He lost both his mother and father when he and his siblings were just teenagers. Instead of this tragedy tearing them apart (as it often does), the Kalinowski children were galvanized by this loss and made a conscious determination to “stick together like glue”.
This orphaned group of adolescents pooled together all of their resources (which wasn’t much) together and, as unbelievable as it sounds, were able to purchase a home big enough for all of them to live in. Stanley’s oldest sister, Florence, who was just 16 years old, became the head of the house. The siblings took care of each other and they all pitched in to keep the home going. They all had chores, overseen by Florence, and their primary method of making money was working at a nuts and bolts factory down the road from their home.
Unfortunately, one of the Kalinowski children, Valeria, the youngest, died around age 20. The rest of them—Al, Stanley, and Eleanor—thrived under Florence’s supervision and each of them took part in serving their country in World World II. Following his tour of duty, Florence saw to it that Stanley entered and completed college at Canisius.
Not long after the war, Amelia met her husband-to-be, Stanley. She and a girlfriend had taken a bus from Buffalo to North Tonawanda, New York where, as Amelia told me “ the fun was!” Amelia described North Tonawanda as “a big bar town that even had a Whirlitzer Jukebox factory!” Upon reaching their destination, the Buffalo girls headed to a bar/dining establishment where, they knew, the young men tended to hang out in the drinking area. The young ladies all tended to stay in the dining room. Of course, the young men all had a good view into the dining room, from the bar, where they could see the young women preen and giggle. It was a soft “bar scene” in North Tonawanda.
Amelia married Stanley in 1949. She was 28, and he was 31. This was pretty late-in-life for a marriage, back then, but the war delayed a lot of people’s nuptials. Amelia made it very clear to me that she and her husband did not engage in intimacies (with each other or anyone else) until they were married. Amelia felt this was a form of respect that people showed for themselves and for their future spouse. There was no question in her mind but that starting a marriage and then starting a sex life – in that order – was the best way to go about this aspect of life. She also let me know that this long since departed social norm used to considered part of the basic foundation necessary for a happy marriage.
Amelia, and others like her, have pretty much “seen it all” in terms of human behavior and relationships. Like so many elderly people, Amelia Kalinowski had a plethora of good advice, a broad perspective, and the type of wisdom that comes only from having been around a long time.
Here is Amelia Kalinowski – at 92 years old and having been a wife for 64 of those years – and her advice for staying married and being happy:
Amelia’s Recipe for a Long Marriage:
- Give and take. No one should ever expect to win every argument, be right all the time, or always get his or her way. “If you don’t know how to ‘give and take’,” Amelia told me, “You have a problem!”
- Always make up after a fight. Amelia let me know that she had a pretty wicked temper when she was younger. She didn’t always fight fair and, as a result, often had to apologize for both her behavior and for whatever the fight was about. Amelia believes that couples should always make up after a fight and that it really doesn’t matter whose fault the fight was; someone always needs to start off with an apology.
- Husbands need to feel that they are in charge. Amelia believes that most men need to think that they are the boss. Though many women don’t like this idea, Amelia thinks that letting someone feel that they are the boss is not the same as them actually being the boss.
- Women need to do the lion’s share of mending relationships. Amelia told me that, as far as she is concerned, men do not forget being wronged. Ever. They tend to stay mad. This is true even when they don’t show it. Women, on the other hand, have a better capacity to forgive, forget and move on. Thus, women need to be vigilant in moving a couple beyond their skirmishes. This is done with apologies and an orientation toward focusing on what really matters in the long run.
- Women need to be in charge of their family’s emotional well-being. Men tend to run from all things emotional, according to Amelia. Women tend to be much more comfortable with the emotional ups and downs of everyday life as well as the emotions surrounding life’s big events. If you want emotionally balanced children, therefore, the woman needs to be in charge of the family’s emotional well-being.
- The husband and wife each need their jobs clearly delineated. Every area of a family’s life needs a chief-in-charge. Both spouses may participate, to a certain extent, but everyone needs to be clear about who is ultimately in charge/has primary responsibility. These areas include: disciplining of the children, religious upbringing, making the money, housework, yardwork, social scheduling, etc.
- Having high expectations of your spouse and children is a good thing. People tend to rise to the level of what is expected of them. Make your expectations clear and don’t spend a lot of time discussing those expectations.
- Children need discipline. In order for there to be peace in the home, discipline is important. Marriages to do not thrive where the children are undisciplined.
- Physical violence is never acceptable.
- Do whatever it takes to move beyond anger. The longer you stay angry, the harder it is to get out of that mode – and the more miserable you will be, your spouse will be, and your children will be.
“If you don’t know how to ‘give and take’,” Amelia told me, “You have a problem!”
Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator
This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.