Eulogy for Heartburn Sunday

All my life, every Easter Sunday, I would eat the special holiday kielbasa from Wozniak’s.  They only made this particular recipe for Easter and its spicy, smoky goodness was sure to have anyone over the age of twenty reaching for the antacids before the table was cleared.

Grammy (maternal side) used to say that Easter was a more important holiday than Christmas because everyone was born but only one man came back from the dead.  I wasn’t raised in the Ukrainian Catholic faith, or any faith for that matter, but it was the bedrock of her existence and I knew better than to argue with my elders.

Every Easter Grammy and Jaji (grandfather) would go into the city to Wozniak’s and buy the special kielbasa along with the cheese babka that came in a plain white box from a mysterious bakery in New York and the farmers cheese for Easter breakfast.  The cheese would get broken up and mixed with eggs and baked until it puffed up and then was chilled and served cold.  Grammy boiled her eggs with onion skins that turned them an odd russet brown.  I always thought they were interesting next to the day-glow colors of the ones we contributed to the table.

My nuclear family and I came down from upstate Massachusetts, where I was born and raised for the first fourteen years of my life, to gather around my grandparent’s table with the extended family for breakfast and to feast on the kielbasa, farmer’s cheese and babka.  I always hated eating the one bit of hard-boiled egg that had been blessed by the priest at Mass that morning.  If I was lucky it would just be white but sometimes there was yolk to choke down with some water.  I couldn’t leave the table to go outside and play until it was gone.  The food was weird compared to the 1970’s classics such as baked chicken and Rice-A-Roni I was used to and Grammy’s dishes never as clean as one might hope for, but it was Easter and this is what we did.

Every year I would get a new stuffed animal from my grandparents.  I still have my Pinky bunny.  It’s on the desk behind me, rather tattered and worn but it’s one of the few things from my childhood that I still have.  It was the last stuffed animal my Jaji gave me before he died when I was nine.

When my mother took over the holiday, she too would get the kielbasa from Wozniak’s.  Nothing else would do.  At least by this time I had come to appreciate it.  Age and the death of a few million taste-buds made it much more appealing.

When I took over the holiday it was my turn to stand in line at the strange little store full of packages I couldn’t read and wait to get the paper wrapped packages of links.  My girls would be complimented on their blond curls and chubby cheeks and given a lollipop.  Then they’d help me carry the bounty of kielbasa, babka and farmer’s cheese to the car.

Wozniak’s interior – 2011

I’d bring it all home and wrap the kielbasa in a couple of trash bags, otherwise everything in the fridge would pick up the taste.  You could tell when someone opened the fridge because the house reeked of garlic and spices every time the door was opened.

A bounty of three pounds of farmer's cheese, four large smoked kielbasa and two four pound cheese babka.
The 2011 bounty of three pounds of farmer’s cheese, four large smoked kielbasa and two four pound cheese babka.

My kids grew up eating the same breakfast on Easter morning that I had eaten all my life, minus the blessed egg.  I don’t do church, or God even, but Heartburn Sunday is a tradition I wasn’t willing to break.  My family and my sister’s family and her father would all gather around the table and pass the antacids before the table was even cleared.  The container was part of the centerpiece, right next to the fuzzy chicks.

I love using Grammy's tablecloths on the holiday table.
I love using Grammy’s tablecloths on the holiday table.

When my then husband and I decided to renovate the house we were living next door to and turn it from apartments back to a single family house, I began to take a closer look at what had before been a rental property.  The very large detached garage caught my attention, especially the high ceilings, large bricked up windows and the odd soot stain on the far back corner.

I took a look through the city directories, because that’s what I do when I’m looking for information of a historical nature on a particular address.  Imagine my surprise when I saw listed in the 1955 directory Wozniak Sausage Manufacturers in what is now my garage.

Wozniaks, Polish Butcher001
My heartfelt thanks to the New Haven Museum Photo Archives for sharing this image of my garage as the market.

The Wozniak family owned the house I live in for many years.  The soot stain on the far back corner is where the smoker was.  The market moved to its second location before 1965 as part of the urban renewal of our fair city.  My mother has eaten kielbasa that was made in what is now my garage.

Life is rather freaky sometimes.

So time passed and life changed and the father of my children was no longer my husband and Sy and I reconnected and merged households.  Heartburn Sunday continued.

Then this past summer, Cassie said something about the Wozniak storefront being empty.  I went down there and she was right.  They were gone.  No note saying they’d moved somewhere else.  No “Thanks for 60 years of serving you.”  Just broken blinds drawn and an empty storefront on a street full of them.

There is still a bit of the 2015 Wozniak Easter kielbasa frozen in the basement.  I wouldn’t trust it to be consumed but maybe it could be reverse engineered?

Don’t want to let it pass from this world.

I seriously considered canceling Easter breakfast this year.  I was always in it for the kielbasa.  Bringing it up with the kids (now three as Sy brought one with him) I was told that we couldn’t cancel.  It was Heartburn Sunday!  The family tradition had to continue!  Even if the kielbasa came from somewhere else.  It seemed odd that in a houseful of atheist we needed to host an Easter breakfast but I bowed to the demands of family and tradition.

There is a Polish market a few towns over so I went there and bought the kielbasa and the babka and the farmer’s cheese.  I was thrilled to discover that the babka is from the same mysterious bakery in New York but the kielbasa doesn’t have the same greasy, spicy, smoky garlic kick that would leave us all in distress for days afterwards.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s rather tasty and it was great to have the extended family around the table but it’s no longer Heartburn Sunday.

It’s now something else.

What exactly I don’t know yet.

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