Ask Mrs. Grabowski


I'm a news junkie. I have to be. I work in talk radio and keeping up with the news is Job One. Especially local news. If listeners feel that I don't know what I'm talking about, or engage in that worst of talk radio sins; boredom, they have the glorious opportunity to turn the dial to one of the other 135 radio stations in my market. That's the beauty of America: you can pick and choose just about anything without some idiot leaning over your shoulder nagging you about your choice.

The right to choose is under assault right now. You see it in legislative efforts to curtail your rights to smoke in saloons, have a bacon double cheeseburger or maybe a shot and a beer after a hard day's work (for those few of you who are fortunate enough to have a job). A woman in San Francisco is suing MacDonald's for putting toys in Happy Meals, stating that it encourages bad eating habits in children.To protect children from obesity Texas schools have removed flavored milks from their lunch room menus, and everywhere across this great land there are clarion calls to limit your choices. These elite few, whom I have labeled as the "Advocates" control the petty desires of pettyfogging legislators who have no greater ambition than to stay in office. Advocates manipulate the political extremes, and it is the political extremes who are motivated to vote and also to donate generous sums to the campaigns of those Pavlovian dogs who salivate at the thought of money and votes; AKA elected officials. The greater good, the glorious right of personal choice has no place in this incestuous relationship. The people are slowly being left out in the cold, with no way to halt the creeping rape of their personal liberties.

Like any successful person in my business, I realize my audience is the key to my success. I try to keep things lively and keep them engaged. One of the tools used by those who ply my trade is to having a tiny core of "eclectic" callers who become characters on the show. They enjoy hearing themselves on-air, and we play each other like dueling fiddles. I hang a moniker on them and they respond by justifying the tag with calls that vary between utter lunacy and the inspired. When I am out and about engaged in radio-guy events, I most often hear from other listeners not about my brilliant political screed but instead am questioned about this core of characters who flesh out my show. It keeps the ol' ego deflated and also validates my belief that it is the audience who makes the show as much as the host.

One of my greatest characters in not a real person, however. She never calls because she is a phantom of my nostalgic remembrances. Mrs. Grabowski; a composite of all those old immigrant ladies in the neighborhood of my early youth. Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Blacks from the deep south, Mexicans and hardscrabble whites from Appalachia. They were hard-nosed, common-sensed women who had seen the worst life had to offer and appreciated the few gifts they were given by this great country: a dry roof and warm, dry beds for their children, clean water that ran hot and cold, public schools that actually taught the basics, jobs for their husbands and good food for their families. Simple things we take for granted today, but precious freedoms to those who had been denied access to these most basic of life's wants and needs. You couldn't slide much by these broads. Mrs. Grabowski personifies these tough women. She could smell an Italian kid's b.s. from a mile away, and didn't go running for a cop when the chubby little wop was caught rummaging in her garden, stealing her kohlrabi. She gave him a swat upside the head, grabbed him by the ear and marched him across the street to his grandparent's corner grocery store. Italian gramma and Polish gramma would then engage in a lively immigrant-heavy pidgin English that would result in another swat upside the head, this time by Italian gramma and an order to get to your room post haste. You obeyed because you knew if you didn't there would be further repercussions to your errant behavior: slaps upside the head from the men in the family, and those really hurt. Adults stuck together in those days. They knew they were in charge and accepted the responsibility. They hadn't yet been bifurcated by the screaming mimi Advocates who have gleefully torn the family asunder in modern America.

Mrs. Grabowski didn't have the ol' college sheepskin. In fact she had the most basic of formal education; maybe a few years of grade school where she learned to read and write in her native tongue before she was integrated in the world of everyday work: cooking, cleaning, making and raising babies. She learned English on her own with the help of  friends and relatives, and integrated herself as best she could  into the customs of her new country. She was tough but loving, uncompromising but still willing to bend when it came to the greater good. Her principles were simple because she had seen deprivation up close and personal and she wanted to protect her children from the horrors she had experienced as a child. She also didn't need bar charts, pie charts, half-truths and pseudo-science to bolster her beliefs, as so many do today. She was brilliant in her simplicity: "You want kolachkis? Eat cabbage roll. Drink milk. Then kolachkis." Or the sage advice: "Go outside. Play. Come back for supper." And of course the fundamental lesson in book learning. "Do homework. You want to be bum all your life?"

She is now long gone, Mrs. Grabowski. I mourn her, and all those wonderful old ladies from disparate corners of the planet who had gathered in one small neighborhood in a tough American Midwestern factory town and who shared a fundamental philosophy of hard work and minding your own business that translated into success and that most precious of American commodities: personal liberty. They had been denied it in their homeland and they guarded it fiercely in their new land.

Mrs. G, where are you now? We need you. Desperately.

Lenny Palmer 6/27/2011


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