The Old-Timers: What I Saw In Their Faces
I can remember looking down the main street of Lopez on a summer’s day and seeing many of the “Old-timers” tending their gardens. It seemed as though the work was never done. Pulling weeds and grooming the plants to ensure the harvest was a never-ending labor. It must have been a labor of love because I never remember anyone complaining that it was too much work. At least not the “Old-timers,” the people from the “Old Country.”
When I was growing up in Lopez there were many people living in town that came to this country to build a better life, to live free and to pursue the riches that America promised. I didn’t know at the time of my youth what life in the “Old Country” was like. I didn’t know where places like Poland, Austria, and the Slovak countries were. I only knew that the people came to America by boat and that Europe was on the other side of the Atlantic. I knew they came here because they wanted to and that, well . . . that’s just the way it was.
Today, as I travel through town, I can still remember seeing the faces. For some reason certain images from your youth stay with you. You don’t know why. Some of the simplest things remain fixed and vivid in your memories, as if it were yesterday. As if it was meant to be. That’s how it is with me and the faces of the “Old-timers.”
I remember my Grandfather Stavisky. I can still see him sitting on the porch swing of his home just down the street . . . his old felt hat that would never mate with a suit . . . smoking his pipe. Prince Albert in a can was his choice. The old pipe had the same aroma whether it was lit or not. And mostly I remember his face. It was a face of a man worn by time, by hard work, by hard times. And yet it was a face of kindness and laughter. It would also be a face of a man near the end of his life. My Grandfather died in 1955 when I was 7 years old. So, I didn’t know him well, but it seems I know him better now than ever. I can see his life in his face. My Grandfather died in his home, in the bed where he slept. I can remember looking out my bedroom window that November night, and seeing the porch light on through the night. It is still with me today when I see a porch light left on as a sign of someone passing.
My Grandmother Stavisky lived only a few years beyond her husband. I can see her standing on that same porch. She was a woman who gave birth to ten children. Nine of them were to live to adulthood. My Grandmother’s face was worn and heavy with wrinkles her hair was always pulled back and tied. Her eyes were set deep and her cheekbones pronounced. It was also a face that told a story of many hard times and a constant struggle through life. As my memory works its way down through the small village, I can find many faces that tell the same stories. In house after house lived the “Old-timers” from the “Old Country.” I can pick them out so easily and read the same stories on every face.
Today, all those strong and hard worn faces are gone. Only faint echoes of the stories told by the faces of the “Old-timers” remain, carried proudly by a new generation. And for me, the memories will always remain; the memories of the “Old-timers” and what I saw in their faces.
By Alex Stavisky