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COLUMNISTS

Father's bedtime stories preserve sweet memories of the past

Susan Manzke
Susan Manzke's father, Charlie "Chuck" Paska was quite the storyteller when she was a child.

When I was a child, my sister and I would beg our dad to tell us stories at bedtime. This only worked on his days off, as Dad worked nights.

Most of Dad’s stories were based on his childhood. Those were always funny. Dad also told us stories about being a soldier in Europe in World War II. He never told us the gory stuff, only the funny things.

Dad only had an eighth-grade education. After he finished elementary school, he went to work to help his mother put food on the table. Many people thought he was better educated. I guess he was. Dad was a voracious reader, so I guess he educated himself with all the books he read.

I’m thinking about Dad this week because April 10th would have been his 97th birthday. To honor him, I’m going to share a story he told/wrote.

When we moved to Wisconsin, I begged Dad to write his stories down so we could save them. He hemmed and hawed but eventually, he took out a notebook and put pen to paper. His storytelling was more exciting, but having these hand-printed ones is a treasure for our whole family.

Here are two stories written by my father, Charles Paska.

Susan Manzke's father, Chuck Paska, holding baby Susan in 1950 while her mother, Isabelle, looks on, often told stories of his childhood to Susan and her sister at bedtime.

Layer cake

I can remember coming home from school and my sister Bea calling me. “Charlie, come here. I want to show you something.”

Downstairs, in the kitchen on the table sat a giant layer cake, at least four layers high and very big around.

“Wow!” I gasped. “Can I have some?”

“Sure. Help yourself.”

“Can I have two hunks?”

“Sure. Have all you want.”

Well, that remark was a big mistake. Sister went upstairs and I stayed with the cake.

About an hour later Bea came downstairs looking for some cake. “Charlie, where did you hide the cake?”

“I didn’t hide it. I ate it.”

Bea could not believe her ears. “What?! You ate it all?”

“Yup,” I said. “You said to eat all I wanted and I did.”

You would think I would have been sick of cake for a while. Sure I was! ‘Till the next cake.

Charlie’s swing

My sister Bernice is only five years older than me, but when I was five and she was ten, that made a big difference.

My sister Bea was the best swing builder in the whole world, or so I thought once.

“Sure I’ll make you a swing, Charlie. But it’s raining out, so I’ll have to make it in the basement. I’ll get some stuff and tie it to the heavy wood beams. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Well about a half-hour later there was my swing, a bicycle tire, and a kite string.

“See, Charlie, it’s a swing, only you can’t swing on it. Get it? It’s only to look at.”

“What good is a swing you can’t swing on?” I asked.

“Well, don’t swing on it.” She went upstairs then.

You guessed it. I didn’t make one full swing and there I went on my behind across the basement floor. I ran holding my backside, hollering, “Ma! Ma! Ma!”The end, except for the stifled laughter from Ma.

A sample of Dad’s handwritten story, Playing Chicken, written in 1985.

I took some of my dad’s stories in making my books Chicken Charlie’s Year and Barley Soup and Slug Spit. Charlie is a boy in the 1930s in the first book, and a grandfather in the second. I added a lot to create these two novels, but there’s enough of my dad in both books to imagine him smiling as he reads them.

I’m a big promoter of saving family stories. As you can see, they don’t have to be earth-shaking to be worth saving and sharing. I hope you will think about saving some of your favorite family stories, too. They will be a gift to your family and your descendants.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165, sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net/blog.