Wuerstle’s Tavern is often at the center of my grandfather’s story. Gramps was having a drink at the bar when John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960; when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; when Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed in 1968; and when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969. The most pivotal moment in his story, though, is the moment he met Janice Marie Zielinski. On that winter’s evening in 1966–in Wuerstle’s Tavern, of course–he was waiting for a blind date with a friend of a friend. He had never met her, and she was already late; he was worried she wouldn’t show.
Janice wasn’t planning on showing up–she thought the concept of a blind date was a little weird–but she trusted her friend and, at the last minute, decided to meet him. She walked into Wuerstle’s Tavern a half an hour late and searched the room for the young man fitting her friend’s description; after catching Tom’s eye, she walked up to his table and took the seat across from him. Gramps has always said it was “love at first sight,” but it wasn’t quite that instantaneous for my grandmother. After talking and laughing long into the night, though, she knew he was the man she was going to marry.
And the pair quickly hit it off: both enjoyed dancing and drinking with friends, and they went to the movies, stage shows or the local fair together each weekend. Janice marked all of their dates on her calendar that year, and Tom would wait by the phone for her call every day. Their families didn’t approve at first–Tom’s mother was reluctant to see her only child married, and Janice’s mom knew of the Kuznicki’s reputation in town–but that didn’t stop them. When Tom enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, they agreed to write each other every week, no matter where in the world he was stationed.
A few months later, a Mennen Aftershave box arrived in the mail all the way from the Philippines, and yes, it contained an engagement ring. My grandparents eloped on August 28, 1968 at the local courthouse, but an elopement wasn’t exactly the way they had imagined starting their lives together. After their families came around to the idea of their marriage, Tom and Janice planned a church wedding with everyone they loved. The pair were married again on October 12, 1968–50 years ago today–in St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church in Dunkirk; Tom’s cousin, Robert Peterson, was his best man, and Janice’s cousin, Joyce (Bielecki) Przytula, was her matron of honor.
The one thing my grandparents didn’t have 50 years ago was a marriage announcement in their local newspaper, and my grandmother asked me to write an article in celebration of their golden anniversary. Over the past 50 years, my grandparents have raised two daughters, five granddaughters and two grandsons together. They’ve supported each other through job losses and difficult financial times, and they’ve seen both of their children graduate from college. They balance each other’s personalities perfectly and are strong when the other needs them to be the most–and while I don’t know if I believe in “love at first sight,” I do know that it’s true for them. Here’s to 50 years and to many, many more. I don’t say it enough, but thank you for everything–much love from your oldest [and favorite] grandchild.