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Edward J. Czaja – Eulogy

Services were concluded earlier today for my grandfather, Edward Czaja.  Once again I wanted to thank all of the friends and family that stopped by and/or sent their regards.  I would also like to thank Newcomer and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, including the volunteers that helped cooked and clean up after services.  I think he would have been proud of the service and of the support for him and his family.

It was pretty hard to get through the eulogy, but I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity.  I’m posting the full text below for those who asked — including the paragraph I skipped during the actual reading.

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Edward J. Czaja – Eulogy

Over the last couple of days, I’ve reminisced on the countless moments that my grandfather and I shared together and with our family. I’ve thought about the influence he’s had on us and what I would say to him now if he were sitting next to me out there, instead of looking on from above. The very first thing that came to my mind was…. “Gramp. Wake up. You’re snoring.”

For me, personally, are bond was sports. My grandfather was an avid sports fan and he had a sport for all seasons. Whether it was the Syracuse Orangemen, The Nationals, The Toronto Blue Jays or the Syracuse Chiefs, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicholson, Chi Chi Rodriguez or Marty Pirrano, he would be following them. And through the years as we watched them play, either live or on television, he would tell stories about his experiences with friends and family.

He would talk about a friend from Rollway that helped him become an usher at Archibald Stadium. He went on in detail about him and Uncle Alex and their tradition of drinking shots of whiskey every time Jim Brown scored, and its inevitable result at particular a Colgate game which ended in 71-0 route. And there countless golf and bowling stories with my great uncles, his co-workers, friends and neighbors. Each sport came with own set of stories and often ended with a trip upstairs to the bedroom where there would be a trophy or newspaper clipping tucked away in his dresser drawer.

He taught me how to play chess, gave me my first set of clubs and my first bowling ball, took me to Cooperstown and my first American and National league Baseball games and, of course, we spent hours and hours playing cards — We played head to head pinochle, we played partners with my Aunt Theresa and my grandmother and with my mother and father. Then there were the family pitch games that went on to all hours of the morning and just about everyone in the immediate and extended family had sat in at the table at one point or another throughout the years.

My grandfather loved to smile and he made us laugh. Going over to visit was always an experience. We all new many of the jokes that used to tell over and over and over again, but he delivered them like it was the first time being told and he always laughed at the end. We often found some new treasure at his house the day after garbage day or large brown spots throughout the lawn where he tried to kill a single dandelion. I remember pulling into West Matson Ave one day and my grandfather shaking his head as his sat in a chair on the front porch. He was holding his shoulder as we went on to tell me about locking his keys inside the house and his decision to put a shoulder into it to break it open like he’d seen it done on television numerous times.

Of course, no description of my grandfather would be complete without the mention of food. The guy loved to eat and this fact was well documented in everyone’s memories, photo albums and home videos. I think the fact that my grandmother was such a good cook and that her family owned Storto’s and the Groove was a contributing factor in his decision to marry her. I can’t honestly remember a holiday that my grandfather wasn’t the first one at the table. Of course, this was immediately followed by “… someone tell dad it’s time to eat…” or “… damn it Eddie, wait for everyone else to sit down to the table.”

My grandmother discovered over the years that carrot was more effective than the stick. She would open a beer and serve up a bowl of this or a dish of that and then strategically set the food in a place where he would be out of her way. Then again, he was the hero when he walked through the door at night after bowling with that fresh hot loaf of bread. The entire family would crowd into that little kitchen and do what we do best, eat.

The word that I think that my grandfather would most like to be remembered by is patriotic. He was proud of his service to this country … and he wasn’t afraid to show it. He was a decorated World War II veteran who survived the Battle of Bulge. I could probably go around the room and many of you could recount his descriptions of being trapped in the mine fields, standing watch on an outpost at -40 below zero or taking out a strategic bridge that tanks were crossing. Many of the events he described and others that were never spoken aloud haunted him, in the form of nightmares years after the war had ended. Yet, he would be one of the first standing in the bleachers at MacArthur Stadium hand over heart when the national anthem was played.

On any given day, you could be driving through the Village of Liverpool and see that station wagon with two American Flags rolled up into the windows, parked at Galeville or coming at you down the street. As his vehicle came a little closer you could see the poppies tied around the antenna and an old man sporting a VFW or Battle of the Bulge hat at the wheel. Of course, he was generally looking at everything or anything but the road.

With his sense of patriotism, it was easy to see why the 4th of July was his favorite holiday. He loved to watch fireworks. He would drive for hours to see a ten minute firework display. For those of us, maybe a little less enthused, this offered its own set of challenges. Together we’ve sat in fields infested with mosquitoes, walked from the SUNY Oswego campus to the Lake Ontario shoreline, sat in parked cars through 90 degree heat and crawled through hours of traffic over the years. Of course, we always had to arrive earlier enough to get a good view and as the people would file in, he’d say the same thing each time, “Look at the people. It’s umbelibable”.

One year, the Regional Market was hosting fireworks after a wine tasting festival that was taking place earlier in the day he had asked me to come along …. The Regional Market is 5 minutes from our house and we arrived three hours before the dark to ensure we could get a good seat. To pass the time, we tasted a few wines and then he bought a bottle. This came as a big surprise to me, because the wine wasn’t cheap and it was of my grandfather’s opinion that the best wines came packaged in cardboard boxes. Three bottles later, we were sitting on the railroad tracks looking up at the sky and calling my Aunt Diane after the finale to drive us home.

Here’s what I think my grandfather should be most proud of — the way he and Helen have raised their children. Over the last several years, my grandfather’s health had steadily declined. There were countless numbers of visits to the VA, increases and changes in his prescriptions and an ongoing list of new physical limitations. Time and time again, his children were forced to make difficult decisions and personal sacrifices to allow him to live his life to the fullest and with the most amount of dignity. They were taught the value of family — through good times and bad and that hardships are best swallowed with a healthy dose of laughter.

To my grandfather, I say “thank you”, “rest in peace” and “stay off of grandma’s freshly mopped floors”. And on behalf of my grandfather, to his friends and family, I say for one last time, “nostrovia”.

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