A Secret War-Time Affair
Adam Cerny was born on January 25, 1911 in Chicago to Teodor Cerny and Cecilie Klimek, both immigrants from Czechoslovakia. Teodor and Cecilie grew up in the same town in Bohemia and married there. Teodor worked as a farm laborer, and Cecilie cared for their four sons: Simon, Tomas, Radovan and Othmar. At some point, the Cernys decided to start a new life in America and made their way to Chicago, where another son, Adam, was born. Teodor found work in a warehouse for Marshall Fields and then got a job for a company that delivered coal, wood and ice. Ice was always the steadiest, Adam remembers.
When the Cernys first arrived in Chicago, they lived in an apartment near Milwaukee and Grand, but later moved to a nicer place on Cornelia. Finally, in 1922, they had saved up enough to buy their own house on Hutchinson, which is where Adam has subsequently lived his whole life.
Adam graduated from Lane Tech high school and immediately got a job as a mail clerk with Lansing B. Warner, Inc., a specialized insurance company for the food industry. He was later promoted to purchasing clerk, and the only time he was ever absent from work was during WWII. When the war broke out, he joined the army and was stationed in Italy and Africa, serving from February 1942 until November of 1945. When he came home, he found his job at Lansing waiting for him, and he remained there until he retired at age fifty-five. From there, he got a job at Grant, Wright and Baker, which was an advertising firm. He began as a purchasing clerk, but to fully occupy his time, he also started proofreading the ads on the side in his spare time. He remained there until he retired again at age seventy-seven.
Adam never married, though his nephew, Frank, says that there has always been a story in the family that Uncle Adam had a love affair while he was stationed in Italy. It was something that he never spoke of, merely hinted at. One Christmas, however, when they had all been drinking heavily, Adam told Frank cryptic bits of the story, saying that he had fallen in love during the war with an Italian woman whose husband was also off fighting in the war. Apparently, Adam had kept up a correspondence with her for several years, during which he begged her to come to the United States, but she would not, and eventually her letters had stopped coming altogether. He never heard from her again, he told Frank, and never had a way of finding out what might have happened to her. Frank says that he has tried to bring up the subject several times over the years, but Adam does not want to talk about it, saying “that’s all in the past now” and almost seems embarrassed that he ever mentioned it in the first place. Frank urged him on try to find someone else, but Adam said there would only ever be one woman for him. “Anyway,” he apparently told Frank, “someone has to stay home” to care for Teodor and Cecilie, as all of his brothers had already married and moved away.
Thus, Adam remained at the house on Hutchinson and dutifully cared for his parents as they aged. Teodor eventually died at age eighty-four of what was probably prostate cancer, and Cecilie five years later. He was a good caretaker, Frank says, and even gave Cecilie her insulin shots in the later years. Adam continued, then, to live alone until the early 1990’s when he fell and broke a hip. He spent several weeks in the hospital, during which time it was also discovered that he had prostate cancer. He was determined to go home, but Frank convinced him to go to a nursing home, at least for a time. Adam agreed to come temporarily, though Frank and the rest of the family see it as a permanent move, given his prognosis.
Adam, for his part, says “there’s no place like home,” but seems to enjoy his new surroundings none-the-less. He is extremely alert and aware and is cognizant of the inner workings of the home itself and the various roles and schedules of the staff. He enjoys sitting with other male residents to watch any type of sports game, except soccer, which he says he “has no time for.” His favorite thing to do at home, when he wasn’t working, was to potter about the yard and have a beer with his friends. He religiously read the Chicago Tribune daily from “cover to cover” and still does, even here at the home, and loves doing the crossword puzzle, a lifelong habit.
Adam is a very pleasant, down-to-earth man who is not easily ruffled and seems to be taking his fate in stride. He believes in God, he says, but has never had much time for church. He seems fully aware of his terminal prognosis, but says he is determined to enjoy what time he has left.
(Originally written: July 1994)