“Stay With Me…”
Michal Havelka was born on March 28, 1898 in Chicago to Michal Havelka, Sr. and Ivana Beran, both immigrants from Czechoslovakia. Michal’s father worked as a house painter, and the family lived on Pulaski Avenue. Michal says he can still remember when Pulaski was a dirt road and horses and buggies were still the main means of transportation. Originally, there were six children in the family, but the two oldest boys died in the flu epidemic, which left only four: Martin, Agatha, Michal, Jr. and Robert.
Michal went to high school and started working in various print shops around the city before he began working at Commerce Clearing House on Peterson, where he remained for over 42 years. Michal says that he had a good reputation there as being a hard worker and is very proud of the service award he was presented with when he retired.
Oddly, only one of the Havelka children married. Their mother, Ivana, made them all promise that they would never leave her. “Stay with me,” she begged them over and over. Only Martin broke his promise, marrying a girl and moving to Colorado Springs where he worked as a printer like his older brother, Michal. The rest of the family remained with their mother at the house on Pulaski and then in Berwyn, where they moved when their father died at age 78. When asked if he regretted never getting married, Michal responded, “No, because you might pick up a lemon.”
Michal says he and Robert didn’t mind so much not getting married, but it was very hard on their sister, Agatha. She wanted to marry her high-school sweetheart, but Ivana put so much guilt on her that Agatha eventually gave him up and instead stayed home to take care of her aging parents. Michal says she took a long time to get over it and was depressed for years.
For his part, Michal dealt with his mother’s strange wishes by taking up a life of travelling whenever he got a vacation. In all, he visited thirteen European countries as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica. He also travelled extensively with Robert throughout the United States, especially enjoying the western states. His favorite place of all, though, he says, was Hawaii.
Michal’s other love in life was baseball. He spent many years on a team until he was one day hit in the back of the head by a ball, which caused permanent hearing damage in his left ear and put an end to his playing. He also a devoted member of the Elks and enjoyed reading the paper, watching westerns, following the New York Stock exchange and listening to big band music. Slowly the years passed by and everyone died but him. His mother died of heart failure in her mid-eighties, Agatha died of breast cancer, Martin died in a nursing home for printers in Colorado Springs, and Robert died of a heart attack.
Michal was able to live alone until age 96 when he fell at home and lay for two days before his neighbor discovered him. He was taken to a hospital and eventually discharged to a nursing home where he was able to get around with a walker and a cane. “It’s not a bad place,” he would often say. When asked if he would have done anything differently, his response was: “I suppose not. It wasn’t really such a bad life.”
(Originally written: September 1994)
If you liked this true story about the past, check out Michelle’s historical fiction/mystery series, set in the 1930s in Chicago: