“This is Not My Mom”

Antonia Pakulski, center

Antonia Pakulski was born on October 10, 1905 in Poland to Bartholomew and Gosia Kowalczyk.  Antonia was the youngest of seven children, and when she was just one year old, the family immigrated to Chicago.

Antonia attended school until the eighth grade and then quit to get a job.  She first began working as an assembler in a factory and then as a punch press operator.  When she was nineteen, she married Bernie Pakulski, who worked at the same factory, though in a different department.  Together they had one daughter, Mary.  Antonia and Bernie found it hard to make ends meet, so even after Mary was born, Antonia continued working, leaving Mary with her mother, Gosia.

Besides going to see movies, Antonia loved doing anything with her hands: embroidery, sewing, cooking and cleaning.  “She was always fidgeting with something,” Mary now says of her mother.  “She could never just sit still.”  Mary believes this is why Antonia now has a habit of picking at her skin or scabs.

According to Mary, Antonia and Bernie kept mostly to themselves.  They didn’t particularly like either side of the family and spent most of their time at home or with a small circle of friends.  Mary graduated from high school, but remained at home with her parents, financially contributing to the running of the household, until she left to get married at age thirty-seven.  “Everyone assumed I was going to be an old maid,” Mary says, “but I wanted a life of my own.  So when I met my future husband, Bill, I decided to accept his proposal to get married.  It was hard on Mom and Dad, but I couldn’t help it.”

After Mary left, Antonia and Bernie found they could no longer afford to keep their apartment without Mary’s wages, so they moved into CHA housing.  Bernie passed away from emphysema in 1968.  After his death, Antonia lived alone in the apartment for twenty-two years until she began to show signs of confusion and dementia, which grew steadily worse as time went on.  In the early 1990’s, Mary began going to check on Antonia more frequently.

Mary would often arrive and find Antonia wearing several dresses at one time, and once she found toilet paper in the freezer.  Several times she threw her dentures in the garbage, telling Mary that she could easily get a new pair at a dime store.  Often she wandered from the apartment, only to be brought back by the police, neighbors, or, once, by two little boys.  The last straw for Mary was when she arrived one day to find her mom cooking soda in a pan with a paper towel in it.

With the help of Antonia’s doctor, Mary finally admitted Antonia to a nursing home.  She is making a relatively smooth transition, though she is very confused.  Mary seems grateful that her mother is now in a safe place, but she grieves for the mother who is no more.  “This is not my mom,” she frequently tells the staff.  “I wish you could have known her before.  She was the sweetest woman, always so grateful for any little thing.”  Mary continues to visit on a weekly basis at least, sometimes daily.  Antonia willing participates in any activity she is brought to, though she needs assistance.  Her favorite activity is listening to music and folding napkins.

(Originally written: May 1995)

If you liked this true story about the past, check out Michelle’s historical fiction/mystery series, set in the 1930s in Chicago:

Showing 4 comments
  • Rose Pech

    Thank you for sharing these stories! I see so many people like Antonia when I visit a friend in a nearby nursing home. Some aren’t fortunate enough to have loved ones visit. I visit with some of them as well as with my friend. I’m so glad to see family & friends coming to visit!!

    • Michelle

      Thanks for reading them, Rose. They are such a testimony to life, aren’t they? We need more people like you to visit and listen!

  • Tom Atkielski

    A very Human story! But all that old Chicago reminds me that I lived near Grand and Ashland my early years, and miss the old neighborhood to this day! But to get to my story, A couple of early Chicago Mayors lived on Mayor’s Row, the one famous family, the Carter Harrisons’, who also had a Son who became Mayor in the late 1890’s, who traveled right by my home area quite a bit in the 1870’s – 1890’s! I was told that the Harrisons’ used to take long walks and Horse drawn wagon trips going West on Grand Avenue way back when! Right along the way was St. Columbkill church and school, where I also attended school, but for only two days….another story in itself! Now it doesn’t stretch the imagination very much to assume that the Harrison family attended Church there on occasion, and maybe bought fresh Apple pies at Wagner’s right on Wood street, just South of Grand Avenue, no longer there I would imagine? I wonder if, somewhere in St. Columbkill archives, might be historical passages about the Harrisons’ who visited the Church, maybe even had Kids who went to the school there! Maybe the son who later became Mayor, sat in the same dismal classroom where I sat, and stood, and sat and stood at every passage of the School’s religious practices as the day went on, but 60+ years later! Then I wonder if that be the case, whether that son was ridiculed and punished for not following the system innocently, and paying the price of making mistakes like I did, as perfection was demanded of all students! Doubtful, but chances are that the Harrisons’ may have just visited there out of curiosity, and nothing more? That West side neighborhood had a History to it that might never be fully uncovered, sadly to say, the American Indian part of Chicago life too, which was not that far from Old Fort Dearborn , and might have been a stopping point for the Indians to lay rest on their way to the Fort Dearborn Massacre…who knows? Then in those darker later years when the Mobsters used to run the area, and make their presence known to all, especially the Kids, who used to idolize some of them, and darken History for many years! To finish, I might as well conclude my little story at St. Columbkill’s church! Yes, I was sent there to spend the day while my Mom worked at a factory somewhere! I didn’t know the ritual practices of the Daily prayer times and often sat when I should have stood, and stood when I should have sat, which irritated the Nun so much that she continually hammered away at my knuckles with a ruler! So, on the third day, when I was supposed to continue this punishment barrage at St. Columbkill, (I was only 6 y/o,) I defiantly went back to the Public school (Talcott,) and would not budge when I was told to go back to St. Columbkill! They summoned my Mother, who understood the situation, and allowed me to Return to Talcott School for the remainder of the time we spent in the old Neighborhood! Such blessed times over all!! Thanks..

    • Michelle

      Wow, Tom! What a fantastic story! Thank you so much for sharing it. A real treasure!

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