I met Al Kalinowski when I was 7. My family had just moved from Cheektowaga to Colden and Mr. Kalinowski came to save my brother, Ron, and me from his overly affectionate black lab, Star. I was thrilled to see this dog, but my 4-year-old brother kept getting knocked down and licked. Our nearest neighbor to the east explained that his dog loved children (and our pond).
In this vivid childhood memory, I truly don’t remember noticing that Mr. Kalinowski didn’t have legs. I did not know about the Korean War or Purple Hearts. Did I not realize such an obvious thing because of my excitement over the dog or because of the way Mr. Kalinowski managed himself?
More memorable was an episode of thunder snow during our first winter in Colden. Mom and I were trying to keep pace with the lake-effect snow in our long driveway, as my dad worked nights in Buffalo. Mom hoped Dad could pull into the driveway (if he didn’t end up stranded). I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into when they moved to the Southtowns. We did not have a plow or a snowblower. Amid heavy snow, lightning and falling tree limbs, Mr. Kalinowski arrived on a piece of heavy equipment with tires taller than a person. This time I absolutely did notice that he did not have legs. How did he get up there? He cleared the driveway in no time; he was our savior.
The black lab was one in a series and they would all visit our pond and they were all named Star. Heavy snow would come again, and so would the help with the plowing. Sure, Dad got his own tractor, but Colden provided many opportunities where our tractor could not keep up, including the Blizzard of ’77. Mom would fret that something might happen to Mr. Kalinowski out on the road.
He would later hire my brother for odd jobs on his large piece of property. As town justice, he made sure a ticket was issued ASAP to that junker illegally parked near our drive. It was hard enough to back out of a wooded driveway on a 55-mph country road. Later he was upset when he found out it was my boyfriend’s disabled car. Why hadn’t we called him?
He left such an impression on that 7-year-old as to the definition of “good neighbor.” This seems more impressive when I consider the difference of life in the Village of Kenmore, where I see my neighbors all the time, as compared to my rural childhood. Mr. Kalinowski was as nice and as important as anyone could be in my small world. I envy the people who knew him in his big world: his fellow Marines, his co-workers at Moog, his associates in the Town of Colden and on the Holland School Board.
But my small self did sense the essence of this man. I understood that he was brave, caring and hardworking. I was not aware of his heroism in the war. I did not know of his perseverance and work ethic after losing his legs. That 7-year-old would not understand the definition of civic minded. She didn’t know that being town justice was a responsibility in addition to husband, parent and employee.
It is worth revisiting The Buffalo News 2011 veteran feature story or his impressive obituary from a few weeks ago to see how that early contact matches up with his larger life story. I grasped who he was within a few encounters. Come to think of it, I bet he sent Star down the road so that he had an excuse to meet the new neighbors.