By Janice Schlau
Zdybowicz, my maiden name, provided ample pronunciation challenges while growing up in Williamsville. My mother, a Stefaniak from St. John Kanty parish, and my father, who hailed from Corpus Christi Church, made a major leap from Buffalo’s Polonia district to a predominantly German and Dutch community clutch in the village early in the 1950s.
My parents purchased the former parsonage belonging to the Main Street Mennonite congregation from the Rev. Kunkle and slowly transformed the bleak and sparsely furnished house into a homestead par excellence, fit for a family of eight. French doors closing off all the main rooms were initially removed as well as the wainscoted kitchen cupboards and walls. A grandiose European style crystal chandelier replaced a single strung light bulb dangling in the dining room. Lavatory updates immediately ensued as well.
The main bathroom on the second floor was refitted with thick faux bronze tiles with a matching floor. A mellow yellow square soaking tub switched out the antiquated claw foot and specially ordered solid brass fixtures and faucets cast in the shape of protruding cabbage roses were all mine to polish on Saturdays.
Alongside the plastic covered gold sofa and ivory floral designed wing-back chairs were multiple fringed imported Karastan carpets, an ornate, weighty French provincial rotary telephone and an assortment of gorgeous bisque tchotchkes perched on the marble top coffee and end tables. A hand-carved doorbell sporting five-foot long chimes that resounded as if Gen. Casimir Pulaski were arriving for dinner. Our home became a palace Liberace would have coveted and adored, I’m sure.
A life-size pastel painting direct out of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” encased in a hand-fashioned bow-tied gold leaf frame hung proudly on the south wall. It was as if we resided in a Polish version of the Moulin Rouge.
Now you’re beginning to envision what defines the name Zdybowicz. My late mother, Eleonore, a cook extraordinaire couldn’t afford to make mistakes. My father who ran a business on the early Broadway market, then worked downtown for the U.S. Postal Service, was hardly a millionaire.
Eleonore cooked and baked her way to popularity with her “zraziki po krakowsku” (steak roll-ups), maple pecan chiffon cakes, poppy seed strudels and almond rings. She hosted glorious card parties where at the ambitious age of 12, I helped concoct highballs and serve Carling’s Black Label beers to our relatives while they encircled the television console to watch their beloved "The Lawrence Welk Show."
The name Zdybowicz became synonymous with attention to detail, sweeping renovations and insofar as the reserved, practical folks of the neighborhood, our name demonstrated outlandish décor and even more outlandish, yet absolutely delicious, cooking. From my bedroom, which I shared with my older sister, flocked wallpaper and lavish matching boudoir lamps complete with fuchsia and turquoise ceramic cherubs. A peculiar accessory to our double bed was a bolster which was used to contain our feather pillows with embroidered and crocheted lace pillow cases designed by my babcia – and not just for Sunday use. It goes without saying that these luxuries had to be hand-pressed as well as our matching hand-sewn dresses and blouses.
It’s no secret or surprise that after years of conforming to Eleonore’s strict palette of color coordination and design, I often dreamed of a much less ostentatious lifestyle. I confess, I inherited my mother’s determination for cooking and baking which I’ll never regret. God bless her.
Janice Schlau wasn't so sure of her mother's decorating style, but loved the cooking.