Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Happy Thanksgiving to All
There are hundreds of Wanniski family photos taken over the holidays, but this one is a general favorite from way back, Thanksgiving 1953, because everyone in the extended family in that photo was still alive. It was taken in my Uncle Vince’s apartment on 74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY. Uncle Vince is the bespectacled fellow on the far right. His wife Marie is next to him. The oil painting behind them is an original by Ralph Fasanella, who became a well-known NYC artist who was married to Marie's sister. They could not have afforded that painting today! Yours truly is the handsome 17-year-old on the floor, with light shirt and dark tie, when I still had hair. We could not remember if this were 1952 or '53 until I noticed I was already wearing my Brooklyn Tech High graduation ring, two months before the actual graduation in January '54. I'll identify the rest of the family beneath the photo.
From the upper left, my mother, Constance, 36, now 84, living with us in Morristown, N.J. when she is not staying with the pretty girl on her lap, my sister Ruth, 6, who also lives in Morristown. Ruth is sitting on my Dad's knee, Michael, known to the rest of the family as Mickey. Dad died in 1988 at 86 years. At his left is the matriarch of the family, my mother's mom, also Constance Rusinskas, of the Lithuanian wing of the family. Grandmom died at age 97 in Morristown seven years ago. She's the lady who decided the family should move from Minersville, Pa., in 1935, to Brooklyn, to escape the coal mines where her husband and my Dad worked. She went to NYC herself and found a job for her husband and in 1940 found one for my Dad. Quite a gal, who never spent a day in school, but taught herself to read and write (both Lithuanian and English) and then taught her husband. He is the smiling, gentle man next to her, Grandpop John Rusinskas, who two months later gave me Das Kapital for my H.S. graduation present. He was, er, a lefty. On his death bed in 1975 at Coney Island Hospital, he made me promise I would re-read Das Kapital and then write a book myself. I did, dedicating it to both him and my Dad, "who planted the seeds that grew into this book," the inscription in The Way the World Works.
On Grandpop’s lap is Billy deLaRosa, 4, who went on to get the highest level of education of anyone in the entire family, on all sides. He became a doctor, then a psychiatrist in his late 30's after earlier leaving and then returning to Cornell in the early 1970s. Billy died four years ago, of a sudden heart attack. The other boy, at Grandpop’s left, is six-year-old Ronald, who went on to teach junior high in Brooklyn until I talked him into helping me start Polyconomics in the summer of 1978, as general manager. Ron has been with me at Poly ever since. Aunt Marie, the beautiful young woman on whose lap Ron sits, bless her, died of multiple sclerosis about 15 years later. Uncle Vince is the man who introduced me to classical music, the Brooklyn Dodgers, chess, grand opera, and the idea that I should always look "at both sides of every coin." He was a civil engineer out of Brooklyn Polytechnic who worked in the NYC construction trade, getting me jobs as a laborer in my college summers. Vince, 33 in the photo, never remarried and in 1992 died in his sleep in his Jackson Heights apartment.
On the floor from the left is the oldest Rusinskas kid, my Aunt Albina, 38 in the photo. A stern woman with politics even to the left of Grandpop, Albina was forever nudging me toward cultural pursuits and left-wing politics. Never married, she kind of adopted me, taking me to stage plays, museums and the old Hayden planetarium. She's the aunt who slapped my face when I was six or seven, singing “Eeney, meeney, miney moe, catch a nigger by the toe.” She made me promise I would never say that word again, and I never did. On her left is my kid brother Terry, 15, who followed in Vince's footsteps and became a civil engineer, then followed in my footsteps by joining me in Las Vegas, NV in 1961. I was a newspaperman. He started at the bottom and eventually became the top engineer at the Nevada Test Site. He still lives, works and golfs in Las Vegas. The lady next to him, in dark dress, is the baby of the Rusinskas family, Auntie Blanche, Mom's sister, who will be 80 in a few weeks. She married, the fellow next to me at the lower right, Julian de La Rosa, father to Ron and Billy. Julian was the boy across the street in Flatbush, Brooklyn where Grandpop worked as the super of an apartment house. We called him “Uncle Spanny” because his parents came to Flatbush from Spain via Cuba. A US Army photographer and photo interpreter during WWII Europe, he took this family photo on a timer. With a high school education, Julian got a job as Spanish translator for the NYC court system, and when he retired 25 years later, he was chief clerk of the entire court system! Not long after, in early 1981, he died of cancer. I remember him most for the many years he volunteered his weekends, taking MS patients on picnics and outings after Marie had contracted the disease. Since he passed away, Auntie Blanche has spent the last 20 years as a volunteer at Morristown Memorial Hospital, recently passing 10,000 hours. That's right, ten thousand four hundred. What a nice family.
Happy Thanksgiving. Remember to take a family photo.