I have always had an unusual amount of pride in my last name. I guess I should say my former last name now that I am a Trueblood, but I still associate strongly with Novak and always will. I am proud of what being a Novak means, and I am proud to affiliate with those responsible for my last name.
No, I am not going to give you a whole genealogical account of the creation of my maiden name. I am just taking it back two generations to Alvin and Lorraine. I remember in fourth grade calling my grandparents on the phone for some project for school and asking for information about our family; I was terrified to call and, unfortunately, did not keep a great recollection of what we talked about. So I will give my rendition of how I remember things and hopefully get most of the details right.
My grandparents met accidentally. One night, Grandpa and his buddies had plans to go out with some local girls, but, for some reason, Grandpa’s date had to bail on him at the last-minute. Left in a lurch, one of Grandpa’s buddies brought his younger sister along. The way I’ve heard it was that Grandpa was apprehensive of dating someone’s younger sister and not necessarily looking forward to this date. But Grandpa did not stand a chance against my beautiful, charming, and all around delightful Grandma. They had a whirlwind courtship and married in short order.
They started a family and it quickly grew. In all, they had nine kids: Brad, Brenda, Bruce, Barb, Bryan, Bernie, Bonnie, Beth, and Blaine. I have no idea how many times Grandma and Grandpa moved before they ended up at their farm (or if they did), all I’ve known is the farm and so that’s what I associate with them. So in my version of their love story, they have lived in the same house for their entire marriage, with only minor changes in who lived there, the car they owned, and the animals in residence. It is very picturesque, right?
My Grandpa worked for a construction company and ended up owning his own. He helped build the twin cities and much of my childhood is marked with weekends where my dad would head out to shingle with his dad and brothers (and nephews and sons and sometimes his nieces and daughters). My siblings always came home from those days with stories of how Grandpa was a crazy driver, and, now that I know more about my Grandpa, I think that is something that stuck with him from his youth.
One time, when Grandpa and I were just hanging out together, he told me a story from his teenage years. Apparently, going against his dad’s judgement, my Grandpa bought this new “flashy” car. Grandpa’s dad scoffed at the car, proclaiming his crank-to-start car was superior to Grandpa’s new car. Then, during a cold Minnesota winter, his dad’s car wouldn’t start for church. My great-grandpa had to come in and eat crow; asking for my Grandpa to get his car ready to go.
We recently celebrated my grandparent’s 60th anniversary and my cousin put together a beautiful picture montage; collecting pictures throughout their life together. A common theme in the younger years of their marriage: freakin’ sweet cars. Grandpa was a flashy car man. Interestingly enough, he now drives a mini van.
My Grandpa is not a man of many words. Growing up, most of my memories of Grandpa are of him with a giant camera on his shoulder. He did not talk to me much. And when he did, it was to (jokingly) offer me chew or to steal the nose off my face. Even at a young age, I recognized that my Grandpa worked for everything he had and he worked hard. His skin is permanently tanned from years of working outside and his hands are perpetually calloused and cracked. My Grandpa is a larger than character. A legend. A Chuck Norris. A hero.
My Grandma Novak is also an unbelievable woman. She is one of the most real women that I know. She tells it like it is and often ends up shocking me with her frankness: it’s hysterical. My Grandma worked at Fannie Farm (according to my sources) until the kids started coming along. Then she stayed at home to raise the kids. Once my Uncle Blaine started school, my Grandma went back to work. This time as a nurses aid in a nursing home. She has been taking care of people for most of her life.
She is good people. Definitely someone you want on your side: good in a crisis and great at a party. She holds our family together. From baptisms to birthdays to confirmation to graduations to weddings to funerals and literally everything in between, Grandma is a steady face. My first year of college, I got a card from Grandma and Grandpa every month (always signed by both but in my Grandma’s hand). Grandma does not beat around the bush and has taught me a lot about being direct with someone: say what you mean, don’t hide your ability, false modesty is not appreciate, but neither is overstating your skills.
My Grandma also helped instill my faith. She taught me about Christ’s love and turning to God in all things. I learned that about true faith watching my Grandparent’s live their life. It’s not about what you do when people are looking, it is about what happens when you are alone.
We used to see my grandparents a lot when I was a child. At least it was a lot in my mind. I remember spending nights and Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We would wake up in the morning and Grandma would be in the kitchen making long johns. One time, we were staying at their house and we heard a noise upstairs. There was a bat in the house. I just remember all hell breaking loose and Grandpa grabbing the bat and taking it outside. They have had more cats than I could count. At one point I remember chickens running around in their barn. And of course, there was Buddy. This was not their first or their last dog, but it is the one that was around for most of my childhood.
We never had a dog and I loved going up to my grandparents (both sets) because they had a dog. Buddy at the Novak’s who was some form of golden retriever and Ginger at the Lewandowski’s who was a German shepherd. Not only were there pseudo pets at the Novak’s farm (the dog, the cats, and even the chickens) but there were always a million other people there. My Grandparent’s have quite the progeny: nine kids, 50 grandkids, and 30+ great-grandkids now. So any time we went up there, someone else was more than likely around and ready to play. We would explore the woods, coming away covered in tics; we did a number on the playhouse and play set; and caused a general ruckus everywhere else.
One of the most important life lessons I learned from the Novaks is the importance of family. We are a large family and it is hard to stay in touch, but, if I needed something, I have a huge network in place to support me, love me, and help me. We have common experiences and common history to help unite us. No matter where I go or what my last name is, I am proud to be a Novak and I take to heart what it means to bear that name.