Slice of life

Book Impressions: Alice’s Dictionary

Reference books are the dinosaurs of print. The meteoric rise of the internet search engine has buried encyclopedias, thesauri, and dictionaries in the back of libraries and used bookstores across the world. Yet, these gems of information, which were once the prized possessions of family households, still have stories to tell. I heard one such story from my grandmother, as we peered over the massive spine of a 1956 publication of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary that used to belong to a woman named Alice.

Listen in as Gloria Kazmierzcak shares her memories of her mother collecting sections of the dictionary piece by piece.

This dictionary was bought by my mother… in pieces. A guy came to the door selling dictionaries. It was probably 1956. She paid for it every week when she got the section that was due that week. After she got all the sections, then the cover came and you could put it all together.

Alice Grabarkiewicz was a homemaker by occupation, and lived in Ohio with her husband, Victor. After she had three children, her oldest daughter, Gloria, babysat the two younger children while Alice walked to work at the Ohio Table Pad Company.

[Alice] enjoyed books. We were in school and I think she thought it might have been a good dictionary to help us in case we needed to look up anything. I think that’s why she bought it. She never really did say, and I was really surprised that she did buy it!

The dictionary was for the entire family to use for homework, research, or do crossword puzzles (which were Alice’s favorite)! The reference book was kept on the dining room table, at all times.

It was more than a dictionary, so to speak. It had… other facts about history and things like that. It was available to all of us. We didn’t have Google back then, we didn’t have cell phones back then, we didn’t have computers. So, this was it! In today’s age, I think I prefer looking [information] up online. Because it’s right at your fingertips.

Although reference books may be outdated, they support a different type of research that is drastically different from googling. Google requires a defined question. Reference books only require curiosity. With a bit of digging, old dictionaries can unearth knowledge that you don’t expect to find. This is something that Alice’s granddaughter, Barbara Shugar can attest to:

All of us kids… were drawn to [the dictionary] to just page through it, and look at words, and look at pictures, and learn new things!

The dictionary is mine now, but Alice’s memory is laced into each section that she collected, and echoes of dining room conversations still reverberate from the cover. The next time I need a word to complete a crossword, I’ll remember great-grandma Alice’s dictionary and spend some time lost in its pages.

Slice of life

Traditions in Quarantine: Good Friday Pierogis

Today is Good Friday, which traditionally is Pierogi Making Day for my family. Since social distancing isn’t possible in my Grandma’s kitchen, we can’t be together. So instead, we text each other pictures of ourselves making miniature batches at home, gifs of dancing pierogis, or selfies of faces hidden behind colorful homemade masks.

For myself, I revisit the tradition in excerpts from a paper I wrote last year.

Family traditions take many forms. Some arise from our cultural or religious history. Others arise due to our human desire for remembrance, ritual, and fellowship. The best traditions are passed on through generations and expand from one’s family, to one’s friends, and into the wider community. My family’s pierogi recipe represents just that type of tradition. It expresses many things, including the most obvious: a mouth-watering dumpling of buttery dough and delectable spices. It also symbolizes my family’s history, culture, and our love of community. For with every pierogi that we’ve made, we’ve shared.

Considering the history of this simple dumpling, it’s no wonder that it has become a symbol of familial pride and community for Polish families. Pierogis are a national dish of Poland that have appeared in Polish cookbooks since the 17th century (“Pierogi – the Best Guide to the Most Popular Polish Food.”). Preparing these dumplings around holidays such as Christmas and Easter is a common tradition.


For my family, the tradition began in Busia and Dza-Dza’s kitchen on a Good Friday, years before I was born. They called around, inviting the family into their tiny kitchen to roll stiff mounds composed of butter, eggs, and flour, to crimp stuffing into round spheres of pale dough and to boil each dumpling in pots of steaming water, before carefully laying the pierogis in neat rows to dry. By the afternoon, everyone went home with heaping plates of fragrant pierogis. These fluted pockets of calorie-rich goodness would be fried in butter, to a crisp golden brown and serve as midnight snacks, the highlight of Easter brunches, and the specialty of holiday dinners. The traditional sauerkraut and potato pierogis are my favorites, while others prefer the creamy, cottage-cheese filled ones.  

As we grandkids undertook our pierogi training, we learned about the different methods of preparing them. One could crimp them with a hinged “crimper” squeezing the ends of the dumpling into a nice, fluted pattern. Or, one could press the edges shut with a fork, leaving deep creases in the dough. My older cousin still swears by the fork method as the only authentic way to make pierogis. One year my cousins and I made an apple pie version… that was stretching the dumpling recipe a bit too far! 

Pierogi Making Day repeats year after year, even as the family grows and my Busia’s tiny kitchen is packed with her kids, grandkids, their spouses, friends, and extended family, all working the pierogi assembly line. Dza-Dza supervises us from heaven, and I know he would be pleased. Last Good Friday, the family churned out over 1,000 pierogis to enjoy and share with friends who request a small order of the treat every spring season.


In the handwritten recipe my mom passed along to me, she wrote “Traditions such as this are a special and important part of family life and heritage.” This is the most compelling aspect about the pierogi. It is a simple dumpling, but as food often does, it brings people together. More importantly, traditional homemade foods like this are imbued with a rich history, cultural heritage, and love. As my family labors around that little kitchen table in Ohio every Easter season, we enrich ourselves, our family, and hopefully, bring a yummy sense of pure enjoyment to the community.

Be well and keep your traditions alive, my friends!