It’s the 4th of July. A good time for a story as American as baseball, mom and the immigration experience. For those looking for apple pie and Chevrolet, click here.
Firecracker Baby: On July 4, 1921, my mother Katie Lukomski was born in Sugar Creek, Missouri. In 1939, she married my father, Joe Shalton.
Mom and Dad were children of Eastern European immigrants. My fraternal grandparents (Shalton, as Americanized) were from a village near Vilnius, Lithuania. My maternal grandparents (Lukomski) were from Rozvadiv, a village near Lviv, then in Austria-Hungary (present day Ukraine). They came to the states in 1907 and 1911. They didn’t speak English and had no money or special skills. Just dreamers with a willingness to work hard and become patriotic Americans. There are now five generations of Americans who have benefitted from these courageous ancestors. They are my heroes.
Rita and I traveled to Lithuania and Ukraine in 2018 – to breathe the air of my ancestors. Following clues from family papers, we located the birth records of Andrew and Anna Lukomski in the church archives in Rozvadiv. That trip was chronicled in Hot Stove #78.
So Mom and Dad were first generation Americans. On the 100th anniversary of Dad’s birth (1914), I posted a tribute about “Grandpa Joe” (click here). Now it’s Mom’s turn.
The Lukomski Family: Andrew and Anna had ten children. Eight girls – Martha, Mary, Annie, Susie, Rosie, Katie, Sophie and Ellen. Two boys – Andrew Jr. (Bosco) and Johnny.
Below, a family photo from about 1923.
Mom was born in the Roaring Twenties and grew up during the Great Depression. She graduated from William Chrisman High School in May of 1939 and married Dad six months later. I came along in 1941, four months before Pearl Harbor. My brother Gary (RIP) followed in 1943. Gary’s middle name was Michael, and the plan was to call him Mike. But toddler Lonnie kept saying “Moke” and that caught on and became his family nickname.
Mom’s various official, church and school papers listed her with various spellings of Katheryn and also Kay, but as an adult, almost everyone called her Katie. But not Dad. He called her “Kitty” (he already had a sister named Katie).
Below, from 1942, Mom (on the left) with Aunt Ellen. In a Hot Stove post in May of last year, I gave a shout-out to Aunt Ellen on her 96th birthday. During the pandemic, we kept in touch by phone, and she was still quite sharp. But age finally caught up, and Ellen died in September. The last Lukomski of her generation.
Growing Up With Mom: Except for a brief stint at the Lake City ammunition factory during the Korean War, Mom was a stay-at-home parent. My brother and I had the cleanest clothes, ate the best home-cooked meals and were slightly sheltered compared to some of our friends. She generally knew where we were, and we were almost always home on time. Rebellion was never in the cards.
But she indulged me in two of my passions. Baseball and rock ‘n’ roll. The music by its nature was rebellious. It was the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll when I became a teenager in 1954. It was not the music of my parents’ generation. It wasn’t even close.. Details to follow in Lonnie’s Jukebox below.
As for baseball, she knew I was hooked by the sport. She supported my participation in pick-up games, cub scouts and 3&2. She let me stay up past my bedtime so I could listen to Larry Ray’s radio broadcast of the Kansas City Blues. In what had to be a wrenching decision for her, I was allowed to skip school for two games. Once in grade school. Again in high school.
The first game was in April of 1952. I was 10. I have no idea what Mom wrote to the school about my absence. Kansas City at that time had only the minor league Blues, but there was an opportunity to see major leaguers in a pre-season game. My Uncle Tony (Aunt Ellen’s husband) agreed to take me to the afternoon game. The teams were the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants. The Giants had won the NL pennant the previous fall on the Bobby Thomson home run. I was in heaven. Bobby Thomson got four hits. Sal Maglie and Early Wynn pitched. In the Indians lineup was Larry Doby, the man who broke the color line in the American League. The Giants won 4-3 in 12 innings. The box score from the KC Star:
The second hooky day was on April 12, 1955, opening day for our new major league team, the Kansas City A’s. This was such a big deal for the city that my eighth-grade teachers at Northeast Junior were glad when I told them I went to the game. My pal Jay DeSimone and I got to the stadium early in the morning and bought game-day tickets. Former President Harry Truman threw out the first pitch and the A’s won 6-2. Below, the crowd exits after the game that day.
What was maybe more surprising is that Mom let me take the bus to the game. This meant taking a bus from Independence, transferring to another line and ending up at 19th and Brooklyn where I met Jay who had come by bus from the Northeast area. We then walked the three blocks up to the stadium. Went to about 20 games with Jay that summer. It was a cool way to transition to age 14.
There is one hitch in praising Mom for her baseball indulgence. I collected baseball cards which were becoming a big thing in 1952. Had a pretty good collection, especially of the Yankees who were the parent club of our KC Blues. Mantle, Rizzuto, etc. I have the same sad story told by many. When I came back after my first year in college, the shoebox with the cards was missing. Mom claimed she had no idea what happened to them. I remain skeptical.
Mom Becomes a Baseball Fan: Mom had some interest in spectator sports, but was not an avid fan. This changed in the mid-1970s. The Royals were becoming good and they gained new fans because of the exiting play of the likes of Hal McRae, George Brett and Frank White.
In addition, the Chicago Cubs started being televised around the country by superstation WGN. And all games from Wrigley Field were played in the daytime (no lights until 1988). The games became an afternoon ritual for Mom and Dad (who had retired by then). Dad had always been a sports fan, but now with the combination of the Royals in KC and the Cubs at Wrigley, Mom was enthusiastically on board.
She also found that she liked attending games in person. The timing was good. I was able to increase my ticket package to two tickets for half the Royals home games. My schedule limited me to only a few games a season, leaving Mom with tickets for about 35 games. Two problems. Dad preferred to watch the games from his recliner. And Mom did not drive. But she proved to be resourceful in recruiting her neighbors and Aunt Ellen to go to the games.
Mom never met a stranger. She became well known among other season ticket holders in her section. She really enjoyed her baseball community. When Rita and I would go to one of our rare games, we were interlopers. “Where’s Katie?” “Is she okay?” We were in Mom’s territory. Just as we wanted it to be.
This went on for several years, including 1985 when the Royals won the World Series. I had four tickets to Game 6, but they were not together. I sat with my son Jason (then 14) in our usual lower deck seats, and Rita sat with Mom in the upper deck. You all know the story of that night. Umpire Don Denkinger missed a call at first base and the Royals rallied to win. We all stood in the stands after the game, not wanting to leave, just basking in such a sweet victory. Easily one of the most memorable games in KC history. When Mom died in 2006, I found a 1985 Royals schedule in her papers. I kept it.
Dad died in 1989, but Mom continued to keep company with the Royals and Harry Caray and the Cubs. In 1990, Rita and I took Mom and Aunt Ellen on a day trip to Chicago to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field. She liked that a lot.
I can’t remember the exact year, but Mom was in her early 70s when she phased out of going to the games. I got extra tickets for September 29, 1993, so Rita and I could join her to see George Brett’s last game in Kansas City. After the Royals won that game, George took a trip around the field to thank the adoring fans and then famously kissed home plate.
Mom’s Other Games: Mom found a new “sport” later in life. Slot machines on the riverboats. Her running mate for this was Dad’s sister Katie (remember, that’s why Dad called Mom “Kitty”). Neither of them drove, but ever resourceful, Mom recruited Rita and me.
The trips were usually on Sundays. The route started in Independence to pick up Mom, then to the Northeast area for Aunt Katie, and then to the boats (usually the Isle of Capri). The first couple of times, Rita and I went in to have lunch with them before leaving them to play the slots. They then suggested we not do the lunch – we were cutting into their gambling time. They could snack at the slots. When they were finished at around 5:00, they called, and we picked them up. The two octogenarians had such a good time together. Katie and Kitty.
But the best slot machine story came from a cruise ship. We took Mom on three family cruises. These were four-generation vacations that included grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On one of the cruises, she was headed to breakfast with my sister-in-law Rita (yes, Gary’s wife has the same name as my wife). As they passed through the ship’s casino, Mom slowed long enough to put three quarters in one of the slot machines. JACKPOT! $3,750! The staff had to wake up the casino manager to make the payout. We had her return to the machine for a photo. She did not stop smiling for the rest of the trip.
Another gambling excursion was to Las Vegas in 1997. My daughter Stacey and her family lived in California, and Stacey’s daughter Melissa had just been born. Mom, Rita and I flew out to California to see the new baby, and upon our return, we stopped by Vegas for a night. We thought Mom would like to see the big time in Vegas. She did.
Mom also played spirited rummy games with Rita (below) and the granddaughters.
Her more active sport was bowling. When I was a kid, I went to the movies at the Maywood Theater, only three blocks from home. Still remember the admission price from the mid-50’s, 14 cents for kids and 39 cents for adults. Before I turned 12, a quarter bought me the movie, a box of popcorn and a piece of penny candy. Like many small theaters, the Maywood closed, but it was repurposed as a bowling alley. Very convenient so Mom could take up the sport and enjoy her leagues for several years.
Dad had bowled before he retired from Armco. While I was going through family photos for this post, I found a good photo of him bowling. Wish I had it when I did the recent Hot Stove post that had a section on bowling (and Bolling). But I can fix that. After I send out a Hot Stove post, there is a lag time before it gets posted by my son Brian on the Lonnie’s Jukebox website. This gives me an opportunity to correct mistakes that sometimes get noted by eagle-eyed readers. And I can add new things like Dad’s photo. Check it out here.
Below, webmaster Brian, Mom and me.
Katie is Eighty: When Mom turned 80 in 2001, we had a party for her at V’s Restaurant. The cover of the invite:
Buck O’Neil and Mom: Like most in the baseball world, Mom adored Buck O’Neil. I have her copy of Buck’s book, I Was Right on Time. Inside the book:
Mom and Buck both died in 2006, Mom at 85 and Buck at 94. Two wonderful souls.
As friends and family left the church at Mom’s funeral, we all broke out with a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.”
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Mom’s Edition: The music of Mom and Dad’s early married life would have been big bands and singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. In the early 1950s, TV favorites were Liberace and Lawrence Welk.
We had a family connection to this music world. Dad’s sister Nell was a professional singer who played in clubs in Kansas City and went on the road with big bands. Her stage name was the phonetic “Shelton.” I remember hearing her sing on the radio when she was on one of her out of town trips. Family legend is that she got an offer to try out to be the “Champagne Lady,” the lead singer on the Lawrence Welk Show. But Nell (or maybe her mother) decided not to pursue a singing career.
Dad also had a good singing voice and could play musical instruments by ear. He could pick out tunes on a guitar and piano and was an excellent harmonica player. I got Mom’s musical talent. She nor I could carry a tune.
On Saturday nights, Mom and Dad watched Your Hit Parade, a countdown of the top songs of the week. The selections were purportedly determined by sales of sheet music and records and play on the radio and “automatic coin machines” (jukeboxes). The TV show started in 1950 and played tunes known (and liked) by my parents. “Tennessee Waltz.” “Shrimp Boats.” “Doggy in the Window.” “Hey There.”
But Your Hit Parade did not know how to handle what was coming in the mid-1950s. Rock ‘n’ Roll. I watched a 1956 episode on YouTube, and here are some clips:
1. Lucky Strike Baseball Ad. A couple in the box seats buy a pack from a roving vendor and light up. It’s a hoot. Click here. Below, a print version.
2. Opening Credits. Lots of dancing by Lucky Strike cigarettes. First two minutes of this video.
3. Closing Theme. “So long for a while, that’s all the songs for a while…”. Click here.
4. “Heartbreak Hotel” by Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade. This is one of the early rock ‘n’ roll numbers covered by the show. Covering Elvis Presley was no easy task. This became more apparent in August of 1956 when Presley’s “Hound Dog” became a hit. It is said that Snooky Lanson’s weekly attempts to perform “Hound Dog” hastened the end of Your Hit Parade.
My introduction to Elvis Presley may surprise you. Although I was well into rock ‘n’ roll through Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard, I did not know Elvis Presley was the next big star until my parents told me about him. On Saturday nights, they watched Stage Show, hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The show was produced by Jackie Gleason who used it as a lead-in to his classic sitcom, The Honeymooners. I did not see the shows because I was off to Teen Town on Saturday nights.
From January to March of 1956, Elvis Presley made six appearances on Stage Show. The first two times he sang covers of hits by Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Little Richard. Here are samples of what Mom and Dad saw:
“Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Elvis Presley on Stage Show.
“Tutti Frutti” by Elvis Presley on Stage Show.
Mom and Dad could not believe the energy of the gyrating Elvis. They said I just had to see him. Then I started hearing the buzz as Elvis began getting airplay with his first big hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.” He sang that song on three of his remaining Stage Show appearances.
“Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley on Stage Show. Snooky Lanson never had a chance.
So my parents knew about Elvis before I did and months before Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.
I have other examples of my parents indulgence of rock ‘n’ roll. As I was building a 45-rpm record collection of the new genre, they had to constantly hear them at home. My budget was limited, so sometimes they would chip in. I specifically remember how I acquired “Come Go With Me” in early 1957. I heard the record on the radio and loved it. Still do. Mom helped me get it.
Mom did most of her grocery shopping at Curt’s Market, just two doors away from our house. It’s also where I worked during high school (80 cents/hour). But running a blue-collar household, and as a child of the Depression, her frugality sometimes took her to the big sale days at the A&P in Fairmount. I was with her there one day and longingly looked at the record rack where my new favorite song was calling. She let me put it in the cart and paid for it with the groceries. I still have the record. Thanks Mom.
“Come Go With Me” by the Del-Vikings.
Mom also let me attend “The Biggest Show of Stars” at Municipal Auditorium in November of 1957. I was 16 and went with a neighbor. I was old enough for this, but you have to remember the times. I was going to an integrated show, both on stage and in the audience. She just knew I had to see Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Everly Brothers, etc. Thanks again Mom.
I don’t recall any specific songs that Mom found special. But I know a genre that she enjoyed throughout her life. Polka music. The Sugar Creek/Eastern European culture was never far away. In the food she cooked (especially cabbage rolls) and in the music we heard at weddings and other events. More women than men carried on the tradition, so it was not unusual for women to dance together. A good example is this photo from Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary party – she and Aunt Martha doing the polka.
Now hold that thought and listen to a famous polka song as played by two of Mom and Dad’s TV favorites.
“Beer Barrel Polka” by Lawrence Welk with Myron Floren on the accordion.
“Beer Barrel Polka” by Liberace.
From that same 50th anniversary party, Mom and Dad, not doing the polka.
Another item I found going through Mom’s papers was an envelope with Dad’s handwriting. Don’t know what he gave her in the envelope, but I really like the “KITTY KAT.” For their 49th anniversary.
Mom and Dad in 1981 on Lonnie and Rita’s wedding day.
To close, a song for Mom and Dad that I am sure they saw on a Sunday night in September of 1956.
“Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show.