Tom Ross: World War II a tough time for honeymooners

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

Watching Ken Burns' documentary about World War II on public television Sunday, I was reminded of a story my late father-in-law Ed Gawronski once told me.

We just lost Eddy G. on Sept. 21, so I've been constantly cycling fond memories through my mind during the past four days.

Ed managed a large commercial printing operation in Buffalo, N.Y., for most of his career. He was quick to laugh in a deep baritone, but sang high tenor in a barbershop quartet. I could never reconcile his speaking voice with his falsetto singing voice.

It wasn't really Eddy G's style to reminisce, so I treasure an anecdote he once shared about the war years.

Burns' grim documentary, "The War," portrays in matter-of-fact-style the extreme sacrifices American servicemen and women made during World War II.

Ed Gawronski had a small physical impairment that kept him out of the service, but he did his part. During the war, he worked in a Chevrolet plant in the Buffalo area that built aircraft engines for bombers. They worked relentless shifts, seven days a week for weeks on end.

Apparently, he still had time for a social life.

It was on July 22, 1944, that Ed Gawronski and Alice Grzybowski were wed. The couple had planned a modest honeymoon befitting the times at Cranberry Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.

There was just one catch. Although Ed had access to a nice automobile, the tires on his father's 1939 Plymouth were bald. It was unsafe to drive across the Empire State.

Ed had the cash to buy new tires - that wasn't the nature of the predicament. The problem was that during the war, all of the available rubber was being used to put tires on thousands of military trucks, Jeeps and aircraft. You couldn't purchase a tire for your civilian auto at any price. Gasoline was rationed too.

It's an old saw, but it's true - where there's a will there's a way, and newlyweds most certainly had the will. Ed gained permission to dismount the tires from his uncle's car (they had ample tread) and switch them onto his father's car for the duration of the trip to Cranberry Lake. Automobile tires aren't always prized for their romantic qualities, but in this case, they rose to the level of "love potion." When the honeymoon was over, the good tires went back on his uncle's car.

Ed spent his entire life in Buffalo and didn't travel far on vacations. So, whenever he visited Colorado, we made sure to pack some adventure into his life.

We coaxed him up a precarious sandstone trail in Arches National Park, a hike he talked about for years. When he brought a friend to visit us in Steamboat one July, I purchased passage in a hot-air balloon for them. I don't think he ever forgot the champagne baptism after his inaugural flight.

Another summer I loaded Ed and a friend onto inner tubes and launched them through the rapids of the mighty Yampa. Ed's tube flipped on a rock, dunking him and providing him with more fodder for tales to be told back in Buffalo.

It strikes me how fortunate I am that Ed Gawronski wasn't eligible for military service in World War II. Had he served overseas, my wife might never have been born. Where would that leave me today? Where would that leave my son, for heaven's sake?

Thanks Eddy G., for all the good times we shared, but mostly for your daughter.

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