Ralph Orzechowski is the bald one, second from right.
Continuing the Polish archeological excavation, there’s another strange coincidence in the Palczewski family history. My step-brother Ralph Orzechowski and I were born on exactly the same day: March 1, 1942.
When I was in the Air Force in the early 60s I got a gift subscription to the Youngstown Vindicator. Reading it in the barracks one day I found out I was related to a hero:
Five young passersby help four Youngstown policemen apprehend three robbers who pulled off a daring daylight robbery from a wholesale jeweler on the eighth floor of the Dollar Bank building. Jewels worth $37,000 and $2,000 in cash are recovered. The young heroes are Tim Domer, 20; Ralph Orzechowski, 16; Dave McGarry, 16; Tony Santangelo, 17, and Peter Mittoli, 16.
In a letter, my mother said despite this Ralph wasn’t really a hero, because at the funeral of Edna, her mother, they caught him trying to slip the wedding band off her dead finger. Ralph was going to pawn it to get money for his drugs. Not too long afterward, he was arrested, tried and convicted for a botched attempt at armed robbery at a Youngstown motel, and got hard time at Ohio State Penitentiary.
When I was at work as an editor in New York many years later, my wife called and said, nervously, that there was an evil looking, bald, tattooed guy sitting in the living room who arrived at the door unannounced and claimed he was Ralphie, my brother.
“You never told me you had a brother,” she said.
I replied he was the son of Bully Orzechowski, the man my mother married after she divorced my father. She said OK, fine, get here as soon as you can.
It was an awkward meeting. Ralphie kept looking around our apartment, going from the TV to the stereo and other items as if he were taking inventory. And most disturbing, he fixed his eyes on Lara, our three-year-old daughter, who was busy with her coloring book, and he kept repeating how lovely and sweet and beautiful she was.
He explained he was in New York because in prison he learned how to sign up for wellfare in multiple states, and he’d just picked up his check. New Jersey and Pennsylvania were his next stops.
As he departed he told me that prison was pure hell, and that I should never do anything to get sent there. I assured him I would do my best to remain crime free.
A few years later Ralph was found dead in a littered alley in Youngstown, a needle still stuck between his toes.
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Below are more family snapshots.
Polish Music-making and Dancing: