Today is the 82nd birthday of Joseph Daniel Kravetz (born 4 December 1933), my adoptive father. Adoption is the act of legally placing a child with parents (or parent) who are not its natural parents. As I have noted in other posts in the pasts, I have effectively have two sets of parents — my natural parents (Joe Laurienzo and Orene Goldberg, aka Jennierose Lavender) and my adoptive parents (Joe Kravetz and Marjorie Tudor). Of these four, Joe Kravetz had a major and long term role raising me as his adopted child from about age 2 to age 17 and then, of course, has always had the role of my father, despite any ups and downs we have had over the years. I am truly grateful to him for all of the sacrifices he made in the challenge of raising me. Much of who I was came from him and my adoptive mother Marge.
Joe Kravetz was the third of four children born to Jewish immigrants Alexander Kravetz and Jessica Evelson. (Ironically, my real father Joe Laurienzo was also a child of Italian immigrants and my natural mother Orene was a child of German/Lithuanian Jewish immigrants). Joe was born in 1932 in Ossining, NY and spent all of his youth growing up there. His father Alexander emigrated to the United States on the ship George Washington, which departed from Bremen, Germany on 20 July 1914 and arrived in New York on 3 August 1914. Family tradition says that Alexander walked with a couple of others form his home in Minsk, Russia (now Belarus) to Bremen, Germany where they got on the boat. They left to escape persecution (think “Fiddler on the Roof” — in fact, Alexander was a tailor!!)
Joe’s mother Jessica Evelson (probably spelled Jewelson) also left from Bremen. She came from Vilnius, Lithuania and arrived in Philadelphia on 4 August 1913 on the USS Neckar.
I don’t have many photos of him as a young. The photo on the right is the oldest photo I have of him.
He has always had black curly hair and this picture sure shows that head of hair.
He had an older brother Louis, who is still alive and doing well in Houston, Texas. His older sister Evelyn Levy (she married Gordon Levy) was born on November 29th, 1931 and died April 28th, 2005 in Tarrytown, NY. He also has a younger sister Sylvia who lives in Silver Spring, MD.
Over the years I had numerous opportunities to meet them and many of their children, my cousins through adoption.
Joe never talked much about his life growing up in New York. There was much pain in the family because many of Alexander’s and Jessica’s family lost their lives in the early purges of the 1920s and 30s and then later in the German holocaust of World War II. I am sure that life had to be tough growing up.
My life with Joe Kravetz began in December 1958 when he married my natural mother Orene Goldberg. Just about one year earlier, Orene left my natural father Joe Laurienzo. She returned to her home in Albuquerque, NM as her staunchly Jewish mother wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy. Naturally, as a young child of two I didn’t have any say in the matter. No blame is being made here…things happen and the fact that I ended up being the adoptive son to Joe Kravetz was, in many respects, a blessing to my life as it put me on the path to where I am now. Had I stayed in Cleveland, my life would have taken an entirely different direction!! Following is a clip from the Albuquerque Journal in Dec. 1958 (today was the first time I have ever seen this!!!)
From 1954 to 1956 Joe Kravetz served in the US Army as a radio operator. He did his basic training at Ft. Hood and then was assigned to a facility in Albuquerque. He was discharged in 1956 but then served in the reserves. Indeed, one of my earliest memories as a child was him coming home to our small duplex in his uniform with a duffel bag.
I don’t know much more about his military service, but do know that is how he made his way to Albuquerque in the first place. And, as a member of the synagogue there, he was ultimately introduced to and married Orene in 1958 and was apparently happy to inherit a son as part of the package.
I don’t have many memories of those early years. I know that eventually, Joe made his way in to retail, working for Payless Drugs in Albuquerque. In July 1960, he and Orene had a child, my half-brother, Aaron.
I do know that Joe loved to take drives to the mountains and see the scenery. He was also an avid hiker. He also liked to take pictures. Fortunately, we have lots of photos of the kids growing up.
However, he was gone a lot due to work and so time with him was rare. And soon it became worse as he and Orene got divorced in 1961 and I was again without a parent. Aaron and I were left with babysitters most of the time in 1961 and 1962 as he worked as a single parent to raise us…a rarity in the early 1960s. (Note: an interesting article I came across noted that 1960, only about 32 million Americans, 18 and older, were single (either divorced or widowed or always-single). That was 28 percent of the adult population. By 2013, there were 105 million single Americans, accounting for 44 percent of the adult population.)
Joe eventually met and married Marjorie Tudor on 13 October 1962. She was a divorced single mother with a son, Danny, who was only 2 weeks younger then me. So, we were then a family of 5. We got a house in what was then called Snow Vista (in the NE Heights of Albuquerque just off of Route 66). By this time Joe was doing well with Payless Drugs (which by then had become Skaggs Drug). Here are a few photos of Joe over the years.
As can be seen in the photo on the right, he was a handsome man in the 1950s. Very active and rail thin, which he has been throughout his life.
I have no idea what his aspirations were for life back in the 1950s and not sure how his marriage to Orene and taking on the role of a father changed things for his future. He never kept a journal and didn’t talk much about those kinds of things, so I am afraid we’ll never know for sure.
By 1964 Marge and Joe had my brother Gary. We were then off to Dallas. Not long after that he was transferred to Denver, where, eventually, my youngest sibling, my sister Sherry, was born. (Even by this time I was still not aware that I had been adopted)
After more transfers to Great Falls and Bozeman in Montana and then to Sat Lake City (Murray) in Utah, things had gotten challenging. Both Mom and Dad worked to keep the family together, but they didn’t see eye to eye on much. I eventually left the house and joined the LDS Church and left on a mission. To this day I am of the opinion that God had prepared a way for me to get to Salt Lake and join the church and that this relationship with Joe was the mode of transport to get me there. No sooner was I gone and he was transferred to a store in Northridge, CO (by this time Skaggs had become Osco Drug). He and Marge were soon divorced and she went to Jemez Springs, where she had grown up, and took Gary and Sherry with her. Aaron went with Dad. Danny, who had mental retardation, was in a group home in Las Vegas, NM.
By 1979 I was married and in college. Julianne and I made our way to Flagstaff and then, by 1984 we were in Mesa, where I attended graduate school at Arizona State. All of that time I tried to stay in touch with my Dad. Then in 1987 we went to Japan and were fortunate enough for him to visit. He had never really been to a foreign country before, so this was a big adventure for him.
In his later years, after retiring from Osco, we did keep in touch, but after his Japan visit, he rarely got to see his grandchildren. But, I do have a few shots of him with the grandkids. The major opportunity came on a family reunion in New York in 1997.
By the mid 2000s Julianne and I were becoming grandparents ourselves, which meant Joe was becoming a great grandfather. By this time, unbeknownst to us (and perhaps even himself), he was in the early stages of dementia. Living in San Antonio, TX and working for Barnes and Noble, he had a lonely life. He had become almost hermitlike in existence and I could never get him to even notice that he had great grandchildren. For a number of years I was bothered by his seeming indifference. Finally, on a visit to Texas 2011, I was able to see his condition first hand. And it has gotten worse since then. But, thanks to my sister Sherry, we were blessed with a visit by her family, along with Dad, during the Christmas holiday in 2012. Joe finally got to see his great grandchildren for the first time…all nine of them at that time (there are 10 now)
Between 2012 and 2014 I made a couple of other visits to Texas and had occasion to see my Dad. Once was another Kravetz family reunion in Galveston. Joe had become more aloof and unkempt and, for the first time in my recollection, had actually grown a beard.
His teeth were cracked, his toenails were long. His memory was going (and still is). But he did look classy in a beard, in all honesty.
Now, as he turns 82, he is in a nursing home. A few months ago he fell (not the first time) and this time destroyed his hips. He is probably laid up for the remainder of his life as the healing process is not going well. Sherry tells me he can watch TV but no longer knows how to use the remote to change the channel. It is sad seeing someone essentially wither away. My sister Sherry is to be praised for taking care of him the last decade or so. But it got too hard. He needed a watchful eye 24/7 and she couldn’t do that.
I am grateful to Joe Kravetz for all of the sacrifices he has made. In many respects, he has had a challenging life, from the days of his youth through his three marriages, difficult children (at times) and then his health challenges.
I am certain that if not for him, I would not be where I am with my lovely wife of 36 years, my 5 awesome children and my 10 wonderful grandchildren. None of that would have happened, at least not the way it is now, had it not been for him marrying my natural mother Orene and setting the ball in motion and then continuing on that path with Marge. Despite any differences and friction we may have had over the years, I can honestly say I love Dad, appreciate him and am grateful for his enduring spirit. He has truly been a blessing in my life and I want the world to know.