The sugarplum princess
Stella Rydelek Pawlik was a very attractive woman, perhaps more so in her 30s and 40s than when she was younger. And she obviously worked at it. She reminded me of the Gabor sisters, Eva and Zsa Zsa, and this is more of a compliment to the Gabors than it is to Stella. I say that as one who interviewed Zsa Zsa Gabor and one of her husbands back in the 1960s when I was editor of the television magazine at the Akron Beacon-Journal.
Stella also was a flirt in a ditzy sort of way. Imagine Zsa Zsa Gabor trying to be Gracie Allen. Too ancient a reference? Then picture Charlize Theron playing the Catherine O'Hara character in "Schitt's Creek." I can't think of Stella without hearing her say, "Sugarplum," which was her pet name for me ... and, I suspect, for several others.
The Stella I knew apparently was far different from the one my mother met when they were children. Young Stella reportedly was very shy. That might explain how she and Al Pawlik got together and why their courtship took so long to culminate in marriage. They began dating before World War II, but it wasn't until after the war and Al was discharged from the Army that Stella became Mrs. Pawlik. For awhile they lived in an apartment on West Genesee Street in Syracuse above Maziuk Hardware. Later they built a house on North Orchard Road in Solvay and lived there for many years.
As flaky and funny as Stella often was, Al Pawlik was rather standoffish, a conservative, opinionated man whose sense of humor was dry and well hidden. One of the more memorable evenings at our house came during the 1950s when my father took on Al and some other guests — I believe one of them was my Uncle Bill Smolinski — in a long and loud argument over Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was making headlines with his accusations that communists had infiltrated our government.
My father's position was that McCarthy was a self-serving rabble-rouser whose witch-hunt was a shameful and damaging waste of time. My father challenged Al to name one communist exposed by the Wisconsin senator. Al couldn't — neither could anyone else — but he believed McCarthy was fighting the good fight.
Usually my father and Al avoided political discussions, but at the time McCarthy was an irresistible topic. Needless to say, my father brought it up again a few months later after McCarthy was exposed as a hypocritical blowhard.
Our house on Russet Lane was built with a coal furnace, but we switched to gas when I was in elementary school. Our forced hot air system used the same heat registers that came with the house, registers that were about 10 inches by 10 inches in size, one per room at the base of a wall. When Stella visited during the cold weather months, she'd usually stand for an hour or so in front of the living room register, complaining that she needed the heat because her legs were cold. I don't recall anyone else ever doing that.
Because of the contrast between the couples, any time my parents got together with Stella and Al was like an episode of a 1950s sitcom. My father and mother reminded me of Ozzie and Harriet, which put Al and Stella in the roles of Joe and Clara Randolph (Lyle Talbot and Mary Jane Croft). Al and Stella also could be the Bickersons; there was a lot of sniping, but neither seemed truly upset. As I said, Al wasn't a funny guy, but I think he got a kick out of his wife. But, then, we all did.
Al Pawlik, a 1929 graduate of Syracuse University Law School, was a lawyer with the U.S. Veterans Administration for 40 years. He died Aug. 16, 1989.
Stella was a bookkeeper for Flah's and the Addis Co. department stores in Syracuse. She died Jan. 21, 2001. She was 93.