Driving home through downtown Hegewisch the other night, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful it looked with snow on the ground. I saw Christmas lights on the Baltimore Avenue streetlights and painted winter scenes on the grocery store windows.
It was easy to see why Hegewisch is such a wonderful neighborhood, especially around Christmastime. One local resident contacted me about a month ago and said she had many great memories to share about growing up and celebrating family holidays in Hegewisch. I talked to her this week about those memories.
Carol (Forystek) Kelly grew up above Ted’s Tavern, which was located at 13250 Houston Ave. Today it’s an empty parking lot but back then it was home to her parents, Ted and Helen Forystek, and their seven children. The Forysteks owned the tavern, which included a banquet area and dining room. Famous for its Friday fish frys, Carol said they served the best fish in Hegewisch. “People would come from all over,” she said.
Her parents owned the tavern from the late 1940s through the 1970s.
“There were seven us. I had five brothers. I was the only girl for years,” Carol said when describing her family.
She remembers Christmas as a wonderful time when her family would get together, have great food and celebrate the season.
“My dad would close the tavern early on Christmas Eve and Santa Claus would come.” The older kids would have fun trying to guess who was playing Santa each year.
Christmas dinner included Polish sausage, pierogi, mashed potatoes and other sides. It was a big meal to prepare with many guests to feed.
“My father and mother, all my siblings, my grandparents, Jacob and Victoria Forystek, and all my cousins and aunts and uncles from that side of the family would come for Christmas Eve dinner. After that, we would get all of our gifts for Christmas Eve. We were spoiled rotten when we were kids but all kids are.”
Carol also remembers attending midnight Mass at St. Florian Church in Hegewisch and doing Christmas shopping in downtown Hammond. She also remembers seeing the large Christmas tree put up in the parking lot at Opyt’s Funeral Home.
“Everybody knew everybody in Hegewisch back then. It was not like it is today.”
She also has fond memories of holiday gatherings with her maternal grandparents, Betsy and Walter Tworkowski, who lived in Burnham.
Her grandma would make all the food and her grandpa would wish everyone a merry Christmas before passing the Oplatki around. The traditional Polish Christmas wafer was broken up as it was passed around with family members making their wish as it came to them.
“It was so nice. It was great times, good times, you know. All the cousins and aunts and uncles were there.”
At the end of our talk, I asked Carol if she had anything else she wanted to share with readers.
“We had a large family and everybody knew us in Hegewisch. My parents had a wonderful business. My folks were wonderful people. They gave to people like you would not believe.”