I want to publicly express my appreciation for a truly remarkable man. His name is Carl Chester Jamalkowski, or as I call him, “Papa J.”
Technically, he’s my father-in-law, though he will always be a father figure to me.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Papa J is the importance of family. Here is a man who worked the graveyard shift at Attica Prison for almost 30 years. As I understand it, he took the overnight shift because it paid better, so he could provide for his family.
My wife tells stories of how he would be there for them in the mornings, often making breakfast for them after he got home from work. The way she tells the story with such fondness indicates to me it wasn’t really about the breakfast, it was about showing love to his family.
As I got to know him, it became clear to me that he was extremely smart. He taught me how to play different card games and rarely was I able to best him. “Hasenpfeffer” was a family favorite card game. My dyslexic mind often confused “spades” with “clubs,” so to keep them straight, I’d called them “shovels” and “clovers” which seemed to amuse Papa J to no end.
I’m not a short person. At 6’3” I’m often the tallest person in the room. Consider then that Papa J was taller than me and had more muscle in one of his arms than I had in my whole body. When he told me he loved his baby girl and made sure I knew the consequences if I mistreated her, I took him seriously.
I’ll admit that for the first few months I got to know him, I was scared to death. Yet over time, I realized he had a heart of gold. He loved to collect things, thinking of ways to give them to others to help them out.
It seemed to me that Papa J and Mama J had a wonderful symbiotic relationship. She loved to cook, and he loved to eat. I can’t count the times we’d be in the middle of a meal, and he’d say, “Rose, you know what would be good for dinner tomorrow?” And then he’d say what he was in the mood for. Mama J would playfully roll her eyes and say, “Carl, let’s finish eating this meal first!”
Because Papa J worked for so many years during the graveyard shift, even after he retired, he tended to stay up late. It seemed like no time was a bad time to make a pizza—something he made often and was quite delicious.
I had the chance to live with Mama and Papa J while doing my internship in Buffalo for six weeks. It was late spring so Papa J and I would watch a lot of the NBA playoffs together. Being on the east coast meant some of the games would run late, but it was never so late that he wasn’t willing to make a pizza as the games were on.
A skill that my wife inherited from Papa J was being able to spot a bargain. One of the things that could get Papa J up early was the prospect of going to garage sales, also known as “tag” sales. I had a chance to go with him a few times during my internship. It never ceased to amaze me how he was able to “negotiate” with someone until the price was right.
Later in his life, he and Mama J made the move from the Buffalo area to Utah. My wife’s older sister, Lora, and her husband, George, went above and beyond by taking them in and creating a place for them to live.
Papa J passed away on April 3, 2014 at home with loved ones by his side. While his spirit may have left this earth, his family legacy will remain.