Happy Birthday & R.I.P. Edward Wolfe Faltynowski

A Life Full of Days... 

Eddie's 3rd Birthday - First Birthday with us!
 
Today would have been my brother, Eddie's, 49th birthday.  It's really hard to visualize how he would have aged or what he would have looked like, because he didn't live to see his 25th Birthday. He died from a drug overdose in 1987. I don't really talk about it much because for a period of time, our family looked like a made-for-TV drama: teenage drug use, broken promises, angry parents, emergency room trips, storming out, and ultimately, indescribable grief. But lately we've been going through a lot of old family photos; and it's time to tell the story of my little brother.

Eddie was born to a Russian immigrant in Kansas City, Missouri. He was the youngest of 9 children. His mother spoke no English and in retrospect, probably was suffering from mental illness. His Polish father was abusive and quite old, by the time Eddie came along. The older siblings tried to care for the younger, but social services intervened. The youngest three boys, Richard, Joey, and Tony, were sent to Marillac, an orphanage/school run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity at the time. Marillac is mentioned in an article I found about orphanages in Kansas City: Orphanages Cared for Homeless Children in the Catholic Key.  Eddie was only 2 at the time, and was immediately placed in a foster home - ours.   He came with nothing, only a brown stuffed bear that he named Smokey. It was the summer of 1965 and I was only 4.

I remember planning for his first birthday with us. I had a Winnie the Pooh that he was immediately drawn too, so I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to get him one too. I loved the idea. We created a small birthday party with a few neighborhood kids. Eddie looked baffled at all of it. But he did love having his own Winnie the Pooh. Not knowing what the future would hold for him, we all needed to learn how to spell his name. I remember spelling it in a sing-song way - it was a lot of letters!
 
Easter 1968 - Eddie, Mom, Me
Kansas City, Mo.

My parents tried to keep communication lines open with his siblings. Tony was placed in a foster home and eventually adopted by them.  Joey and Richard ultimately were sent to Boys Town in Nebraska.  But before they left we would pick them up from Merillac for visits and even had them stay with us over Christmas.  Since Tony and Eddie were closest in age, we visited with Tony and his new family periodically as well. The moms would discuss how to manage allowing the two little boys to visit their birth family, even though the situations were not good. 

Eddie had a lot of problems when he came to us - how could he have been any different? Even as a little guy, he struggled with his anger; but we loved him and my parents tried to provide a good home for him.  All seemed fine until he started school. He never really adapted to that kind of environment, but my parents were encouraged to keep sending him. He was incredibly smart, but had a lot of difficulty with getting along with the teachers and with the other students.

We moved from Kansas City to Dallas in 1970, and it seemed that Catholic Charities wasn't interested in placing Eddie back with his family. It was as if they dropped the ball. No one contacted us. Ever. So when we started at a new school, Eddie decided he wanted to change his name from Faltynowski to Wolfe. It all sounded great to me. Still my mom felt it was important to keep ties with his birth family. The older siblings were now married with kids of their own. They wanted Eddie to come visit for a couple weeks in the summer. They seemed ok, Eddie wanted to (if Tony was going to go too), so that's what happened for awhile.  He was always happy to come back home to us, but he felt a connection to them that he didn't know what to do with. But as for the name, Mr. Faltynowski would not relinquish all of his rights. I was never sure what that actually meant, but I remember Eddie's sister saying that her dad had hopes that Eddie would return to the family some day, work, help bring money in, etc. But for some reason, maybe because we lived in another state, or maybe just because Eddie wanted it, we dropped the Faltynowski from his name and registered him at school as Eddie Wolfe. They put Faltynowski in as a middle name, since he didn't have one.

Family fishing trip - Lake of the Ozarks every summer
(Dad, me, Eddie)
 
Eddie played soccer, joined the middle school marching band, and even became the kicker for the football team at Hill Junior High. He was a typical boy, getting into mischief, watching TV, hanging out with friends. Our family took vacations to the beach and we had lots of fun on annual fishing trips to the Lake of the Ozarks.

When his brother Tony became a teen though, Tony decided he wanted to leave his adoptive family and return to the Faltynowski family.  I remember my mom being very concerned. I'm not sure about the timeline, but within a few years, Tony tragically died. He was siphoning gas from a car to put into a lawn mower. He got it in his eyes and fell off the overhang where their house was.  Eddie was devastated. We all were. It seemed at that point, that the Faltynowski family pushed harder to spend time with Eddie.

While I know my mom thought she was doing the right thing by keeping contact with the Faltynowskis and letting Eddie go there and develop relationships, it ended up backfiring.  In the middle of a typical teenage argument, Eddie said he wanted to leave and go live with one of his sisters. She was moving to Wyoming and he would move in with her family.  In a moment of frustration, my parents agreed. Next thing I knew, he was off on a plane to Laramie, Wyoming.  For a while we didn't hear much from him. Then he started to call more. They immediately made him get a job pumping gas and he had to work every day after school. The niceness had changed and he felt stuck. He ended up going back and forth to Kansas City to stay with his older sister for visits, but returned to Wyoming where he had high school friends.

 Eddie and Me in the house in Dallas
He was about 22
After he finished high school, he came back to Dallas to live at our house for a little while. I was away at college. He had had a hard time with drugs, but was trying to do better. We had fun hanging out together as older siblings. He was funny, confident, and really protective of me. It was as if all those years of me being his big sister looking out for him were reversed. He was threatening to beat up boys who hadn't treated me that well. I'm sure it was just the typical early 20's bravado, but I enjoyed getting to experience this side of his personality. He worked for a little bit longer and even got an apartment in Dallas. But it wasn't long before he went back to Kansas City.

In Kansas City, Eddie worked as a welder. He seemed to be back on track. He had a girlfriend who had a couple of children whom he loved. They lived over the garage where he worked.  We talked, but not often. He had grown into a loving caring man in spite of everything he had been through. I was still trying to encourage him to return to Dallas.

But evidently, he still struggled with addiction.  In July of 1987, he was gone. 

I still miss him and have so many birthday wishes for him.  I wish my family could have known him and grown up with Uncle Eddie. I wish he hadn't had such a rough life. I wish so many things had been different. Most of all, I just wish he was still here... we'd be singing Happy Birthday to him today.

 

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