Sisters reunite after 20 years for birthday surpriseJosephine Saari of Superior got the surprise of a lifetime when a “waitress” at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill walked up to the table. “Josie, what would you like?” the “waitress” asked.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Josephine Saari of Superior got the surprise of a lifetime when a “waitress” at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill walked up to the table.
“Josie, what would you like?” the “waitress” asked.
Saari questioned how the woman could know her name. The explanation — “I’m your sister” — seemed impossible. After all, Saari had just talked to her younger sister, Cecelia Lutz of Lawton, Okla., on the telephone the night before.
Lutz said the call was by design — to keep her older sister from calling the following night and finding she wasn’t home.
“I’m usually home in the evenings and I didn’t want her to worry,” Lutz said. She knew she wouldn’t be home. For five weeks, Lutz, 79, held onto the secret intended to surprise her older sister for her 85th birthday.
The sisters — the last remaining of 13 children born to Matt and Alexandria “Alice” Mikloczak — were brought together again with the help of Saari’s son, George Luostari.
They talked on the phone every week, Luostari said, but they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years.
In fact, the women born and raised in Superior’s Allouez neighborhood by Polish immigrant parents, were last together when their sister Bonnie succumb after a 12-year battle with cancer in 1991.
“I didn’t know she was coming, and then George came … and asked ‘where do you want to go for lunch Ma?’” Saari said.
Anticipating his mother’s answer, Luostari and his wife Pam had already dropped Lutz off at the restaurant to prepare for the surprise.
“Oh, they all went for it …” Lutz said of the staff. “They even dropped their work and were watching.”
And staff and customers alike erupted into applause as the long-separated sisters cried and embraced for the first time in 20 years on Thursday night.
“Some of them [patrons] came to our booth and thanked us for the entertainment,” Lutz said Monday. “Even the staff … hugs from them.”
“Even the manager came out,” Saari said. “I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.”
Saari spent most of her life living in Douglas County, in Maple and Superior.
Lutz, who worked for Western Electric in Duluth, transferred to Omaha, Neb., for work in 1958. She retired from the company after 21 years of service. During that time, there were occasional visits to the community where she grew up. Today, she lives in the foothills of the Witchita Mountains, three miles from the fence-line of Fort Sill, Okla., where her husband served before retiring from the U.S. Air Force.
Over the weekend, the sisters spent the weekend in Grand Marais at the MacArthur House bed and breakfast, enjoying a relaxing weekend in the company of good people, fine food and pleasant accommodations.
“We had lots of fun with no money,” Lutz recalled of growing up in Superior’s Allouez neighborhood. “My dad had a team of horses — he didn’t have a tractor — and he plowed with a team of horses, made the garden, cut the hay bales.
“We didn’t want to be in the house,” Saari said. “We wanted to be outside with dad in the hayfield.” Then, they bailed hay by hand, stomping the bundles down by jumping on it. But growing up in Allouez wasn’t all work. The women remember going down the slope behind the house their father built at 3801 E. 11th St., to swim and ice skate on the Nemadji River.
“There’s a creek there,” Lutz said. “There was a little duck pond there and the beaver making their little house. We used to sit on the hillside and listen to the blackbirds.”
“The red-winged blackbirds had the prettiest sound,” Saari said.
“And you could live off the land in those days,” Lutz said.
Then, the girls could pick hazelnuts and almost any kind of berry growing wild. After visiting their childhood home over the weekend, the women said the landscape has changed and those features are no longer there.
Then there was the family garden that helped sustained them.
The women laughed as they thought back to the way their brother Alex managed yard chores — plucking vegetables instead of weeds in the garden and mowing down their mother’s roses to get out of cutting the lawn with the old reel-style hand mower.
“I think there was a method to his madness,” Luostari said, noting the mishandling got Alex out of those yard chores.
In the winter months, the kids would clear the snow off the ice-covered river to skate in the light of full moon, building bonfires on the shore to warm them.
Their mother, a nurse, was the busy, no nonsense parent; their father, who worked at the Allouez ore docks, was the one the kids wanted to work with when it came time to do chores.
Saari said she and her sister Bonnie were responsible for mopping floors — their mother knew every time when they used a stick mop instead of hand-scrubbing, and they would have to do it over again when they didn’t get in the corners.
The family had livestock, made homemade butter and cottage cheese and managed to survive on the land where they grew up.
Both women attribute their health today to the way they were raised.
Matt and Alice Mikloczak, married in January 1914 brought 13 children into the world between December of 1914 and 1930, but by 1947, the family’s numbers started to dwindle.
In October 1947, Lutz remembers getting the Western Union telegram that carried the news that their 19-year-old brother, Norman, was killed in Korea, before the war began. Lutz said she never believed the story about his death, that someone cleaning a weapon in the barracks had killed him. She always believed a sniper killed him because his unit guarded an ammunition depot.
“This was a cruel way to let us know,” said Lutz, who was 15 when she was the first to read the telegram, and had to share the news with her mother who had been napping when Western Union arrived.
The following year, their father, who grieved fiercely after the loss of his son, died of a heart attack. A year later, their eldest brother, Eddie, was killed in a car accident.
Now, as the only remaining Mikloczak siblings — reunited after two decades — the sisters are making plans to get together more often.
Lutz said she has a lady friend in Lawton who travels to Port Wing, Wis., and they have talked about making the trip to northern Wisconsin together.
“We can take turns driving from Lawton to Superior, and she can go on to Port Wing,” Lutz said. “It would be good that way. One could drive and one could snooze.”