All in the Gronkowski Family

The first thing I saw when I came into my cousin’s house was a picture of Uncle Iggy on his bike. It was a few years ago when I confirmed that Iggy indeed was a member of the United States Olympic team, competing in cycling in the 1924 Paris Games. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how true the story was. My grandmother had a tendency to exaggerate stories or create a narrative that best served her purpose in the way most family stories get passed from generation to generation. Most of the stories about Uncle Iggy featured tidbits about him driving a cab and women of ill repute rather than on his elite cycling career. I could spend days analyzing that one, but I digress.

Back to my cousin’s house and the Super Bowl party which served as a type of Gronkowksi family reunion, gathered to cheer on our distant cousin, Rob, the star tight end for the New England Patriots. Here’s the blood line: His great grandfather (Iggy) and my great grandfather (Frank) were brothers. Someone did the math and said that makes us fourth cousins. I’ve never met Rob or his family, but why let details get in the way of an opportunity to make fun of family members and eat cake?

My great grandfather, on any typical Sunday morning.

The extended family gathering, which happens rarely these days, included stories and jokes and a good number of old photographs, among them one of my great grandfather, Frank Gronkowski, passed out drunk in the bathtub. Here lies the Gronkowski family tree. One line produced an Olympic cyclist and Super Bowl participant. I am begotten from, well, from a guy who spent more than one night passed out drunk in a bathtub. This notion struck me as so funny and entertaining, I posted it on Facebook immediately. The concept of lineage, however, stayed with me, following me into the pool for my morning workout. How important is that family line anyway? How much am I beholden to where my ancestors came from, to my family beliefs and actions?

I am sure there are aspects of my personality and approach to life that are so deeply rooted in ancestral traditions that I can’t even begin to dissect them. There are values which have served me well and life characteristics that I cherish. Then there are those tendencies I wish not to repeat. I say that without judgement, but with love, knowing that in some instances there is a better way for me to approach life. It’s more in the spirit of when you know better, you do better. And while some of those lessons are learned the hard way, they have been instrumental in helping me create the kind of life I want for myself. And I have to think somewhere I have grandparents and aunts and uncles who are smiling approval that I learned the lessons they missed out on.

I love the fact that somewhere on my family tree are people who have participated in the Olympics and the Super Bowl. And as I listened to the stories of my crazy family last night, I realized that when you focus on joy, you bring more of it into your life, regardless of what kind of man your great grandfather was.

3 Comments on “All in the Gronkowski Family

  1. Dear Amy,
    I just read your story–really nice! My wife Anita came across it the other day when we were doing some genealogical research. My great-grandmother is Rose Gronkowski, Iggy and Frank’s sister! They also had another brother named Anthony. Would you be willing to share your family tree with me? I’ll be happy to share what I have with you. My family is also in Western NY (go Bills! and go Rob!) I’m especially interested in the photo of Iggy that you mentioned. I haven’t come across any photos of him yet. Just a cartoon ( Incidentally, you may have had some feedback from your story already, but two people whose great-grandparents are siblings are 3rd cousins (like you, me, and Rob). Take care, Dan

  2. Thank you Amy! It looks like we are also distant cousins since my great grandmother Rose Gronkowski was sister to Iggy also. I found your article from trying to find out more about Rose’s parents, which has not been easy. Rose died during the flu epidemic in 1921 when she was 28 years old.

    As a side note, do you know what happened to Uncle Iggy’s bike? He gave it to my father for his 10th birthday. Unfortunately, since it was a speed bike (come to find out they don’t have breaks) my dad crashed with it. What else can you expect with a 10 year old boy.

  3. Rose Gronkowska(I) Uncle Iggy’s sister was my Grandmother. She died in 1920 jn the flu epidemic. Her Husband John Doerr my grandfather died in 1922. Their 4 children Edward, John, Helen and Matilda grew up in an orphanage.

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