What If…

You ever play the “What If?” game? Of course you have. We all have. It can be either cathartic and masochistic depending on the situation, to ponder what might have been.

Masochistic: What if… I didn’t eat those 4 double-cheeseburgers with extra cheese and fried onions and gravy fries?

Cathartic: What if… I had taken that job with that company that just went under rather than the one I did choose?

And by all means, the “What If?” game is not only for the little people…

John McCain… “What if I hadn’t chosen Sarah Palin to be my Veep?”

Michael Phelps… “What if I hadn’t smoked that bong?”

***

Today, my 4 brothers, our sister and I collectively and figuratively played the “What If?” game.

What If… our father, way back in 1950, decided to pursue a position with this one particular organization… instead of the path he ultimately chose?

How incredibly different ALL of our lives would be today had he chosen one career path over another.

Here’s the story…

Our father Joseph Olenski, Sr. worked for 40+ years in the A&P supermarket chain, becoming a high-ranking VP of something or other during his tenure. All of my brothers, sister and yours truly ALL cut our working teeth in the supermarket world. Many of us would eventually even meet our significant others while working in a supermarket.

BUT… and here’s where the “What If?” comes into play…

What if our father had decided to pursue a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation? Yeah, the FBI… G-Men, Feds, all that…

The story goes that in 1950 our father was recruited out of college for the FBI because of his military history and background — he was an MP during World War II and a recent college graduate.

We’re not sure if he ever went through training with the FBI, but we do know that their first assignment for him was due to the fact he spoke Polish — the FBI wanted him to move up to the coal mine areas of Pennsylvania, specifically the Scranton area. The fear at that time was that communists were infiltrating the coal miners and they wanted someone from the FBI to go undercover there. Since our Dad spoke Polish fluently, he was selected. The story goes that when he told his mother (our grandmother) of this assignment she talked him out of going. He was accepted into the FBI, but simply choose not to go.

So why was it today my 4 brothers, our sister and I collectively and figuratively played the “What If?” game?

It’s because of a letter (see below) my brother Michael uncovered recently and shared with all of us today. It was a letter signed (not stamped, but signed) by the head of the FBI at the time — you know who I mean — and by the looks of it, it sure sounds like our father never bothered to inform them of his decision.

So my brothers, sister and I now wonder, how incredibly different our lives would have been had our father joined the FBI and NOT the A&P. Quite the disparity in career paths, huh?!

My brother Joe today reminded us of a quote from John Lennon: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Seems in 1950 life was happening all around our father and his plans didn’t include the FBI.

So… what about you? How does the “What If?” game affect you? What examples, life-changing or otherwise, do you have of the “What If?” game?

Here’s the full letter.. PLUS I also cropped out the top and body separately for better readability. Click on each file to enlarge.

Full Letter:

Header:

Body:


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9 thoughts on “What If…

  1. This is amazing. Can you imagine? He just chose not to show up and off he went to the A&P….. 🙂 What a great story with a lot to think about.Now I want to do the "what if" thing……the list would be so long.

  2. What an amazing story. My personal “What If?” involves a graduate study research project, a stop at a phone booth (this story is dating me now!), a random search through the Yellow Pages for an interview contact, a meeting the next day… and a referral by that contact to speak to someone else at a local high school the very next day. My future husband would be working there. 33 years after that stop at the phone booth… 4 kids, 9 grandkids, my blog, Twitter, YOUR STORY!Thanks for sharing your story and this slice of history and your memorabilia.

  3. Oh… I forgot the “What If?” What if my random search through the Yellow Pages had landed on someone else?

  4. TDB — Get started on your own “What If?” list! Who cares if it would be long? Just do it!Sharon — Wow! Clark Kent has nothing on you. Now that’s how to make the most of a phone booth! Thanks for sharing your incredible story!

  5. Amazing story – as a neighbor to you and your 5 siblings I know MANY lives would have been different without the Olenskis up the street! Not to mention I had coal mining relatives up in PA – maybe your dad would have busted them!All of life seems what if and ours is one possible path but here we ate on it – how about ‘what if’ we didn’t race incessantly around the block as kids? What if I didn’t win the gold medal in the 1972 Olympic marathon on our street – twice around the block? Maybe I wouldn’t have goneout for cross-country in high school? Been captain and all-city? Recruited and gone to the college I did? Got the job I did? Where I met my wife? And so it goes?Or more concretely what if Bobby Nystrom was called offsides as he should have been!?!?

  6. There was a great movie made about this very thought… the plot was centered around “what happens if the main character makes or misses a commuter train.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120148/Steve – you should go rent it.

  7. This is one of those stories that seems like it could make anyone want to go back in time for even a brief glimpse into what would make someone make one choice instead of another, especially when it's your own father. As a man and father with a few what if's of my own, including one that goes "what if my father had been around for me growing up" I'ld bet your father was ok saying no to Hoover. Serving his country and raising five children is nothing to shake a stick at, especially knowing that at least for a while he had impact enough to get all five to briefly follow in his footsteps! Nice story Steve…..Thanks for Sharing it.

  8. Steve -I really enjoyed your "what if" story. At my age (58) there is a long trail to look back over. There are two big "what ifs" for me… 1. What if I hadn't taken the call from a competitor and accepted the invitation to discuss coming to work for him. He became my career mentor and ended up hiring me four times at companies he invested in. 2. What if, I had thought more about life balance and less about career success during my first marriage? What if?Thanks for the thought provoking post. Your readers are invited to see the post that connected us, a recap of my career, at: http://www.rodbrooks.com/blog/career-in-making/All the best, Rod

  9. Hi Rod,Wow, those are two very compelling What If? examples for sure… I definitely all of my readers read Rod's post, too…!! trust me, you want to read it… it's a great story

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