Once again, I saw a picture of you and missed you today. In fact, I see you everything I turn on my computer, your picture is on my desktop and my Facebook. Maybe it’s to make up for the missing time away from you, I’m not sure.
True, you are not as famous as your European cousins, Paris, London, Rome, Vienna, and the rest of them. But I’ve never been much for celebrities.
I would rather have your charm be true to what you always have been, ancient, colorful, melodic in the same way that a Polonaise or a Mazurka is, that odd beat so dignified and so in tune with the hearts of Poles like no other.
I know perhaps you don’t feel very special compared to your famous cousins, but you have a bread named after you, Wroclawski Chleb. And in fact, many Americans enjoy it under another name, light rye bread, not knowing the true name or the city it honors. You have smoked cheese also honoring you which my husband craves to this day over 7 years later. I know no higher honor that a person can give than name food after you.
You are where my father was raised, where my family is buried, my ancestral home. You were the matchmaker, introducing my mother and father, and under your romantic influence, they fell in love, married and had me.
The rhythm and sounds of your cobblestone streets rocked me to sleep as a baby in my pram as my mother took me on my daily walks through the winding paths of your riverside parks.
When I think of Poland, I think of you. When I think of what I lost by being torn away from you because of Communism and oppression of human rights, it pains me because I lost the ability to call you truly mine.
Instead, when I walk your streets every chance I get, I am a stranger to you. I am that woman who dresses, moves and sounds American no matter how hard she fights it, yet her eyes are Polish in every possible way.
Every turn, I have to discover and rediscover you. And you tease me. What I think I know may or may not be changed when I return. I understand, you have been busy shaking off the dusty industrial gray coat that Communism laid on your shoulders, and before that, the two World Wars. And you have emerged beautifully, like a phoenix from the ashes.
The first time I laid eyes on you when I returned, you were shaking off that coat. Your Rynek was in the beginnings of it’s changes. Now, you are bright and vibrant, like a maiden in summer. But, thankfully, Capitalism and it’s stifling neon signs, tacky knick-knacks, and generic flavorless unimaginative restaurant chains have not yet cast their spell on you.
You are where I took my husband for our honeymoon. We could have gone anywhere. I brought him to you, so that you could each meet one another, and hopefully, get along for my sake. Did you know he got a tattoo because you inspired him so much?
You are where I ran to with giddy delight, pregnant for the first time and excited to attend my cousin’s wedding (and closing my eyes, pretending it was each of my cousins’ weddings since I could not attend them all). You showed me what a real Polish wedding was, and I was envious.
You are where I brought my older daughter when I was again pregnant. I was happy to see you again, yes, but please don’t be upset that I didn’t seem to enjoy you. You know I was there to bury my Dziadek.
Yet, you were sweet enough to entrance my father again on that trip, knowing it was his first trip back after we left so many years ago and that he was almost afraid to see what had changed. Did I tell you he might retire there with you? His ancestral home?
You also wove your spell on my older daughter, who had begun a love affair with American childrens food (macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, chocolate milk, fish sticks, pizza, and the occasional broccoli loaded with cheese) and who I was concerned might not enjoy your company.
Her love affair with Poland began the moment she looked down from that airplane and saw you sprawled around the Odra River, your red roofs, green parks, and white statues creeping outward from your origin, the Via Reggia and the Amber Road and Ostrow Tumski.
It deepened when she met her family, ate Zupa Ogurkowa with real Ruskie Pierogi, visited your zoo, and napped from jetlag by the fountains at Hala Ludowa. She chased a grey and black crow while I rested during a stroll in your Szczytnicki Park.
She discovered your Krasnolutki and has been searching for them ever since.
Our last night with you, her goodbyes were teary as she ate mixed Pierogi (mushroom and sauerkraut, Ruskie, meat) seated outside in a restaurant, watching fire jugglers perform at your Rynek. She ended up falling so deeply in love with you and my family, that when the time came and we had to leave you, her “hair wanted to stay” with you. And conveniently, the rest of her wanted stay as well.
I miss you. I can’t wait to see you again this year.
I know eventually I will be coming to see you for sad business again. After all, time passes, generations age, and loved ones have to be told farewell, sometimes for the last time.
But let’s not dwell on that. After all, I have to come back. You stole my heart the day I was born. You are in my blood.
Let’s just say Na Razie, not Do Widzenia…
Author: Polish Mama on the Prairie