Tuesday, September 3, 2013

More Polish?--Some Family History Musings

A remembered conversation from when my youngest was little, and some family history. 

Possibly the ship my great-grandfather arrived on, c. early 1900s
My mom's grandparents (all four of them) immigrated to the US from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary from the late 1800s to early 1900s, the men as coal miners.  Both her grandfathers were killed in coal mining accidents, which may explain why I extremely dislike caves...

Her parents (my grandparents) spoke Polish to each other when they needed to keep things secret (like which kid did something embarrassing at school, or what they got the kids for Christmas).  I so wish we had kept this a tradition--whyyyy don't I speak Polish?!? but, then...Shane doesn't, so that would be totally weird and not useful.  Or, I could just talk to myself and be all muttering in Polish in the corner about messy bedrooms and laundry piles.  Yeah, that could be useful...


We always have tried to instill in our kids at least some sense of family heritage (except the language part.  Not that I'm bitter.  Thanks for nothing, Grandpa), so we have always made traditional Polish foods for holidays, or sometimes just because we like Polish food.  Hence, my family is used to, and loves to eat, potato pierogi, borscht, stuffed cabbage, babka, potato pancakes, cucumber salad, and Polish sausage with homemade saurkraut (which I'm canning today as I write this; maybe that's what triggered the memory).  Many of the recipes I use, came from my greatgrandmother and/or my mom's aunts (my great aunts? second aunts? Whatever, anyway, they're OLD), and they're definitely going in The Book (the cookbook project).  In fact, I think we're making stuffed cabbage tomorrow...maybe potato pierogi... *staring off into dreamy space for a minute*..

...Ok, I'm back.

My original point is, that once when the kids were little, we were talking about my family being Polish, and which relatives, way back, were *all* Polish (as in, full-blooded, purebred, non-English-speaking, from the Old Country, yada yada).  And I was like, so, if my mom's all Polish, then I'm half Polish, and you guys (my kids) are...letmethink...one-quarter Polish. 

My youngest (who was probably 8 or so at the time) asked, "So, when we get bigger, will we be more Polish?" 

I love how kids think. 

I also love that the girls actually want to learn to speak Polish, but figuring the cost of the Rosetta Stone language course, the fact that only maybe 3 of the 4 members of our family might try to learn it, and the fact that there's not a huge, uh, call for Polish-speaking college students out there, right now, in the work force, I'm leaning towards, sorry, but the heritage thing's dying out.  It would cost us like $100.00 per "good morning" or "nyet" or whatever, and that would just be disappointing.

Which reminds me...I asked my mom about this once.  Like, why, why, didn't your parents teach you kids the language?!  They grew up speaking it every day.  You heard it every day.  Your grandparents didn't speak English at all.  Why wouldn't they teach their kids their own language?  Her answer was simple, and sort of sad.  She grew up in the 1940s and 50s, and in post-War America, it didn't *do* to seem too...foreign.  Especially Polish. 

I don't know...do they seem like immigrant babushkas to you?

My paternal great-grandmother, Bertha (a.k.a. Boleslawa), who never spoke English.  I wish I could see the colors in the curtains behind her...! but she kind of scares me a little...

My maternal great-grandmother, Mary Simulcik, with one of my mom's aunts and one of her cousins, who looks eerily like one of our own kids at the same age, fast-forwarded to 2000.  I mean, seriously--like Photoshop weird.  Mary looks like a lot more fun than Bertha, though, and she has a cute dog, but...I'm a little concerned about the backdrop.  That is so 1935.  Is that the house?  And what are they standing on?  Maybe it's the plank for the door...

Shane looks at these pictures and is like, "Wow, babe.  You don't exactly come from a family of...lookers, do you?"   ow.

Well, at least they weren't going hungry, though, by the look of it--

Also, is there a genetic tendency to this body shape?  Ok, I'm digressing...

Anyway--the last thing my grandparents wanted was for their kids to be labeled un-American, or foreign-looking or -sounding.  My mom actually got a hard time from her in-laws (my other grandparents, New Jersey society folks, who definitely cared about this stuff), that she looked un-American.  Foreign.  She wasn't blond, with a name like Muffy Buffington, of the Boston Buffingtons.  She didn't play tennis or ride show jumpers.  I think she was cute anyway:

My mom (looking at camera) with her two sisters, Ocean City, NJ, c. 1958

Not surprisingly, her parents specifically didn't teach their kids to speak Polish at all.  They wanted them all to just seem...American.  I understand it.  I'm all for us being a melting pot country, albeit with a single, common language (don't get me started on the "Please learn English if you want to stay here" topic), but I'm also all for carrying on and keeping family roots alive, within families.

So, it's cute that my grandparents spoke in Polish for secrets and in their Christmas cards to each other, but at the same time, it's sad that we lost that language in our family.  Hmm.  I'm not sure I'm OK with that, but I feel like it's too late to learn Polish, so I guess my girls will have to settle for being *less* Polish after all. 

Here's one of the only pictures I have, of our whole all-American, hippied-out family with my mom's parents.  They came to visit us in Idaho in 1978, a year into our "back to nature" move, which is a story for another time.

  Grandma Josephine, mom holding my bro (who's like, 3--is it me or is he too big to be carried?), aunt Patty, aunt Dobi, Grandpa Stanley holding my cousin Oona, and my dad.  That's me on the bike, totally rocking the plaidest bell-bottoms ever.  And of course, now I'm going nuts trying to figure out, WHAT is on my shirt?

Late p.s.:  Is it me, or does 8-year-old me resemble my great-grandma Bertha a little?  yipes

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