The tenth anniversary of having this blog is making me super nostalgic seemingly. In this entry I’m going to write about my beloved grandmother Maria Radziejewska.
I came to the United States from Poland when I was so little that I had few memories of being with my grandmother. After seven years in the United States, my mother and I returned to Poland, a singularly bewildering experience that probably deserves its own well annotated blog entry. But this isn’t that entry. I’m just going to write about my grandmother here.
I had two grandmothers, a city grandmother and a country grandmother. Both of them were strong women who were not shrinking violets. My city grandmother from Łódź, where I was born, was a career woman.
Babcia Marysia, as my country grandmother was known for as long as I knew her lived in a place called Kalisz. I honestly don’t know very much about how she grew up or what her life was like when she was very young. She was born in 1912. From what my father has told me, she was educated as far as maybe sixth grade. In those days though lack of education wasn’t a real impediment to success as most people went to work as soon as they could.
The part of my grandmother’s life that I do know about is when it gets tragic. She married her first husband and a had a child, my uncle in 1939. The happiness from that first marriage was short lived. Her first husband died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, something that I truly believed haunted her for her entire life.
After the war, she remarried to my grandfather and my dad was born.
My grandmother was part of a large clan whose name was Pecold, a name many of my cousins now carry on. Inevitably she was on the outs with all or some of them at one time or another.
My grandparents lived in a house that she had inherited from her first husband. The next door neighbors were a family called Jaszkiewicz.
My uncle left home very early, at 18, off to be educated far from Kalisz. That left my dad and his parents in the house.
The house was spartan. It still had an outhouse when I visited in 1988. It did have one incredible thing. My grandmother maintained a wonderful garden in the backyard with a pear tree. My dad always describes many happy moments of sitting under the pear tree reading books in the summer. Life before Instagram, Facebook, computers I guess.
My dad also left at 18 to seek his education in science. I often wonder if it was at my grandmother’s urging that both of her sons left so early. Perhaps her early experience made her drive her sons to seek a greater fortune beyond Kalisz.
I didn’t really start spending time with my grandmother until I was 11. In 1988 my mother and I returned to spend an idyllic summer with my grandparents. For me it was the chance to get to know my grandparents and my Pecold cousins and my uncle’s children, my first cousins who I really had no knowledge of.
I still remember the summer of 1988 as one of the happiest in my life. I got to know my cousin Natalia, my equivalent in name and as it turned out personality as well.
For a city kid like me, the garden my grandmother’s was heaven. My grandparents had terrifying things like rabbits that I eventually learned not to be afraid of.
There’s one story that illustrates perfectly who my grandmother was. Near my grandparents house was the river Prosna with its own swimming hole. The swimming hole was filled with mud. One day my cousin Natalia and I started throwing mud at one of the Jaszkiewicz cousins. He was a glasses wearing nerd and throwing mud was fun. The boy’s mother ran to my grandmother right away to report our ill deeds. It was then that my grandmother uttered the immortal words — my granddaughters do whatever they want. Gold.
My cousin also told me a story of my grandfather feeding us homemade wine after we’d been caught out in the rain. We ended up sitting under a table giggling. Typical grandparent antics with their dear grandchildren.
Six months later my father was finally able to return to Poland. I remember this emotional scene of my father seeing his parents for the first time in nearly a decade.
A year after that my grandmother was gone after enduring an illness that almost 30 years later is too painful to recount here.
We’d return periodically to the house in Kalisz. The Jaszkiewicz clan remained on the other side of the fence. At any point in time, three generations could be found living on the other side of the fence. It always amazed me how close they had stayed and how far the family on my grandmother’s side went in every way.
All Souls’ Day just passed and it’s a tradition in Poland to pay tribute to the dead on that day. My uncle shared a photo of his mother on Facebook and I shared a photo of my grandmother that got me thinking of her.
Yesterday I was at the gym in Brookline. I uploaded the photos using my pocket baby television (thanks Dana Carver) attached to this blog entry to social media. It was kind of fun to show my grandmother to this global audience.
I wonder a lot what she would have thought of how my life turned out, living in Boston, a place she’d probably never even heard of. What would she have thought of me teaching English, meeting and interacting with people from the entire world. Maybe if my grandmother hadn’t been such an influence on her sons, we’d be there with Jaszkiewicz and his family. I guess I’ll never know. I only know how the story turned out from our side of the fence.
Here’s my grandmother, looking fabulous and glam. This is how I like to remember her: