It was evening. The children were fed, bathed and playing together by me as I sat on my bed sorting paperwork.
My Tato came in. He never really comes into my room. My house is always open to him because that is just how Polish children are, their house is always open to their parents.
I looked at him, knowing he was going to say something important.
"Gęś*, do you know what Eleven ten eleven is?" with a smile that I know very well. A smile that means "Guess, maybe you know, this is something very special to me."
I raked my mind. It is noone's birthday as far as I can remember. It isn't our anniversary coming to Amerika.
"I don't know, Tato. I know it's the day before Veteran's Day and the day before Poland's Independence Day and before eleven eleven eleven."
"On November 10, 2011, it will be 30 years ago we left Poland."
My Tato rarely talks about Poland and our departure. I have begged him for years to share with me but I have been lucky to get slivers.
I paused and bit the bullet. I asked questions. Cautiously, because I know he might shut down his wall that he keeps to protect himself. I can understand that feeling, even though my feelings are from a different perspective and most likely not as strong and full of memories as his and my Mamas.
"Tato, how did we leave?"
"You were just a little thing (stress on little). You was not even 1 1/2 year old. I drove us in a car to Austria."
I knew this much. I wanted more.
"But how? Did we sneak over in the night (like on those old spy movies)? How did we get through the border?"
"No, we said we were going on vacation." More gentle prying and I hear, "We each got passports to go separately when we apply to go to Austria for vacation. You Dziadek went with us to take car back. We just did not return."
We left on different pretenses than what we told the government. In my mind, I think now about people who overstay their visas and wonder if they were in the same situation and if it is so wrong what they did. And that people who judge them without ever having traveled anywhere have no idea, no clue.
My Tato continued to tell me how little I was and that we lived in Warth.
I asked him if he regretted it. Because I am ashamed to think (but would never tell him) that in some ways, I do. He told me that in some ways he regrets it but in many ways no. I knew I hit a nerve. This was hard to him to talk about.
I cannot imagine being in a situation where no matter how hard you work, there is no food in the stores to feed your baby, there is no future that you can see for your child. Having to hug your parents goodbye, cross yourself and sneak away to another country. And hope beyond hope that you don't get sent back home, that you and your family are given a chance to try to make a life for yourselves in another country far far away with a different language, culture, government, values, food with no family to be your support there.
I cannot imagine how my parents found the strength to leave their Poland.
30 years ago today, my parents made the biggest decision of their lives and mine.
They hugged their friends and family, said goodbye, not knowing if they would see them again. My parents wrapped me in a green blanket and my mother sat with me in the backseat of a maluszek that had no heat on a cold November day. My Dziadek sat in the passengar seat. And my Tato drove.
For our future. To our future.
This weekend, besides celebrating Veterans Day and Poland's Independence Day, I will be showing my children photos from my family, calling my Babcia, and telling my children our story.
I wonder what will be, to my children, the biggest decision in their lives that my husband and I will make. Will it be, as I see it something as small and trivial, as moving to Illinois from Maryland? Or will it be something just as big?
* Gęś (pronounced Gensh and meaning "goose" in Polish, my father's nickname for me)
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