09 May 2011

Tato, Tell Me About Our Story...

I have been begging my father as long as I remember to tell me our story.  Who my parents were as children.  What they liked to do.  What I liked to do.  About my Dziadkowi (grandparents).  My father's Dziadkowi.  Where different people were born or lived.  About his cousins, his aunts, anyone.  Why we left Poland.

The same answer hits me every time.

My father smiles at me, loses eye contact after a moment, and says "Not today, maybe tomorrow."

30 years of tomorrows have gone by and I have begun pieces our story together myself.  And there are gigantic holes.  The sort of holes that leave me feeling like maybe there is a giant monster eating it all, figuratively.

It took me this long to realize my father's character completely.  My brother thinks my father pushes people away, shuts himself off from the world.  My mother felt the same way.  They aren't wrong.

But it goes deeper than that.  My father isn't cold.  He is very loving.  Not the sort of loving like in the movies.  But the sort of loving where I could tell him any sort of thought I had, no matter how preposterous it was and he would help me nurture it into knowledge.  Questions I would have regarding politics, history, religion, social behaviour...  What?  You never had these sorts of conversations with your parents?  Well, my father would ask me questions back, give me books to read, tell me about what he knew, and I gobbled it all up.  It was knowledge.  What I would never learn in school. 

That monster eating it all away was the culmination of all our story was filled with.  Death, loss, separation, sorrow, more death, hunger.  There is a word for it but I won't utter it because I won't allow it to win.

What do you do to deal with that?  I can tell you what my father has done.  What my brother does.  What I have always done.  Thrown ourselves headfirst into work.  Not one of us has ever worked less than a 45 hour work week.  More likely 50-70 hours.  Without thought.  I worked a bit less but I had housework to throw myself into as well.  Meals to cook, corners to scrub on my hands and knees because the mop doesn't do the trick on drowning out that monster.

Now I have kids to care for, writing to be done, research to do to claim my children's Polish citizenships, volunteer hours at the school, baking for the nursing home, story times, and it goes on and on and on.

When I would talk to my father about WWII, he always told me he didn't want me to hate others.  Not to judge others for what some monsters did.

In Wroclaw once, I wanted to take a picture of a memorial of some students who were killed by the Soviets while protesting against the Communist government and he blocked my camera.  He shook his head and said, "No, it's too sad."  He began to walk away very quickly.  My Wujek was around all these memories daily, living in Poland.  My father, in the USA.  Where the saddest memory was of a favorite store closing or some other event that affects nothing in life.

Yesterday, I asked my father again.  "Tato, I need your parents places of birth."

He didn't answer like always before.  Instead, he said "I don't remember."

"Daddy!  Then, what are your grandparents names?"

"I don't remember."

I start to lecture him on this and what it means to me.

He interrupts me, "Ges (Goose), it's been so long, I just don't remember.  Sorry."

He doesn't have Alzheimer's or anything.  Time has passed.  It's been too long.

Now I know why we left Poland.  So that someone would not have to remember.  It's not the people, it's the memories and the emotions along with it all.  He needed to let it all go.

I am now alone in this.  I don't want to forget.  But I have less to remember.

Let's BEE Friends


BeetleBuggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Your posts about your past always leave me speechless. The emotions are just so deep. Your stories actually remind me of one of my favourite authors - Victoria Hislop. Reading your posts is like reading one of her books. :) And I can somewhat understand why your dad wants to forget. For us, it is a part of our history and heritage but for people like him, it's a painful part of life they went through. I hope someday though that you will get to know the whole story.

Anonymous said...

You know I understand you completely, I really do. I may not be Polish but I KNOW I have Polish spirit inside me - this spirit makes me who I am and is what gives me my integrity.

Nobody really asked my Grandfather about his time in Poland and I think it was through fear - fear that we didn't want to upset him or stir up terrible memories. So noone asked for a long time. As I got older though I knew I needed to know about where he came from - I needed to know about him and I started my search. I left question after question on Polish geneology sites.

Then, after a long spell in hospital (my Grandfather had heart problems which we knew were terminal) I was sitting with him alone in the hospital room and I just asked him outright. And he told me - just small bits of information (many tears were shed). I think he knew that his time on this planet was getting shorter which is why he told me and I'm so glad he did. I may not know everything about his life in Poland but I have something to be going on with and for the time being it's enough but I still have a void inside my heart that I know one day I will need to fill.

I totally understand too about dealing with problems the Polish way. You put your head down, do not complain with what you have been dealt and just get on with it the best way you can. This was my Grandfather completely and this is me too. I am terrible for bottling things up and just getting on with it - my husband will vouch for this!! But it is the Polish way - you deal with it yourself because you are proud.

In a sense you are not alone - because I understand you and how you feel.

Petits Choux said...

Your family history gives you a rich cultural heritage but also a lot of psychic baggage which can be hard to deal with. EU citizenship for your children is a nice perk tho!

Joanna DC said...

Wow... If you know the town where your father was born, that info should not be hard to find… If your family was Catholic, a local church would have all your family history… You could also contact the local library and inquire… I was born and raised in Poland during Communism… My childhood and watching my parents do things they had to do in order for the family to survive were indescribably difficult… I NEVER talk about it simply because it’s too painful.… It is possible that your father wants to protect you from finding out things that he may have been forced to do to protect his family, leaving his parents behind and running to another country… You really should keep that in mind…
Regards, Joanna

Unknown said...

Thank you for your supportive words and understanding.

I think, Petits Choux, that this "baggage" is common for most immigrant children. And I think talking about it is healthy and might help others feel like they aren't alone in their feelings.

Joanna D.C., I know about getting the information. I am not sure what I want anymore for my father to tell me about. It's a question I have always asked him, completely unsure of what answer I might ever get. I understand about him protecting me from whatever had happened before. I completely respect him as well. And I do keep it in mind. That doesn't make my own situation and feelings about being the child taken away any less or different, I am still the child taken away. And he is still my father who took me away to protect me. And also so that he could forget. I was hoping to capture all that in this post. I am not trying to disrespect any for it.

Joanna DC said...

I totally understand and I wish you best of luck in finding answers that will give you peace.

Unknown said...

I think that's it. I'm looking for peace. Understanding.

And after this yesterday, I did some reflecting. "What am I REALLY looking for from my father?"

I think it's more like the memories my husband has of his family. "Uncle soandso always liked to eat raw corn on the cob." Or "My babcia always loved thisandthis song." Little things that make the names and faces of the past more than just that, more human.

And for my father to tell me what games he liked to play with his brother, or whatever it is. Just little memories that make names into humans, family. Do you know what I mean?

I don't see it ever happening now but who knows. Maybe if I explain it to him that way, he will share. Or maybe it's really true. Maybe he no longer remembers.

Thank you for your comments...

Jessica said...

Wow. It must be hard not knowing much about your family's history. I've taken it for granted that my grandparent have shared many stories but after reading this I think I should spend more time listening to them. Thanks for sharing your story.

Bees With Honey said...

I hope you find answers to all of your questions. I would want to know about my past and I would go to no ends to find that info.

I feel for you Mama:)

Kasia said...

I admit I kinda avoid to read too emotional posts in your blog, to not to get too much reminded of my own struggles. I tend to get caught in bad old memories and have difficulties to find the way out, so I try to look on the positive parts of life most of the time :)

I have memories of the communism, tough I was little, and really, horrible, unspeakable things were happening :( Communism is truly inhuman, like a famous writer once described "like death and devil dancing together and partying". Thus, I can understand if your father forgets, maybe he really forgot, I forget many things too even if I witnessed them myself, and my memory is pretty awesome (for example I remember things I did or thought when I was younger than 1 year old, but forget what happened at certain times, albeit I was way way older). It is a sort of white fog obscuring too painful happenings, and this is a human protection from never healed trauma.

There are certain things that cannot be repaired, and it is better for someone to forget than to remember and literally go insane. Plus, hard work is not a bad way to deal with trouble, one does at least something good and constructive :) Way better than drugs or crime or anything...

I wish you find what you are searching for, but please be careful about researching, because the painful happenings from the past may reach you in the present :/ Many communist criminals never got punished, and live hiding what they did, and encountering the child of someone who knows about their crimes may lead to bad happenings. That is one of the reasons why I keep up such high privacy in my blog, it does not make the visitors happy, but my life and my husband's life is more important than posting photos of myself and my next environment.

One safe and good thing is researching via Wikipedia Polska and Polish blogs, I very strongly recommend this :) You can learn a lot about what happened during the years your were growing up in the USA, and what happened when you were still in Poland etc. Puzzle pieces, which help seeing the bigger picture.