16 September 2011

Writing Me: Where I'm From

I wish that idea was simple and easy to explain.  I wish I could say I knew.

I'm from a flow of events out of my control before even my parents were born.  I'm from consequences to other peoples actions.  I'm from change.  A constant change.

I'm from a city that somehow my grandparents ended up in, relocated along with millions of others.  Locations bombed, taken, reclaimed by others.  A new home "given" by the government, bought.  Bloc apartments.  Bedrooms as small as my husband's family's closets, it could be said.

I'm from two people still young and from different backgrounds. Who fell in love and married on the spur of the moment.

One from a small village, 7 siblings, my Dziadek an alcoholic, the family history a mystery partly because when asked they always say they are from another larger town nearby, sun kissed blonde hair and green eyes the color of the Pole, red leather boots, mountain climbing, running through the farmers' fields, a dream at better in Wroclaw, the large city nearby.

And one from a career Army family, some members lost in WWI, and later in Katyn, others lost in Siberia, concentration camps, and other battles fighting for their beloved Polska.  Legends of the family originating from Warsaw (true from what I have found) and possibly from Polish knights.  Uniforms, mustaches, thick leather Army belts, tall, strong, dark hair, piercing blue eyes, athletic, intelligent, introverted.  The same eyes my brother has, the same distinctly Polish eye shape I have and my children have, their piercing blue changing to the color of the Pole in the middle of summer. 

Somehow, those two meeting, falling in love, marrying too quickly, then making Kasia.  Me.

I'm from homemade sun bonnets, prams instead of strollers, handknit sweaters, a white christening blanket still hanging in my closet, daily walks outside along an ancestral river filled with trout and boats and relics of the past, sitting on park benches under the shade of willows.

I'm from where everyone knows how to say my name, where my parents don't have an accent, from red poppies, flowers planted everywhere possible, and Linden trees, hazelnuts, red capped mushrooms, Krasnoludki, willows and buckwheat and cabbage and castles.  Cathedrals, true cathedrals built with the blood, sweat and tears of workers long past centuries before, Matka Boska, Czarna Madonna hanging in many a living room, Joh Paul II, prayers deep heartfelt prayers whispered century after century in my native tongue.

I'm from moments in time.  Orange hats of the "Krasnoludki" quietly protesting Communism in a way to avoid bloodshed.  Monuments later to be built to commemorate these holy places where students and workers gave their lives hoping for human rights.  Rights which were taken away in WWII and not yet handed back by Moscow, to the victor go the spoils.  And the spoils were countries like Poland.

I'm from long food lines, empty store shelves bare except for a bag of rotten potatoes, hungry people, toilet paper bought on the black market because the Communist government controlled the supply of goods for purchasing. And failed at it.


Over a mountain, the dead of night, winter, no heat in the Malusek, a green blanket wrapped around me, prayers that we don't get caught sneaking over the border.  Away.  Running away.  Because there was no food to feed me with.  Because my parents wanted a future for me.  Always remembering this and feeling like I let them down, that I should have done more with my life.

A card with a young girl's picture and the words "Citizen of the World".

Potato soup, a hostel in Austria, nobody telling me what happened there.  My hand burned severely. Scarred permanently.

A choice.  Australia or Baltimore, USA.  My parents choosing Baltimore.  An airplane flight that almost didn't happen because my mother was so far in her pregnancy with my brother.  Nobody at the airport to meet us like they were supposed to.  Nobody telling me what happened after.

Questions.  Questions.  Details that I will never learn. 

I'm from public school, ESL classes, hand-me-down clothes and furniture, never being allowed to not finish dinner because we knew all too well what being hungry meant.

I'm from a moment of our first car accident in Amerika.  My Babcia screaming and pulling my brother's and my head against her chest to protect us.  My crying because she smothered me.  Being scared.  Sitting on a curb and a firefighter coming to me asking me questions I didn't understand and a brown blanket around my shoulders.  My parents and Babcia and brother all shaken but alive.  It wasn't our fault and I was very young but I drive very carefully because of that memory.

I'm from hope.  I'm from dreams.  I'm from the desperate desire by humankind to want to continue and keep trying.

I'm from a feeling that I don't belong.  From a knowing that I don't belong.  And that I can't change it.  And laughing quietly at people's assumptions of others based on appearance, race, religion, etc. 

I'm from long conversations around the dinner table, any time of day or night.  My parents gently directing my train of thought and understanding of the world.  Allowing me to learn about other countries, other religions, other peoples. 

I'm from always wondering why my parents were so hard on me and treated my brother differently.  "You are going to grow up to be a woman.  This is a man's world.  It's not fair but that's how it is.  It will be easier for your brother than it will be for you.  One day you will understand."  Being jealous of my brother and being told to cherish him because in this world and because of what we had been through, he was all I had.  Now understanding it all.

I'm from fork in the left hand, knife in the right.  Floors washed by hand.  Wooden spoons.  The color red.  Flowers overfilling our balcony.  Crochet.  Cross stitching.  Knitting.  Embroidery. 

A father who was constantly at work because "I work for you and your brother to have future.  That is man's job.  Woman's job to spend time with kids, cook, clean, play games with kids.  Man make money to pay for these things.  One day you understand."  And they were right.  Always right.  It's "one day" now and I understand.

I'm from hearing the words "Solidarnosc", "Wojtyła", Walesa", "Sovieczi", "Wojna", "komunistów", "Syberia", "Katyn" and countless others whispered by adults and never being told what it all meant.  Watching tv about some guy with a mustache like my fathers and a huge pen signing papers, Pope John Paul II, the Berlin wall coming down.  My parents crying.  My and my brother not understanding.  My mother hugging us one time and saying "Dzieki boza ze nie rozumiecze".  Phone calls to Poland that cost over $100 for just a half hour but phone calls made anyway. 

I'm from the smell of raw potatoes being prepared for who knows what, cabbage, spinach in sandwiches, cucumbers, radishes, currants, gooseberries, sour cream.  A mother scouring through cookbooks to try and create as many different dishes for us as possible.  So that we grow up adventurous eaters.  From dinners built on a theme of a particular country and my mother telling us about that country as we ate.

I'm from hugging my Babcia hello nervously because I didn't know her and I should have.  Hugging her goodbye 6 months later when her time came to leave and praying that I could spend all the time in the world with her.  Thinking how unfair life was that my family was so far away.  Not a few miles away.  Over an ocean and behind an iron curtain away.

I'm from snuggles under a blanket in my parent's bed, watching Rick Steves travel the world and telling my mother that one day I would do the same thing.  That I would see the world.  That knowing my neighborhood would not be enough.  Because I had already seen more.  And had a hunger for more.

I'm from countless reminders by my parents that children are the most important thing in the world and that even though they were more strict than most Amerikan parents, they loved me very much and didn't want me to get hurt.  And myself turning into the same kind of parent.

I'm from operas, Jean Michel Jarre, Czerwone Gitary, Iron Maiden, Swan Lake, music from all over the world.  My parents telling me that music should move you to feel, no matter what language it is in and what language you speak.  But not rap.  Because my parents didn't agree with lyrics that disrespect women or talk about violence.  That they wanted me to feel inspiration in music.  A living room designed by my father, wired specially, a bass speaker he created, Scorpions "Winds of Change" bouncing off your heart and shaking the windows and us sitting feeling those words and knowing that we were here because of those winds.

I'm from countless dates with boys but never feeling they measured up.  Knowing I wanted someone who was tolerant, not bigoted, who wanted to travel, who saw me as beautiful.  A date with a boy who's family was Polish American, who had money, but who thought men could sleep around while women should be chaste.  And knowing my mother's feminist words, saying "We can't date.  I want someone who sees me as his equal."

Meeting my future husband an hour later, my heart stopping.  Blue eyes looking back at me.  Who thinks that my being Polish and speaking another language was sexy.  Who steals my breathe away just by being him.  Who kissed me an hour later and.  Time stopped.  My friends of several years standing there and one saying "Wow.  Dude, time stopped.  What the h--- was that?!"  And knowing he was the man for me.

I'm from a place where people read poetry, curse, eat Chesapeake crabs, Georgia peaches just a few hours away, Maryland tomatoes, Old Bay on anything and everything, a "girls night out" in a local Dundalk bar, or Canton or Fells Point and my always wanting it in Canton.  From Polish festivals in Patterson Park, my parents always driving by our first home in America, formstone and marble steps row home. 

I'm from walks in the woods with my mother, learning what berries are edible, what berries make nice necklaces, what flowers grow when, what do foxes look like. 

I'm from strolls in Historic Ellicott City, mass in Holy Cross PNCC, camping in West Virginia, knowing Gettysburg, Antietam, Harpers Ferry, Havre de Grace, Jerusalem Mills and countless other historic sites like the back of my hand.

I'm from hikes that last hours and hours.  Jogging under trees in the woods.  Knowing always to look out for copperheads.  From walking with my head slightly down to watch what I might step on in the outdoors.

I'm from the smell of the ocean.  Fields and fields of cows, corn, and soybean.

I'm from countless days of picking my own vegetables and fruits at Huber's Farm.  Knowing the family and their fields and the harvest.

I'm from change.

And now I'm here.  Wide blue skies.  Wheat fields.  Skunks.  Black squirrels.  Wild flowers and fossils everywhere.  So many butterflies that a hike entails at least two smacking against my face each time.  Coyotes.  The Revolutionary War far far away from me.  Pumpkin fields orange as far as the eye can see.  Beefalo.  Less evidence of the Native Americans who roamed here than I'm used to.  Trying to find my new place.

Knowing I will.  Because I have done this before.

Inspired by Bigger Picture Moments "Writing Me:  Where I'm From"


L said...

Wow, I'm moved. You are such a great writer.

And something random: have you read My Antonia by Willa Cather?

Jackie said...

I agree w/MrsB.
The comparison to My Antonia is perfect.
I love your voice, and I am in awe of the fullness of your life so far.

iza said...

Kasia, this took my breath away. What a writer you are. Such rich, evocative imagery. You took me back... I love, love, love this post!

Daria i Jarek said...

Speechless... Had to read it twice as don't want to forget....

this is beautiful!!!

Alena said...

What a beautiful story, Kasia!

Stacie said...

Your story is certainly unique. A pleasure to read.

Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

Wow, that opening is powerful: "I'm from a flow of events out of my control before even my parents were born. I'm from consequences to other peoples actions. I'm from change. A constant change." And I like the repetition of "I'm from change" again at the end. That's quite a history and your description of it is so moving. So much that a lot of us might have learned about or read about, but understand anew to hear from someone who actually experienced it all. It sometimes seems so very long ago, but you remind us well how it was just in this lifetime. Your husband sounds like a wonderful man and I think your parents would be proud of you.

It's not easy not fitting in, always being a world apart, but you're beautiful just as you are.