Somehow, being in Poland is a small exercise in returning to my childhood.
All of my maternal relatives, the generation of grandparents and great-aunts-and-uncles, elected to speak Polish to each other when they gathered…Thanksgiving, Christmas, Weddings, Baptisms, etc. I remember being a child, remember the process of learning new words and applying them to my vocabulary. I remember discovering that English worked better for me…more people (cough my dad’s side cough) understood it, and I learned how to read and write the letters of English instead of Polish (although I also have a memory of trying to read the Polish in my Grandmother’s house…and getting frustrated when I couldn’t phonetically make out the words).
To return to Poland, then, is kind of like returning to an era when all of the adults spoke words I almost understood, and I would listen, sleepy, too-late into the winter evenings during the holidays.
I remembered this, this past week, when I was at mass on Sunday, jet-lagged and listening to the priest. I couldn’t understand his words. But, they were familiar, the creaks and cadences of my childhood. I almost nodded off in mass. My cousin nudged me awake again. (Thanks, Hanna).
In conversation, on signs, I would come across words that I remember my mother saying to me when I was a child, or sayings from my Grandmother…all long-forgotten to my short-term memory. The bus driver instructed us to hurry, in the words my mother used to use when I was a child. The signs sold French fries, spelled out like my mother used to call them. I had forgotten this, though. I had forgotten all of it.
In that way, Poland is my past.
But, it is my present, too.
And, in some ways, I wish it was my future.
Being in Poland is like being the good world I wished I lived in.
There are nuns and religious sisters everywhere. Everywhere. Climbing onto public trans, walking through the city streets, buying quick lunches. Just like us.
You know those glossy magazines you find in grocery stores and quick-stop shops? The ones with women in pouty faces and little else? In Poland, no. In Poland, the magazine-cover women are all dressed smart business formal. They look classy and professional and fierce…and they’re wearing, get this, clothes.
The doors on the churches in Poland are, get this, unlocked. I know. It’s crazy town.
And in those churches? People. Regular people, stopping in to pray.
And you know what else? Men. Yes. You heard it here. There are men in the churches who are praying. Young men, even. Young men, praying in unlocked churches.
I’m telling you, the place is like a surreal world where daddies take their babies to places like the Basilica of Divine Mercy on Sundays, and EVERY ROW is packed with people, and there is standing room only, and the daddies point out all of the sacred images to their babies in soft, sweet Polish.
Style and class. And nature and city streets.
And one day, when it was very cold, I went in a chocolate shop and asked for a cup of hot chocolate, and they asked:
“White, milk, or dark?”
And I answered “dark” because I KNOW A GOOD THING WHEN I HEAR IT, OKAY?
And they gave me a CUP OF MELTED CHOCOLATE.
And I looked at it and looked up and back at the cup and back up.
And then I found a spoon and ate it. No regrets.
Do you hear me, Poland? No regrets. Ever. You are a delicious treat, like a cup of melted dark chocolate.
I love you.