It was a deep and restful sleep for the both of us. I woke up early as usual however and tossed around for a while before getting up and making myself a coffee. I didn’t want to wake Chrl as she likes and can sleep in a lot longer than I can. Slowly I descended the stairs as everyone slept and made myself at home by brewing a good cuppa joe.
Back upstairs the view from the balcony made me reminisce about my early childhood and the time I spent here. The sun was slowly rising burning off the fog in the distance illuminating the harvested fields and those still waiting for their time to be harvested. It was quiet and beautiful the perfect time to get on with some writing.
As the story of a few days ago unfolded on the screen shadows got progressively shorter and the sky brighter. Memories of our recent past relived through words tapped through the letters on my little screen. I needed another coffee as my work progressed everyone was still asleep. This is my little respite before the day’s activities commenced. Chrl stirred from her slumber as I finished for the day. As we cuddled she told me of her night time adventure to the toilet. She said that she had to pee in the middle of the night and with it being so dark and so quiet she didn’t want to knock over any of the plants. She also was a bit tipsy from the drink we had whilst we chatted before bed. As she entered the hallway unfamiliar with her surroundings she worried that she would walk through the wrong door into someone’s bedroom. I laughed so hard as I listened to her struggle. It was real.
By this time in the morning the house was up and people were on their way to their activities. Klaudia had to be driven to Oświencim for her practicum by Konrad. Joasia was helping my aunt Irena while getting breakfast ready for all of us. She had to get to her duties at the cultural centre. We were going to go for a walk around the village. She put on that dress from Barcelona that looks so good on her. We brought hot temperatures with us and after a quick snack we walked down this incline towards the ponds. Back in my youth this area looked different from now. To me back then this hill was daunting. Now it is just an incline easily traversed without breaking a sweat. There is an old house far from the road behind the thick foliage. Across the road is where the former farm machine yard was. It’s where my aunt and uncle worked partitioning the machines and other supplies amongst all the villagers. People don’t farm their plot of land anymore. Someone rents and works the land from them now. We turned left to walk by the ponds.
Here is where they farm fish. These ponds have been here for a long time too. The bushes have overgrown the earthworks. We found a path to get up on the higher ground to look over the water. We spotted swans swimming in the distance as well as some bird taking repeated dives to hunt for fish. It kept swimming further and further away from us. It was nice here. I shared my memories with Chrl about this place. What had the most magic to me was the land. The way it looked in the summer time with all the wheat tall and having that golden color just before harvest. All of that was different now from then. I had a lot of good times here. There was a lot of warmth and smiles as everyone was somehow connected to each other. This is the magic of being a little kid of course.
There is a path across the road from the ponds that will take us to our first stop Ciocia Marysia’s house. It also happens to be my mom’s childhood home. It’s history within our family stretches back at least four generations. I remember it from my past as well as being asked to go and pick up a giant loaf of bread from the baker. I’d walk along a path in those hills over there. That loaf was huge in my little arms. Was it really though? Size being relative when you’re little.My Aunt is a Sołtys or a kind of village leader, a provost or burgomaster. She is busy during these times due to the Dożynki taking place. We were expecting to see Adam, Grazynka my cousin’s husband. Their little daughters were there enjoying the last few days before school starts on September first. School always starts on September first in Poland. It also marks the occasion when the Nazis attacked Poland triggering the Second World War.
Adam heard us ring the old school bell. He came out and the girls came out from their room. He invited us to have a seat outside in the space that they have set up. Chrl and I sat in the swinging loveseat. We were asked if we wanted a coffee or tea and I responded if he really had to ask. Grazyna was home he informed us. She hasn’t been feeling well and took a sickie. I wonder if I had anything to do with it? We have a great rapport with each other. The banter started right away. I tried to keep up with the translation and had to summarise some of our conversation. We were informed that one of the little girls will have her birthday tomorrow. I wish I would have known so that I could have gotten her something. I searched through my bag for something and found a two euro coin. I gave it to her and the expression of happiness and joy was something to behold. She was so happy running around showing everyone what I had given her. Her parents told her to put it in her piggy bank and she promptly went to put it there.
Chrl and I were on centre stage as we sat having our coffee together and munching on some ice cream. We went through how we met all those years ago and how we came to be together here right now as our relationship developed over the past year. The questions came and I tried to involve Chrl as much as possible in the conversation. Especially those parts that dealt with our relationship. The girls kept looking at us with their cute little expressions. I’ve watched them grow from the first time that I saw them over all the times I’ve visited here over the years. I like coming here for visits. We always have great conversations and a lot of laughter. As we were talking Marysia was driven up the driveway. She was out doing some work related to the festivities. I joked that she had a chauffeur. We hugged and kissed as we greeted each other and continued our conversations. My aunt showed us some racy knitted his and her underwear that is kind of a joke-y item to win at the raffle. I kind of wish we had more time to attend this event. From all of the descriptions it sounds like it is going to be a hoot.
Conversation inevitably turned to politics and the state of the region as well as the world. It looks like there is a migration of Ukrainian workers into the country to fill in the gaps created by all of the people that have left to other parts of Europe. Supposedly it is really bad Ukraine as the political turmoil unfolds in that country. The village itself is also changing as people seek to live in a calmer and more peaceful environment. People are leaving cities for the countryside in order to raise their kids in a more wholesome environment away from the issues that have come to plague cities drugs, crime and violence. These sorts of things existed before but as people have become more worldly these issues have become more prominent. Polish people as a whole have become more worldly as borders have opened up to them and their thirst for travel has broadened their horizons. We could have kept on talking about all of these issues for days on end but we had one more stop to make before returning for supper back at Joasia’s.
Ciocia Mila is my mom’s oldest sister and she lives just a stones throw away from Marysia. I remember her house from my youth as well. Her family home has remained virtually unchanged in all of that time. I make it a point to visit here every time I come to the village. The last time I was here I wasn’t able to see her husband because he wasn’t feeling well. Today he was home as were my cousin’s daughters who I was meeting for the first time along with my other cousin Andrzej who I know pretty well. We were warmly welcomed and sat in the sitting room for another catch up. We spoke about Chrl and I and our trip as well as the things going on in their lives. It really wasn’t enough time to get into a full discussion. Their yard was in a bit of a disarray as a new septic system was being put in. An old Fiat known as a malóch or “little one” was outside out of the garage. My parents sold them this car before we emigrated to Canada. It is a bit of a relic and collectors item. It is in great condition as it mostly sits in the garage occasionally started up to make sure that it works. We admired it and joked about it as it is such a little car.
Soon Chrl and I were on our way back to Joasia’s completing the circle around the village. We passed by the local elementary school, cultural centre where Joasia works, and the local church. All of these places have existed since my mother’s time here. These buildings have hosted many weddings and have educated all of the local school children who are now scattered all over the place. I wanted to step inside the church to show Chrl how it looks but there was a funeral taking place and it would be disrespectful to tourist at such a time. It will have to wait until next time, the list of items growing all the time as we traverse this globe discovering new things and realizing how much more there is to see.
Back at Joasia’s preparations for supper were in full swing. Joasia’s sister Ewa and her husband were going to be joining us. The table was set near ciocia Irena who is in her bed unable to walk on her own. Life and associated health issues have taken their toll and now she is in her room unable move as freely as she was once able to. She is still the warm and loving person that I remember. I tend to come and stay at Joasia’s because of her. I feellike the smile that she has when she sees me and when we talk and joke around a little brings her some comfort. Eating here with her in her room allows her to be involved in everyone’s life. When she met Chrl she gave her a warm hug and kiss. Chrl is not just some girlfriend. During the course of our relationship I have really grown close to her and this time on our trip has only cemented that further. To bring her here is to bring her close to some of my most valued places and people. Love sometimes has a way of blinding objectivity and the response everyone has had to her has given me faith in my own intuition.
Sitting around with everyone eating and chatting was a fun. We shared stories about the old times when I was here and the types of things that went on. There were customs that went on that are slowly fading away as the village expands and residents change. Śmigus Dyngus is one of those customs that happens on Easter Monday. This house was always a popular target as there were two females that lived here. The custom involves dumping or spraying water on women as well as painting the windows in chalk to prevent anyone from looking outside. Ewa and Joasia were targets and I remember one particular Easter Monday as there was lots of screams and shouts of both joy and frustration during an attack. It was a way of local males to flirt and show interest in particular females in the village. This is before internet dating or any sort of technological communication.
My tablet brought something technological and personal into the equation. Video calling to my parents allowed my mom and her sister to talk. I could tell from their voices that they really enjoyed talking to each other. They don’t have a chance to that often.
After dinner Chrl brought out her decks of Dutch Blitz. This is is a game invented by the Mennonites that conforms with their religious and cultural beliefs. It is a fast paced game that involves stacking numbered cards from a predetermined stack of cards and following a certain set of rules in revealing new cards and ending the game. It is a remarkably easily expandible game in order to allow more players to play. We played a practice round, three pairs of men and women. It began to get pretty competitive. Ewa and her husband caught on quite quickly winning all of the matches. We didn’t have a lot of time to play more as ciocia Irena was getting tired and wanted to sleep.
I was given an invitation to Ewa’s son Dawid’s wedding in October. It is not that far away and it immediately struck me as something that I have to attend. Chrl was told that she has to remain in Europe in order to attend. In a serious joking tone. It was quite out of the blue that this event is happening.
“Aren’t they a bit young to get married?” I asked
“No they are 26… we were 23 when we got married” was the response.
My cousins all have great kids. They are all close and share a lot of laughs together. Tonight was one such example of a quick get together. They had to run off because it was getting late. We said our good byes and sat down in the sitting room to continue hanging out together. We continued eating but the day’s activities took a toll on me. I was pretty tired and Chrl looked at me and knew that I didn’t have much time being conscious left. I even turned down a drink. Tomorrow was going to be another day of travel and hanging out. It was bed time… they were tired too as the hour was getting late. One has to sleep sometime.