5 photos, 5 stories- Day 5

You might remember this, from Weronika's wedding last year?

Weronika’s wedding last year, Dad centre stage, and a whole host of family!

Already we’re at Day 5!  I need to thank Minerva, Nin, Elaine and Viveka for nominating me for this challenge.  They couldn’t have known how much I’d enjoy it.  I hope you’ll go and say hello and read their stories too.

Do you remember Adam, from yesterday? (the gentleman, sitting reflectively, next to the 3 sisters in my photo)  He is the lynchpin to the whole Polish story.

Whenever we visit Poland, we fly into Kraków and Adam quietly and efficiently sets everything in motion.  He and his family gather us up from the airport, feed us, ferry us around and generally ensure that we have a good time.  I cannot thank them enough for their kindness.

Adam’s mum, my beloved aunt Anna and Dad’s youngest sister, died 5 years ago.  I never met his dad, but Adam could not treat his own father with more respect and affection than he does mine. Nothing is too much trouble. So, when I said that I wanted to see my aunt Lusia and uncle Jakub in Bełchatów this trip and had only one week available, he booked 4 days from his own busy schedule to transport me there and back.  Adam owns a bakery and baker’s machinery business. It has grown to international proportions, in partnership with his good friend Tomek.  We joke that, in the family, Lusia has the best potatoes, but Adam the best bread.  You’d never go hungry!

Adam’s large and comfortable home, in the Kraków’s suburbs, was adapted to accommodate his mum throughout the years of her declining health.  Now the basement has been converted into a starter flat for his oldest daughter, Weronika.  Last May I attended her wedding to Wojtek (he was good at sweeping up broken glass).  In July they are expecting a new little addition to the family, a first grandchild for Adam and Marta.  What a welcome awaits him!

It’s simply impossible to tell this story short, even though I have left out a myriad of characters. Dad’s youngest brother, uncle Jakub, and his wife Czescia live in a fine old suburb of Bełchatów, called Groholice.  Daughter Bożena lives just over the road, and sons Andrzej and Krzysztof have built their own homes in the neighbourhood.  All have families.  Jakub’s son Tomek I seldom see- he travels abroad to work and hasn’t ‘settled down’ yet.

Adam binds together and weaves between all the branches of our family.  Extending the hand of peace, he is welcome in every home.  Basia, Adam’s only sibling, lives to the north of Kraków, in Chorzów, with husband Zygmunt and just one son, Przemek.  In September this year Przemek will marry Magda.  I very much hope to be there.

And so the story goes on….  I hope I haven’t bored you and am grateful for the opportunity this challenge has given me to share.  Perhaps I need another 5?  If you can bare to read more, the background is explained a little more fully in Exploring the Polish connection.  Be warned- it always makes me cry.  It just remains to nominate Lynn at Life after 50 (most of us know a little about that!), another lady who loves to travel.  I only hope that she can find time in her busy life. Time now to say, thank you very much for reading.

Six word Saturday

6ws-participating-in-bannerFamily fun in all its guises!

Fun is guaranteed when my Polish family from Norfolk come to visit.  The above shots were taken at Saltholme, a local birdwatching nature reserve.  Click on any photo to follow the story line.

In Durham, we took the Castle tour (Rafal is considering Durham University, based in the Castle, as one of his options).  I was delighted to find that it was the first day of the flower festival in the Cathedral, but it was, of course, busy.

More fun is anticipated today.

What have you been doing with your week?  Share it in Six word Saturday.  The links or the header will take you there.  Hope you have a happy weekend!


Exploring the Polish Connection

It’s a strange thing.  In the habit of writing travel guides, I hadn’t really got my head round the idea of blogging when I started here.  The freedom to write about anything….well, it’s kind of mind boggling more than blogging!

It occurred to me that I should be sharing the Polish saga.  I’ve often been asked when I’m going to write the story of Dad’s life.  I’ve shied away from it a bit.  I don’t want to offend or misrepresent anyone, and there’s such a huge cast of characters.  Still, it’s the kind of story that when you tell it to someone, you invariably have an “isn’t that amazing?” response.  So, here is the abridged version.

Dad and Jakub

At the age of 15 Dad was rounded up from the family farm at Zawady, a small village south of Łódź in Central Poland, and “escorted” by the Germans to work on the land in their country.  At 79, it had taken Dad 64 years to be reunited with his family.  As the war faltered to an end, Dad and a fellow worker turned their backs on Germany and walked many, many miles to freedom in France.  Joining the armed forces, Dad eventually ended up in Coventry, where he met and married my mum.

Links with home continued, and I remember a tin box of letters and photographs.  I never learnt Polish as Dad was focused on integrating with the North East England community of Hartlepool, my mother’s birthplace.  How I regret this now!

I don’t really know how it came about, but gradually the communications home ceased.  The Communists were in control in Poland, and must have been instrumental in disrupting the flow of letters.  The family were scattered.  Dad came to believe that he was the only survivor of 9 brothers and sisters.  If only he’d known!

One January Friday night, 13 years ago, I returned home from a “Girl’s night” to find that Dad had phoned.  I wasn’t to worry but I should phone him back as soon as possible.  He could barely speak to me for excitement!  He had received a phone call from Poland on behalf of his sister Anna.  She wanted to speak to him urgently to confirm that he was her long lost older brother.  A link had been established via the internet.

There began the strangest but most wonderful phase in our lives.  Overnight I went from having one Polish parent to having 2 new aunts, 2 new uncles and 26 Polish cousins, with their husbands, wives and children!  Emails in halting English went back and forwards and arrangements were made for a reunion. The excitement was immeasurable, but mixed with anxiety on my part.  What would they make of me and how would I communicate?  A crash course in Polish seemed called for.

My cousin Adam owns a bakery business in Krakow, and it was through him that all arrangements were made.  Though not speaking English himself, this warm-hearted and generous man was determined that we should meet and finally know our Polish family.  Our visit was planned with military precision to enable us to spend time with as many family members as was possible.  On this first occasion I had but 5 days begged from my employer.  Dad, of course, stayed longer, with a lifetime’s absence to make up for.

Stepping out at Krakow airport was one of the most emotional occasions I can ever remember.  Among tearful hugs and kisses I mumbled “Bardzo mi milo”, a shortened version of “pleased to meet you”, which was the only bit of Polish I could summon.  TV cameras followed our progress and my Aunt Anna calmly told the world that she had always known that her brother Aleksander was alive somewhere.  If he had been deceased she would have felt his spirit- Polish people in the main are deeply religious.  Anna was in poor health, but had lived for this moment.

What followed was to become a sequence of wonderful memories:- a stroll together in weak April sunshine through Krakow’s stunning Rynek Glowny (main square), Anna’s arm tucked through mine; a meal in the sumptuous surroundings of historic Wierzynek Hotel;

but surely, best of all, the moment when we arrived at Dad’s old farmhouse home.  As we pulled through the gates into the farmyard, Adam blared his horn and a sea of family surged forward to greet us, many wearing name badges, for we had no hope of remembering them all.

Flowers were pressed into my arms with shy smiles as the introductions were made: Aunt Lusia and her family; my Uncle Jakub, 15 years younger and born after Dad left home so that this was their first ever meeting; Lodzia, the wife of my Uncle Zygmunt, nearest to my Dad in age and who tragically had died just weeks before- she now ran the farm with the help of her sons.

Then the many, many cousins and their children.  These unfortunates were pushed forwards if they had even a hint of English, to engage me in conversation and an endless round of questions. Uncle Wlodek, living on the German border, had been unable to make the trip, but his son Wojtek, wife and children were there.

Dad, meanwhile, had recovered his native tongue as if by magic, and was gamely tackling the introductions head on.  Anyone who knows the Polish people will know what comes next.  Huge quantities of food and not a little vodka were consumed.  It would have been impolite to refuse so in the following days, as we were passed from one home to the next, we ate and we ate and we ate!  I realised where Dad’s sweet tooth came from as we sampled every variety of delicious cake, often before sitting down to a full meal.

And that’s where it all started.  Sadly my Aunt Anna, seen here with Dad and her son Adam, died on 25.11.09. We made numerous trips before and since then, and I have so many wonderful memories.  Dad died in October 2017, but my Polish legacy and the connections we made live on.