Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The cemetary in Lipno.
I have two very vivid memories of Ania, my mom's childhood friend.
One, is being a teenager, answering the phone, and hearing from the receivor someone scream on the top of their lungs: POLSKA! Meaning, Ania from Poland is calling! Get mom, really quick!
Two, is visiting Ania in Poland, at her home in Lipno. Lipno is my mother's hometown, the place where my grandparents lived during World War II, and seven years ago when we visited was my mother's first visit in over 20 years. It was an emotional trip. Ania, the fiery red-head, talked up a storm and served my mom, stepfather, and me more food than ever imaginable. I just remember sitting around the dining room table filled with every Polish food known to man, feeling so full I could die, listening to my parents talk to Ania, her husband Marek, and Ania's parents. I especially took a liking to Jan, Ania's father, who would pretend to be our waiter and make little jokes that even I, with my limited language skills, could understand.
What a difference seven years can make.
Ania's father passed away in March. Her mother is still alive, but striken with Alzhemier's and now cannot walk. Ania's husband has had two strokes and also has cancer. Ania is handling everything herself. When she opened the door, I barely recognized her. She was dressed in all black. She is no longer a red-head and moves with the world's weight on her shoulders.
But she was thrilled to see me. "Iwona, my little Iwona, my sweet, precious little Iwona," she cooed, hugging me tightly.
"I am not so little anymore!" I said.
"You are always little to me!" she said. I said hello to Marek and mother, the living room which we had previously sat seven years ago eating non-stop, has turned into a hospice. The two sat in seats facing the television but in different parts of the room. The dining room table is now pushed to the side of the room and covered with medications and blankets. Nurses, which Ania has hired, milled around, fluffing pillows, fixing food, making conversation.
"Why don't we go to the cemetary first," Ania suggested. Going to the cemetary is very important to Polish people. Ania says that she goes once a week, and it is common that people go on the weekends. (When we were in Gdansk, Ala even stopped to visit her brother). Ania goes not only to visit her relatives, but also to care for my family's graves. Walking into a Polish cemetary is amazing for an American, because it is a sight you would never see in the States. Nearly every grave is covered in (mostly fake) flowers and candles. My mother recently purchased a new tombstone for our family, including my grandfather who is buried here, and so I saw it for the first time. We cleaned it off and lit some candles. Seeing all the flowers on the other graves, I wanted to get something for our family, but there wasn't much of a selection, so I bought these cheesy plastic holiday flowers that I would never purchase in the States. (It's the thought that counts, right? I am sure Grandpa and co. understands.)
Ania had arranged for me to get a tour of Lipno in English, however, the tour guide bailed and so we had our tour in Polish instead. However, I am not sure who the tour guide was: the guy who walked around with us or Ania who spoke the whole time. Being outside of the home, her old firecracker self came back, and she rambled on nonstop. I could probably understand about 15% of what she said to me. The guy showed me old pictures of the streets were walking on and sometimes I was surprised to see that the old pictures looked nicer than the rundown town I saw today. We passed by the building where my grandfather used to work, the same one I saw seven years ago, and I was dismayed that they had modernized it by painting it an ugly shade of lime green. It looked horrible.
Where my grandfather worked.
We went back to the house, where Ania and I ate alone in the kitchen. She had prepared a delicious meal of mushroom soup (with Polish forest mushrooms, of course) and then a meal that she is convinced my great grand-mother might have made: baked potato pancakes and chicken with gravy.
We looked through a ton of photo albums together, and it seemed to me that all the pictures were of the foursome: Ania, her husband and her parents, and I realized how hard Ania's life must be right now. And before while I might have laughed over her loud voice and non-stop chatter, now I really admire her for her strength and devotion to her family and mine. My deepest hope is that when she is left alone without her foursome (hopefully not soon), that she will continue to live long and well, still remaining her firecracker self.
Ania and her husband Marek.
Me and Ania's mother (my grandma's good friend).