My husband and I just got back from our third trip to Poland. This was our second time spent on the farm my dad was born on and continues to be overwhelmingly meaningful.
Most evenings, if not all, were spent around a table sharing a meal, discussing life (through translation via their two, wonderful daughters, Anita and Ola) and singing favorite Polish songs out loud. Of course, Ed and I either hummed, “la-la-la’d” or simply took it all in, smiling from ear to ear. As each evening progressed into the night, the songs became more laid back, emotional and free-flowing with less inhibition from everyone. For sure, my cousin Henia’s homemade plum wine (from their 2000+ plum trees) helped our voices to sound, um…shall we say better? We were, after all, still getting to know one another. It was all very healing and grounding. It’s hard to put to words.
I plan to make a CD of the songs we sang together to share with my Polish relatives. but I think watching the videos is even more fun. I hope you agree.
One of the first evenings included Krzys’s, parents from down the road, Adam and Johanna. Adam will be 90 soon and Johanna is 85. Krzys is Henia’s husband. Adam was a playmate of my dad’s before the war. Our visit with Adam and Johanna on our first visit five years ago was one of our favorite days and this year’s visit with them proved to be one of my husband and I’s favorite days as well. Both participated in the singing throughout the evening with Johanna becoming more and more animated as the songs continued. There were a few she basically led, being the only one who remembered all the words, a “call and response” so to speak. As many of you with European decent might already know, hand motions are very important in communicating—even more so when you’re leading in song! Johanna became our “DJ” at times, as Anita (the eldest daughter) pointed out with a chuckle. It was heart-warming to say the least.
Another evening, we again went down the road to Krysia and Czesiek’s house for dinner and song. Krysia and Henia are sisters. As mentioned earlier, the songs flowed more easily as the night progressed. Okay, so there was vodka at this house, but that’s beside the point. Swaying (to song!), hand-holding, and much laughing accented each verse.
I brought a paper copy of a 2009 email I’d saved from one of our initial connections with Anita, who found us on Facebook over nine years ago. It contained the names of relatives along with pertinent details, including the account of how my dad’s sister, Stasia, had passed away. Stasia is Henia and Krysia’s mom. Anita was moved to read this email out loud to the others that evening, in Polish of course. We were all wiping our tears away and hugging by the end of the reading. This honoring of history—of our elders, the telling and retelling of stories—does not happen enough here in the U.S.
The last song we sang as a family, was by special request of Ed and I. We requested they sing the Polish anthem, the song that made my dad cry whenever he heard it and the song Ed and I went down the aisle too. I still can’t listen to this song without crying.
When I was a child, my dad shared many stories. He did a walk-about through various areas of Poland once before World War II. He believed that you could tell the emotional state of each area by the songs they sang and the energy with which they sang them. So this tradition of singing with family and friends is part of their culture—our family’s culture. It’s in our DNA. Perhaps this is why it felt so very right. Our connections have grown stronger with each song and story. We will hold these memories in our hearts forever.