Jarka Piecuch - Sprawozdanie
Anna Binakaj - Święto Wyzwolenia
E. Kamiński - Z tarczą czy na tarczy?
E. Caputa - Przełomowy moment
H. Jazłowiecka - The Stars Of My Universe
E. Caputa - Powrót Jerzego Skolimowskiego
E. Caputa - NIECH ZYJE BAL!
R O Z M A I T O Ś C I
The Stars of my universe
The walls of our home sheltered the universe of my childhood in Poland. Its address? The never-to-be forgotten No.34 Przemysłowa Street, apartment number 19. One had to climb a wooden staircase located in the corner of and old tenement building in Warsaw, to find on the fourth floor, a door adorned with a brass plate proclaiming my father’s name: Ernest Gurr.
I still feel that the axis of the universe pierces the floor of our kitchen or, more precisely, the corner between the tale and the window in that kitchen where my favorite chair used to stand. It was there, listening to the vicious winter winds or to the dry whispers of The snow against the windowpanes that I began to discover and explore the world of imagination, whirling in my mind like an enchanted merry-go round.
In reality, my first territory was limited to a small white crib in the corner of my parents’ bedroom. Through its yellow string-net side I could see their ‘modern’ metal bed its nickel ornament, gleaming in the light coming through the window. My Granny’s plush, dark couch stood against the wall of our dining room. After, as I was growing older, these become my nightly harbor. Under a yellow satin comforter, tucked into a huge feather pillow, I used to sleep so deeply dreaming about Anne of green Gables, The Brave New World or later on the dark eyed Zbyszek, a boy from the fifth floor. The old-fashioned clock hanging on the wall chimed softly through the lazy safe hours of the night.
An official cardboard photography did not commemorate my birth on August 23rd 1923; traditionally displayed the dimpled beauty of a bare bottomed newborn, sprawling on a white fur rug. My brother Olek five years my senior was immortalized that way. I, a scrawny, constantly screaming female was probably not the best subject for such a memento. I heard it said years later that resident or visiting relatives who tried to rock me into silence had ruined all our chairs.
I grew up within the small circle of our family, convinced that the highest authority belonged to my Granny Karolina, Mama’s mother. Even my dad seemed to submit to it without question. Granny’s short, rounded body was encased in dresses, covered with whore aprons by day and in the evenings, by shinny black alpaca ones. She used to glide swiftly and silently over our high polished floors in the worm fuzzy sleepers. Gray hair pinned on the top of her head, high cheeked face serious, and back ramrod-straight, she spent evenings crocheting huge warm shawls very popular then with the older ladies.
One of her favorite pastime was attending the debates of our parliament located within waking distance from our home. As a young woman, she had been an active member of the Polish Socialist Party, which was endeavoring to abolish the rule of the Czar and bring freedom to occupied Poland.
I can still see her in the full blast of summer light in our kitchen. She filled long necked, huge jars, called ‘ganders’ with raspberries, cherries and blueberries, then covered them with white avalanche of sugar. For weeks they stood on the windowsill, maturing into the sweetest essence of summer. We drank them as thick syrups with our tea in wintertime, or mix them with alcohol to created glorious homemade liquors for special occasions.
Often my hand imprisoned in Granny’s strong grasp and with Olek tagging along, we would march for fresh air in the nearby Ujazdowski Park.
“Ach! Just look at Olek’s eyes! Those eyelashes!” Granny’s friends commented at as they passed by. “With his sweet disposition and good looks he should be a girl.” Then as an afterthought “Hania why are you hiding? What’s the matter with you?” the matter was: I envied Olek his lovely gray-green eyes and his straight nose inherited from my dad, and was forever conscious of my own black eyes and short, wide nose which I got from the other side of the family. “What’s the matter with her? She is so pail and thin.”
Granny’s hands would spread in gesture of hopelessness. “God knows! She is stubborn. She will not eat any of the special things Natka prepares for her. We have lots of trouble with her.”
I was born at the time when Poland, free at last after nearly 150 years of foreign occupations was bursting out deliriously with long-forbidden Polish theatres, operas, operettas and vaudeville, preformed in The Polish language. My parents would return from their Saturday night excursion into the city center humming arias from Polish operas, lively tunes from The Marry Widow or saucy songs with lyrics asking, “Madame, do you live alone or with him?
Natalka, my mother or Mama, Mamusia, Mateńka (the Polish language has such a huge capacity to express so many shades of emotion!) was slim, dark-haired and quiet. “She walks like a queen,” declared our neighbors and truly, she did have a special dignity in her bearing. She seemed to exist on a margin of Granny’s realm, relegated to cleaning sewing, repairing linen, all the unending, prosaic duties of our household. Growing up in the times of the Russian occupation of Poland, when the study of Polish history, literature and heritage was forbidden, she had attended a school for girls where officially they were taught to sew and embroider, but unofficially were thought by patriotic Polish ladies how to read and write in our own language. My greatest pleasure was to listen to Mama singing in her sweet high soprano especially in the winter-time, when we would lean against warm porcelain stove in the corner of our dining room, watching winter afternoons darken beyond the lace curtains of its windows.
“Eva was the first woman Adam ever knew”, Dad sang in his clear tenor while sharpening his razor on a strap of attached to the kitchen doorknob. As he prepared for the ritual of daily shave everybody tiptoed and hardly dared to breathe so as not to upset him and cause him cut his chin. “Full of fire and desire…” he continued, putting on a well-starched shirt, gold gleaming cuff links, tie and dark suit. The sharp pressed ages of his trusses rested on the top of fashionable dove-gray spats, which covered his perfectly polished shoes. Wearing a white silk scarf, black derby hat slightly angled on his blond head, a gray-gloved hand wielding a fashionable walking stick, he descended our staircase with light, eager steps, humming some operetta tune.
The same Tatuś (little Daddy), his hair kept fashionably smooth under a little crocheted cup, carried me all freshly scrubbed by Mama, to my little cot. Sitting in the dining room, he listened as I, trembling with excitement, sang, “Oh little star, so shining and bright when I was little babe, why are you rays so pale now?” How I loved it when Dad, his jacket flipped over his head scurried on hands and knees pretending to be a wolf. Squealing in delicious terror, we tried to hide in all the nooks and crannies of our apartment. My first travels started on Dad’s knee, jumping up and down while he sang, Hoppity-hoppity-hop! We’re galloping away to countries far-away!” Galloping faster and faster, the unruly horse tired to unseat me while I clung to his encircling arms.
Dad’s mother, Granny Wilhelmina, visited us once a year to save from extinction all the socks of our family. She reconstructed heels and toes with lighting speed. Thin metal needles gleamed in her worn hands while her toothless mouth hummed some high-pinched tunes. She was tiny but still shapely in her high-neck blouse and wide skirts. Her small feet were tucked into high heeled black boots, tightly laced around slim ankles. Her quick, graceful movements reminded me of a little, cheerful bird. She, like dad, had bright blue eyes and the object of my envy a thin, aristocratic nose.
After years of work on farm and after the death of Grandfather Wilhelm, Granny Wilhelmina traveled back and forth between four sons and two daughters, where she felt useful and welcome, never complaining lack of a steady abode. I knew Grandfather only from a large framed photography hanging in my parents’ bedroom. White-haired and white-whiskered jet seemed to look at me with a frown of perpetual disapproval.
I vaguely remember my grandparents’ from Saska Kepa, on the other side of the Vistula River, which divided Warsaw into east and west. It was the birthplace of all my Dad’s siblings: Aleksander, Julian, Albert, Ernestyna and Emma. They all had thin, gracefully sculpted noses.
Talking about noses, my mother’s side of the family inherited wide short noses with the exception of Auntie Hanka from Kraków. A tall, slim and very good-looking blonde, the wife of a professor of the famous Jagiellonian University of Kraków, she used to come for short visits. I did not like her. She seemed to lord it over Mama. Among other visiting relatives, Mom’s sister, Aunt Karolina, used to bring me colorful ribbons from the factory where she worked. She was famous for her long black hair pinned up into a crown on the top of her head. My favorite Uncle Julian, an old bachelor, entertained us with his miraculous ability to wiggle his huge ears while smiling shyly under a stiff brush of mustache. Working as a mailman, he supported his ancient aunt, Elżbietka, who had raised him and his sister Janka when they become orphans.
And of course the never-to-be-forgotten Auntie Andzia, Granny Karolina’s younger sister. She seemed to be the pillar of strength in all family emergencies. Even though her husband and the oldest son were killed during the Firs World War, and she had to raise her two younger children herself, he ample belly often shook with cackles of merriment.
When my brother Olek, at the age of seven, started to bring to me all of the childhood diseases (chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria and scarlet fiver), Auntie Andzia, her red hair pulled into a tight know on top of her head and a smile on her pink face, would appear with her black leather bag filled with one of the most popular cures glass for “cupping”).
Sweaty and half conscious with fever; I immediately felt better when she entered the room.
“Lie down on your tummy,” she ordered. On the bedside table she arranged the candle, dipped the cotton wool in the flame and poked in the lit candle, matches and rows of bluish-tinted glasses. Twining cotton wool on the tip of a long piece of wire, she lit the candle, dipped the cotton wool in the flame and poked it in each glass, before applying in to my shivering back. Voided of air, they sucked up my flesh into their hot interiors. Soon, like glass-quelled porcupine, I’d moan and groan to dramatize situation while Auntie stroked my sweaty hair with her broad hand.
“It’s all right now”, she would chuckle softly. “Soon you are going to be a brand - new Hania.
After removing the blood suckling monsters from my back, she would rub me with some soothing lotion and hold me in her arms in front of a mirror to let me admire the purplish-brown markings on my skin. I felt heroic.
Poor Mama tired to feed me with the best of make me gain weight, while I was yearning after Aunt Andzia’s boiled potato served with sour milk in her spotlessly clean sun filled one room apartment. There was some magic about her.
All those ordinary folks were the first stars in the sky of my universe.
The above text is a fragment of the book “A Girl Soldier From Warsaw” published with a financial support of the White Eagle Society
Tekst powyższy jest fragmentem książki “A Girl Soldier From Warsaw” wydanej z pomocą dotacji ze Stowarzyszenia Biały Orzeł.