Thursday, March 19, 2009

Did I Ever Mention That My Mom's Family is Polish?

My cousin's wife sent me an email "Ah--To Be Polish". You may remember that my daddy was Hungarian. I think I mentioned it once or twice. Well, my mom's parents were Polish. Actually, her mother was born here, with both of her parents born in Poland, and her dad was born in Poland. I thought today I might use Lisa's email to share what the Polish half of my heritage means to me.

And here it is...

If you come from Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit or Milwaukee there is a large church called "Saint Stanislaus," or "Saint Hedwig," within one block of your childhood home (that is, unless you're one of those suburban exiles, in which case the church is within one block of your babcia's house!) Actually, we were city exiles. My parents moved out of the Polish neighborhood, and we had to walk a mile to Church. That meant me walking a mile to CCD as a kid. Yeah, get out your violins. My grandma lived a block away from St. Hyacinth's. (Big Polish Saint right there...) mission Church, Our Lady of Lourdes. I think that counts for something.

You wear red on St. Patrick's Day. (Actually, mom used to send me to school in red on St. Joseph's Day, which is today. I went to public school, and had to explain to everyone why I looked like that was because of St. Joseph's Day, and how unfair it was to us Poles and Italians that we were cheated out of a special celebration like the Irish had two days ago. Do you still have your violins out?_)

Your knowledge of the Polish language is limited to 'naughty' words ie:., dupa, gowno, kurwa, etc, names for food ie: pierogi, kapusta, etc, and drinking toasts ie: na zdrowie , sto lat, etc(I only know one of the naughty words listed, but all of the food and toast words.)

You call your grandma "babcia" or "busia" and your grandpa "dziadzia." You know how to dance the polka, but you only do it at weddings after kicking back a few generous shots of vodka. (Grandma was cool with being called Grandma. I can do the polka whether I am drunk or not. Either way, people usually think I am drunk when I dance.)

When frustrated, you slap your forehead, shake your head, and say "O Jezu Marija!" (ouch!) (Heavens to mergatroid, no! That means "Jesus, Mary!" Momma slapped me once when I said that for taking Jesus's name in vain, on Momma hardly ever slapped me! Jene Kohane is better. It means "My dear...!". Momma still says it is taking the Lord's name in vain, because the word "Lord" is implied, but I figure maybe to her, but not everyone.)

You have one grandma that wears a babushka and galoshes every single day of the year and another grandma that wears a lot of jewelry and too much make-up. (Grandma wore the make-up and jewelry. And a babushka to protect her perm.)

You have at least one uncle named "Stan," or "Stas." (No, but Grandpa's name was Stanley)

Your relatives have strong devotion to saints, the Blessed Virgin, the Pope, the Democratic Party, the U.S. Steelworkers, etc. (All but the democratic party. My Polish relatives were Republicans. My Hungarian relatives were Democrats. Made some interesting dinners at my house.....)

Your grandma has a shrine complete with votive candles and a picture of "Our Lady of Czestochowa" or "Infant of Prague." (Actually, she had a "Sacred Heart of Jesus" picture. Actually, she had more than one. She kept one for traveling with when she stayed overnight by our house. I still have the picture.)

Your parents have at least one crucifix or religious picture mounted on a wall in their house with palms tucked behind it. (Oh yeah! The palms are from palm Sunday. Some families even weave a wreath or a cross from it. Not us. We just tucked in the palms.)

You get your food blessed at Easter and your house blessed at Christmas time. (Just the food basket at Easter)

Your family has a wigilia. meal on Christmas Eve at which you share oplatki. and kiss everyone.. (We did not do the traditional wigilia food, but we did share oplatki and kiss. No. Not the band KISS. That thing you do when you purse your lips and touch someone on the cheek with them.)

You always prefer rye bread to white or wheat. Your dad has forced you to eat horseradish, claiming that it will "put hair on your chest", even If you're a female! (My Hungarian father promised me hair on my chest. Now I'm kinda hoping he was wrong about that...)

You know the words to "Sto Lat" and sing it at all birthday parties. (Of course! Doesn't everyone?)
Information about Sto Lat for those of you who are deprived.
You can out drink all of your friends. (I could if I wanted to, but I can enjoy their shenanigans better if I only have a couple of drinks and remain sober...)

You have waited in line at a church or bakery to buy pierogi or paczki. (Again, this is only a Polish thing? I thought everyone did that...)

Words like kiszka, kielbasa, and kolaczki actually mean something to you. (Those words aren't English? Surely the song Who Stole the Kiszka?. made kiszka a household word across America!)

You actually know who Kosciuszko and Pulaski are, and why they're important.. (Common knowledge......)

You have at least one relative who plays the Accordion. ( Actually, Uncle Bob played the concertina. Very well, too)

You're completely overdressed for every occasion. (Not really. I like dress casual. Velour is perfect for every occasion. With silk babushkas. Sox game, anyone?)

Your idea of "healthy" is boiled pierogi then fried in butter w/onions, light beer, and filtered cigarettes. (I don't smoke)

You have at least one bar in your house - usually in the basement. (Not anymore....)

Your family always has an excuse to hold a "poprawinie" - e.g., when someone dies, or when someone gets married.
(If that means party, well duh!)
You've never been to Poland , but you have mysterious relatives there to whom you send gifts and money every Christmas. (My Grandparents had six kids during the Great Depression. They cut the Poland relatives off the gift giving years ago.

You collect "prayer cards" from funerals. (Doesn't everyone?)

You often visit cemeteries ( light votive candles for dead relatives and generally spend an unhealthy amount of time obsessing about death.. (I don't obsess abut death, but I was taught to go to the cemetery and care for the graves. I don't do that right now. Right now I am busy caring for the living. I think it is dumb to leave mom alone for a few hours while I make the graves look pretty. I don't think taking care of graves is dumb. I think abandoning the living to do it is.)

People often have trouble pronouncing your last name. (Only the telemarketers...)

You think having a "highball" is high society. (I prefer tea with honey and scotch, or a peach martini. High balls aren't bad, though.)


Ah, to be Polish!


As you can see, the description does not fit me perfectly. But that's okay. I'm half Polish, half Hungarian. Just don't ever ask me which is my better half. Only Solomon could answer that....and he is wise enough to stay out of it.

12 comments:

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

Wow. That was an education on midwestern immigrants right there...

I truly don't relate to ANY of those things. ;)

Of course, I grew up in California with a very diluted gene pool. My traditions and foods tend toward the boring American ones. Hamburger Helper, anyone?

My Lithuanian grandmother was Catholic, though, so I do know how to cross myself and genuflect (is that the word for it?) when entering or leaving a pew in church.

Helen said...

Steph, I am sort of surprised you can't relate to any of those things. I really thought that when Who Stole the Kiszka?. swept across the nation a few years ago, our food became household words. What about She Likes Kielbassa?." Didn't you ever wonder what kielbassa was as you and your friends were singing about it?

Yes, genuflect is the right word.

When you come to Chicago, I'll try to have some normal people food for you when you come over (like kielbassa, pierogi, kiszka, kolacky......)You know, normal everyday American cuisine....

Annie K said...

My dad always used that phrase 'it'll put hair on your chest'. Hmmmm... the Hungarians must've picked that one up from the Poles.

sherri said...

Wow Helen- Lots in common here.
My aunt married a polish man, STAN Pasko, from up there by you, Niles Ill.
My oldest son called his pacifier a "dzia dzia" and we had no idea where that came from. Now we know.

My dad is an accordian player.Our family dances Polka at all Italian weddings.
I love Keilbasa and Pierogis!
People always had trouble pronouncing my maiden name.

Our family is big on visiting the cemetaries of our lovedones, to honor them, making sure flowers are always there.

I LOVE RYE BREAD and do prefer it over white/wheat.

Many similarities among the Italians and Polish. I see now why the Italian Club allowed you to become a member.

Don't you love learning about your heritage?

MichelleJ said...

Hi Helen,
My dad was born in Poland and of course all of his family was from Poland. He lost 2 sisters in the Holocaust he got lucky i guess. Actually its a bit disturbing because I don't know much about his family at all. Never knew his parents either. When he came over to Ellis Island he couldn't even spell his last name and so they changed it. So, am I a mutt?? I really want to learn more but most of his family are gone now. Sorry didn't mean to give you such a long story but this is really all i know and since my dad is not alive it may be all i will ever know!!!!

Helen said...

Annie, I think dads from all over the world promise their daughters hair on their chest if they eat horseradish. I think it is in the secret handbook they get from the midwife or delivery nurse.
Sherri, make sure you come and see me the next time you visit your aunt! I am less than half an hour away from Niles. We do have lot in common! Yeah, I love these memories and making sense of them.
MichelleJ, I am sorry about your dad passing, and about his family dying in the Holocaust. There are no words. In Heaven you will know them, and they you. Until then, the memories you have about your dad and the time you shared with him you can treasure.

katdish said...

My Uncle Howard's wife Hatti was Polish. We used to go over to visit and my cousin's friends would say to us, "You don't look Polish!" Well, duh! We're not.

Not unlike when my sister and I went to New York, and the driver who was holding up the sign that said "Dishman" said to us, "You don't look Jewish!"

That was an education! Everyone in Houston is very blended.

Beth said...

You'd think growing up near Chicago, and even closer, South Bend, IN (very Polish), I would have some clue about the culture....

Nope.

This was educational for me, too!

prakash said...

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Mare said...

just wanting to say hi and that im thinking of you!!

Helen said...

Thanks Mare. I have been thinking of you, too. I am glad you are back safely from your trip.

Helen said...

Beth, next time you are coming this way, I will make fresh kielbassa with sauerkraut for you. I will buy the pierogi from a deli and heat it myself. Just like my grandma used to make!
Katdish, your "You don't look Polish" comment reminded me of a story. I taught in a very Polish parish. One little Vietnamese girl told me she was Polish, and I hit the roof (in my head) because I was sure that all this talk about Polish culture at my school was just hurting her self esteem, and making her deny her own culture. It turned out that her mom is Polish and her father is Vietnamese. I have a lot to learn as well, but I mean no harm. I hope that counts for something.