~If I was back home, I would certainly hit Milwaukee Av (Little Warsaw). Chicago is the one of the, if not the leading - Polish communities in the U. S. Also, Milwaukee, WI. & Phillie, PA. Polish people are mostly conservative. Well, the generations over 35 yrs old anyway. They are not conflicted Catholics like some in Congress. Abortion is against the parochial rules.
Rev. George Poltorak , pastor of St. Aloysius R.C. Church in the Ridgewood section of Queens, greets officials of the Polish American Congress after they finished registering his eligible parishioners to vote in this November’s elections.
Ridgewood has become the center of an expanding Polish community and was the focus of this year’s voter registration drive, according to Rybkiewicz.
“We’ll be back again next year to sign up anyone we missed and make sure we also get everyone who becomes a U.S. citizen in the meantime,” he said.
My fondest memories of being Polish in Chicago were the smells of the delis on Milwaukee Av. Fighting for Lech Walesa , our charismatic leader, who co-founded Solidarity (Solidarność), the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union. The pride when we got “Papa”, Pope John Paul II. My mother, oldest daughter & I stood at the corner of Milwaukee & Foster the day Papa came to Chicago, JUST to see him drive by in the “Pope-mobile” in 1979.
It was freezing, raining & we stood for EIGHT hours, without the benefit of washrooms. As the excitement built he had arrived at O’Hare, we couldn’t contain ourselves. It kept us warm, except for my poor mother , who at the time was 64. Bless her heart, as always, she never complained. I saw her discomfort & talked to a Walgreens manager, who gave her some slack.
Well, after all that, Papa had a security (threat) scare. TWO years before he actually was shot.
I miss my community. I can’t find a pierogi or true kielbasa in Alabama! It was wonderful watching my sister at Humboldt Park (Now owned by the latin kings) & her polish dance recitals. Which is ironic, being she was a tomboy, who hated dressing up in her outfits.
I am sad because my mother& her siblings were the last generation to speak Polish and I will no longer hear it. Oddly, they would always speak Polish around me, only so I wouldn’t know what they were saying. I picked up enough to get me by. A few of us siblings have. I have only one sister who speaks fluently (the polka girl) & an aunt, but alas they are far away. Also sadly, my uncle, a Korean War hero, was the only one to make pierogi, passed.
The stories from my maternal grandmother will ever be ingrained. How her husband sent for her (they grew up in the same village , the closest city being Krakow) to marry him. He was orphaned at the age of nine & became wholly responsible for his mother & sister. Guess what? He went to work on farms JUST to feed them & be a man, despite the fact I called him “Mosquito” due to his small stature. But never have I met a larger man in character. He was a bricklayer (an art back then) & climbed a 2 X 4 when he was 89 years old!
When he sent for my grandmother, he brought her to New Jersey. My sister (polka girl) has documented our ancestry back to the 1700’s. Including a grandmother named Kunigunda. I found this out the day before we were to bury my mother. WHAT Polish girl has a name that seems like a slave name? (chuckles) Turns out it is actually a German name meaning brave. And the women from my family certainly are that!
My grandfather Mosquito was a no-nonsense man, but sure was romantic when planning his wedding. He rented a white horse & carriage, no small feat with his meager wages. He paid for her wedding gown.
She was the feisty one though. When he would speak Polish to her, she would chastise him, “Wladislaw”, I will not speak to you unless you speak ‘English’, WE are Americans Now!”. And to watch her attempt to use the hoola hoop when it became the rage. JUST visualize this: She was about 5′ 2″, weighed mayhaps 150, had a tummy as round as the hula hoop. You think that would help her keep in up, but no.
My most enduring memory of dziadzia (Grandpa) stays with me, particularly living in the South now. He would admonish me to make sure I closed the gate in his garden, so as not to let the fireflies escape to Kentucky, of all places! He would have made an excellent comedian, because he delivered this line totally deadpan. But intellectually he was beyond wise. Do you know he told me in 58′ that there were Communists in the White House?! Which terrified me because I saw Ruskies with Cossacks leading our country. Wasn’t he right though?! And I am still terrified, but not of Cossacks, but liberal progressives.
So that’s a small part of my wonderful memories of being Polish & to my grandparents:
Kocham cię (I Love you) and Myślę o Tobie (I think about you) all the time. Thank you for making me who I have become.