I recently watched an old home video recording my fiance’s grandmother and her sister reading from a journal she’d written about her childhood. The journal was written in their first language, Polish and often times they would slip from English into Polish without realizing it. They would then laugh and chastise each other for it. It was a lovely interaction to watch, two old ladies acting like young sisters, but what was also fascinating was the story they were telling.
They were brought to the United States when they were very young, and their father worked as a coal miner, which as you can imagine was a very dangerous profession but apparently one that paid well at the time. It’s fascinating to consider the fact that my fiance’s great-grandfather was a coal miner. History feels like a long time ago until we start going back through the generations and realize our ancestors aren’t that far removed from us. The stories we hear in school are things that literally happened to our family members and who would love to tell us about if only we would ask and listen.
My fiance’s great-grandfather didn’t like mining coal (go figure), so when he’d saved enough money, he moved the family back to Poland. They packed up big trunks full of clothes and belongings and took a ship across the ocean, living on the ship for months. She talked about how they played on the ship and chased each other around. I can only imagine embarking on a journey across the world on a boat with an entire family, including young children. They arrived in the middle of the night and had to travel by wagon to a relative’s house, where the children slept in the barn.
He ended up buying a farm and working the land with his children helping. Because they worked the farm so much, they didn’t really go to school. They lived in a small town and went to town festivals. My fiance’s grandmother didn’t come back to the United States until she was 19 years old and worked cleaning houses. She hadn’t been able to get an education and didn’t know English at the time so there weren’t many job opportunities for her. She lived in a neighborhood that was predominantly Polish and met the man who would be her husband there. They got married and the rest, as they say, is history.
Nobody’s story is boring. We all come from a large coterie of past people who lived through the times we only read about. It makes me wish I had talked to my grandparents more when they were alive. I have one grandmother left and look forward to seeing her over the holidays. I want to ask what her childhood was like, where they lived and what she remembers of her own parents and grandparents. It’s unfortunate we lose these connections to the past without realizing their importance or relevance. When I was young, I didn’t the old could teach me anything because they were stuck in a past that wasn’t relevant to me. But how can I call myself a writer, a storyteller, and ignore these profound stories that are so close to me?
Everyone has a story. You may think your life is boring but that’s only because you’re used to it. We’re all an amalgamation of what came before us, a hodge-podge, a potpourri of human experiences. Many things happened to create the You that is You right now. I know I’m going against the theme of this blog but take some time and think about it. Ask questions. Think about where you come from and who you are.