Last night, I had a wonderful time with my grandmother. We sat for hours knitting and gossiping. Such fun. Her aphasia was almost unnoticable as we talked about family, friends, neighbours, moving to Canada, knitting, my life, her life…lots. I forgot that when you stick a needle and yarn in that woman’s hands, she becomes as creative, clever and present as anyone.
When I came home afterwards, C told me I was glowing.
I joked about her aphasia in my speech pathology class the other day and felt a few people cringe with embarrassment for me. I ought to have tugged at my collar Rodney Dangerfield style and tapped an imaginary microphone…”is this thing on?”.
hehe…wish I did.
I’ve told this story so many times, but you gotta understand that I find it amazing that this lil’ lady…the same lil lady that calls my mum up in the evening because she can’t turn her VCR on…went through WWII in Poland on her own with a kid.
And…because I’m drinking I’m going to continue…
Granddad left with the Polish army once the war started, leaving Nanny and my uncle (who was 2) on their own. At that time, I guess, his mother was living with them (something he sprung on her after the wedding, she told me), so she took care of her, too.
The city in which they both lived and grew up, Przemysl, was apparently in the middle of Poland at the time. From what she’s told me, the Russians and Germans fought there and the occupation would switch sometimes daily. She told me once that you could go across the river to do shopping and by the time you were done, occupation lines had changed and you couldn’t get home.
That meant that when the Russians took over her neck of the city, her house would be used as an officer’s headquarters. She, my uncle, and her mother-in-law would live in one room, the officers lived in the rest of the house. She hated how they took down her crucifixes and put up pictures of Stalin.
When the Germans took over it meant labour camps. She was a forced labourer for the Germans for much of the war.
Eventually…like, within the last few months of the war, the Germans decided to pack up their ‘belongings’ (ie. my grandmother and other’s with her) and move back to safer ground. Nanny was 27 years old with a 5 year old child and never saw Poland again. To this day. Never saw her mother (her father died a couple of years before the war), her sister or her brother (actually, her brother was shot by Russians). They wrote, but never saw each other. She has only seen her hometown in pictures I brought back to her when I went.
She built coffins, believe it or not, for the remaining four months and after it was done…nothing. She found herself friends and worked as a (coincidentally) nanny for a couple of German families. Okay…really, the details here get fuzzy. But….really…my grandparents didn’t have contact with each other for nearly 8 years. If that were me telling my grandchild, my details would be fuzzy, too.
Granddad found her through writing letters with her mother, came to Germany and brought her to Scotland. My mother was born then. Then my aunt Zosia and then my uncle Ludwick. 18 years it took to complete their brood. Jesus.
Nanny still tells me she remembers being in Scotland with 4 kids and getting a letter from the Red Cross telling her they hadn’t found her husband yet.
So…that’s why I have ties to Scotland and no actual Scotish blood.
If anyone’s wondering and has actually made it this far.
So…I look at pictures like that (taken at my mum’s on my 32nd b-day) and think, “She did all that? That little lady that taught me how to knit and used to threaten me with a wooden spoon?”
She doesn’t talk about those days much anymore. I know all this because I used to question her endlessly about the war and Poland. Her aphasia makes it difficult to communicate on subjects she’s emotional about.
She’s going to be 90 this year. My grandfather died 25 years ago last September and she’s been living in the same house on her own since. And if her borsht is anything to go by, she’s doing fine.
I love that battleaxe.