Have I ever told you about my Grandmother...my Babcia?
A most inspirational woman...
She raised four children during the war (a fifth one, a daughter, lost to typhus because scarce medication was available to male children only).
My Babcia was a fighter, confronting even the Gestapo to try and change the unlivable conditions her "community" was in... After the war, the family was relocated to a Displaced Persons camp. She continued to make waves by teaching and becoming involved in local politics until a 30 foot fall broke her back and left her a paraplegic.
The person in charge of relocating families after the war had the Szmaj family slated for relocation to Australia - because America only wanted able bodied immigrants. Babcia felt that America was the land of opportunity and was willing to separate from her family (despite her condition) so that they could go on to the U.S.
Touched by the love of this woman - by her willingness to let go of her family so that they could benefit without a thought as to whom would take care of her or what she would do - the man approved the family's documents to go to the U.S. (for which I will be forever grateful, as probably are my uncles and aunts and my mother).
Years of praying and hoping for a miracle didn't improve her condition. Yet, growing up, I never heard her complain. She liked to "rule the roost" while living in our house. I remember playing in "our room", watching after-school specials with her(even though she was convinced that the people on the TV screen could actually see and hear us!). I remember her helping do "chores" by folding clothes and directing us children to do things; the way she used to peel an apple with a knife and leaving one long, unbroken, paper thin peel for me to put out the window so that birds and squirrels would come and visit. (I haven't mastered that peeling thing yet).
I also remember the morning I was the last one at home before school, waking her up for breakfast and witnessing that she just had a stroke and lost most of her eyesight. Even this did not stop her positive attitude.
She sang so many songs to me, told me joke after joke (she enjoyed a good laugh) and told me glorious old stories. Oh, she was such a great story teller...stories boundless...her eyes open wide and her face full of expression. Her smiles were endless (and toothless!).
Watching her, hearing her laugh a strong joyous laugh, enjoying the good things in life - "Give me Chocolate or give me death"; thanking God nightly for the " sunshine and the beautiful day and for family"; the roses in her room; the tickling a man's beard - which she enjoyed so much she would giggle with delight and blush, her bright blue eyes twinkling....
Even after she lost most of her eyesight, Babcia would use a magnifying glass to "read" her bible with pages worn from the many times she turned the them. Babcia used to tell me that growing up in Czestochowa she would pray the Stations of the Cross every day. Nothing stopped her from finding strength in God's word.
It was wonderful, because as I grew up she was my best friend. I would sit behind her on the bed and brush her long blonde hair, with its white highlights - instead of the other way around. I learned to braid on her soft, fine hair.
She was magical to cuddle with - round and delightful. She would cover me up with blankets until I could no longer breathe and I attempted to sneak the tip of my foot out from underneath the covers just to get some cool air. Somehow she always knew when I did that!
It became more difficult as I grew older. Instead of playing numerous games with her, I wanted to go out into the world, become the social person that my grandmother had been (some of the stories she would tell would include dancing until dawn....)
I left her room and got a room of my own.
When young, one may not realize the short time we have left with someone. We have videotapes of her singing and telling stories but the desire to hug her once more or feel her soft hands holding mine never goes away.
And then, remarkable as it was that she had lived as an invalid so long, she began to get sick, and began to break down.
It was then I realized that such a "burden" as an invalid grandmother living with you is not a burden at all - but a gift.
She shared so much with me...such an important part of my childhood as my baby-sitter and best friend - I learned a lot from her. And although, had she not broken her back, she may have been able to do so much in the world with her drive and determination - she was my personal special gift.
My family and friends also had the opportunity to share this "jewel" of a grandmother who would have given anything to help any one of us.
But I...I had her so much. I shared a room with her and she sang me lullabies until I was 13 years old. I spent endless hours with her. Sometimes, I'd awake in the middle of the night with her and after I got her some warm milk, she would tell me a story or sing me songs(melodious Polish songs that even my cousins living in Poland no longer hear!).
What opportunities are lost today when grandparents no longer live with the family!
I thank God constantly that she was so instrumental in my upbringing. Helping my parents raise me and then, in turn, affording me the opportunity to help her as she grew old.
This week marks the 10 year anniversary of her passing. Though I can't express everything she meant to me, and everything she did for my family and our friends, I want to share a bit of her joy on to you.
Life is short...listen to the stories your parents and grandparents have to tell. You are the keeper of their memories and that keeps them alive.