I have this one photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jozefa Wawrzenczyk, née Bracik. She is portrayed here with her second husband. My parents emigrated to the US from Germany where they met when I was only one year old, and she stayed behind, in a village called Skalka Piekoszow in Poland. Almost everything I know about her came from my mother, who was second of her five children.
Jozefa’s life was full of hardships. Her family was very poor, but also, as it happens with Polish people, very proud. She never complained even though they constantly strived for survival and my grandfather moved a lot, following jobs. Jozefa lost her husband when she still had three youngest children at home. By this time, her oldest son, Wladek died in the WW2, and my mother lived away, working on someone else’s farm. Jozefa lived alone for some time, but in late 1940s or early 1950s she remarried. Her second husband was a very good man.
I met Jozefa and her husband when I was six-year-old, when my mother took me to Poland, so I could meet my family. This trip had a great emotional impression on me and I have many vivid memories from time we spent there.
My grandmother lived on a farm with the youngest of her children, my uncle and his family.
I remember that when I first met her, I was overcome with conflicting emotions. I knew she was my grandmother, but for my six-year-old self, she was a strange old woman. She tried to hug me, but I did not want to be touched and cried of fear. I remember that she, possibly disappointed or hurt by my behavior, also cried and my mom looked sad.
All these changed with time. We stayed with our Polish family for two months and just by watching my three cousins interacting with her I learned how to be affectionate with my grandmother. I realized that she was my babcia too, and I even grew a little jealous that they had her in their everyday life. I remember that by the end of our stay I sat on her lap and we hugged and kissed for hours.
Her absence left its mark on my life. Both my parents worked and even if we acquired many friends and built a new family in the US, this important element was always missed, and I longed for it. When I married, I developed a strong relationship with my husband’s grandmother, who was a wonderful person. Now, when I am a grandmother myself I spent as much time as I can with my grandchildren and offer them experience I wish I had.
However, even if babcia Jozefa was not present in my everyday life, I learned to have enormous respect, admiration, as well as love for her. She cared and provided for her family under the most difficult of circumstances. I like to think her strength was passed down to women in my family, which are my mom, me, my daughter, and my granddaughters.