Tattooing Family

 

Em Getting Tattooed

Em Getting Tattooed on Saturday

My niece, Emily, is planning to reveal her new tattoo to Babcia, my mother, this morning at Easter breakfast. Dad and Ciocia will be there too of course, but they are silent knowing trees, to Mom’s active frontline.  I sense the butter lamb on the table already trembling.

I’m trying to picture how Mom will react. Sign of the Cross?  Yell at niece but kill brother before the eggs and kielbasa are passed around?  Repeat the word tattoo like she might not understand its meaning? Maybe just maybe, go with the flow? Sometimes Mom can surprise me.

If she faints from shock, Ciocia can use the freshly grated horseradish to make her come to.

Several things will be working in my niece’s favor:

1.) It’s a holiday

2.) The whole family (except me) will be there

3.) Mom will naturally lay blame on her parents

4) The Tattoo is of the word “rodzina” which means family in Polish.

With or without ink, Family is tattooed on all of us.

With or without ink, Family is tattooed on all of us.

That ought to bring on pause and surprise.  Just like it did for me when my niece told me of her plan for her 18th Birthday and asked me to verify the spelling. It’s pronounced with a slight roll of the “R”. Roh-gee-nah.

See, we are not a tattoo nuclear family.  Maybe it is truer to say, we have never been a family to believe in permanence. We could never even get Dad to put a bumper sticker on his car, no matter how hard we tried.

In college, when I came home with two extra piercings on only one ear on my already pierced ears, Dad said, “You just had to get another hole in your head.”  That’s about as brazen as it got at home with body art.

Maybe this is why I collect antiques the way other people get tattoos, to find an anchor of permanence in an impermanent world. Give ourselves reminders that we’re living.

Two of my young male cousins got tattoos, and I don’t think Mom flinched. But what will she think of her young granddaughter, the girl who loves animals so much, she took a broom and snapped all of the mouse traps in the basement when she was 10, the Captain of the Cheerleading Squad, with the word rodzina written in cursive script on the back of her neck?

I can’t wait to get the phone call. Will Mom blow a gasket or simply say, “She crazy.”

Em was about 12 years old when my aunt and uncle from Poland visited us for an extended time. So eager was she to communicate with them, she asked me to buy her a Polish Language cd. She memorized vocabulary. Not knowing whole sentences didn’t stop her from enjoying a quiz or recitation. Among the many words she knows, Lotnisko airport, trawa  grass and lody ice cream. Plus proszęPlease and dziękuję  –Thank You, which she knew even before she knew she was studying Polish.

This plan really got me thinking. Of all the tattoos Em could have gotten: hearts, stars, designs, quotes, etc. She chose the word family and in Polish. Since I’m working on a memoir about our Polish family and have been compelled at a very early age to investigate ancestry and heritage– not necessarily a conscious choice but like following a magnetic pull through a maze, her tattoo choice warms my heart.

It made me wonder, do we tattoo the next generation with family legacies? For better, for worse. In presence or absence our family is a sum of what extended before us.

I asked her what inspired her.

She said, “I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo since freshman year. I didn’t want something random or something I’d regret.  And I thought, I don’t regret my family.  Then I thought what can I do to make it different and I chose to make it in Polish, cause that’s what I mostly am.”

Will this be a secret?

“I’m getting it in cursive and I’m putting it on the back of my neck. I’ll be able to hide it for job interviews if I put my hair down. No, it’s not a secret. LOL. My mom is coming with me to get it. My dad is like, whatever. LOL.”

I can tell you right now, that my brother was not like, whatever.  Given her age, I’m sure he sighed. I’m sure he ran the riot act of do you know what you’re doing? I’m sure four years ago when this was brought up he was hoping it would go away. I’m sure he impressed the meaning of the word permanent.  I’m sure he thoroughly expressed his opinion and then let his daughter make her own choices.

She’s gutsy. I love that that she thought of the word family. I could never get a tattoo. I got nervous for her when my sister-in-law texted and sent me photos of the process.  In fact, it’s one of my reoccurring anxiety dreams I have.  Once after a friend recounted, in painful detail, what it was like to have laser resurfacing on her face, that night I dreamt that I got a giant purple leaf tattoo on one whole side of my face. Not even a cool-can’t-explain-it-because-it-was-so-beautiful in the dream but an ugly wall mural type leaf. Filled in solid light purple. I woke up in a sweat and was relieved when I looked in the mirror in the morning. I still shudder when I think of the leaf on my face.  Another time, I dreamt I had a snake tattooed on the entire length of my arm. Sheesh.  Panic-city when I woke up.  Real tattooing is not for me. I’ll appreciate them from afar and think about the other ways I’m tattooed by my family and write about it.

I’ll stick to collecting antiques too.

Mom is bananas about all four of her grandkids and given that I probably won’t have children of my own, they are like my own. (I was at the birth for two of them.) I wonder as generations of our family die, who of the young cousins and nieces and nephews will be interested to stay in touch with their heritage?

This tattoo gives me hope that the future is not without the root.

Seems kinda heavy to say to Emily, so I will just say it looks cool and that I loved the beautiful script, as I secretly analyze metaphors and extrapolate the largeness of this act, ponder its implications for generations and appreciate its poetic muscle.

 

 

Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych

Happy Easter!

 

 

Four Things I Learned from a Woodpecker

Northern Flicker Woodpecker in my front yard (just on the edge of the shadow line)

Last month, at 6am every morning, I heard a woodpecker drumming into a telephone pole behind my house. Despite the early hour, I found it a pleasant way to wake up. It only lasted a few seconds so it didn’t get annoying. It was better than using my battery-powered beeping alarm. I felt like the bird was telling me, ‘Hey get up! I’m out here doing my work already.’

At first it was just pecking for bugs in the wood, but then I heard it making a rattling tin sound. Lying in bed, I would think, ‘oh little birdie. You’re hitting a metal plate, you little pea brain. Try a different spot.’

I talk to the birds. Sort of. Mostly I’m trying to listen. If a bird jets down in front of me and holds itself there in a too long way with its glossy black eyes staring straight at me, I think, what message are you bringing?

I wanted to identify the kind of woodpecker it was, so I did some research online. Turns out it’s a Northern Flicker Woodpecker. And it sometimes bangs on metal to communicate and mark its territory. So much for thinking the bird didn’t know what it was doing. Who’s the pea brain?

Nature Lesson #1 Sometimes you have to make some noise.

This is a great reminder as I learn how to market myself as a writer. Nobody is going to find me if I just quietly scribble in a notebook. Nobody will know to knock on my door. I have to bang on some metal.

Just a week or so ago, the woodpecker took up residence in a rotted out tree hole in front of my house. Every morning when I lift the shade, she’s there. Her sleek brown head pops out of the 3-inch hole revealing paint brush red markings on her neck. I sit at my kitchen table and watch her while I eat my breakfast. I wonder if she can see me. I’m kind of fascinated by her because I know I’m watching a process happen. It’s spring and I’m sure she’s sitting on some eggs. When I walk by the tree on the way to my car, she retracts her head back inside.

For a few mornings, I watched her spitting out beak-fulls of wood pulp. She was burrowing deeper into the tree to make her nest bigger. ‘Exhausting work, little birdie.’ I thought as I sipped my tea. Sometimes efforts feel like that: just a tiny beak-full of wood pulp against the gigantic tree of life.

Still, I could see she was making progress.

For one, she was an opportunist. When the trees got trimmed recently after a storm, some of the rotted branches left a cavernous hole. It would be a fixer-upper nest, but she moved in and got right to work.

Nature lesson #2 Don’t reinvent the wheel, when you have one.
Nature lesson #3 Don’t underestimate little efforts.

I have so many ways I can apply these two lessons in all areas of my life. In terms of writing, I have resources everywhere. It’s my job to scout them out. There are trail blazers who have gone before me who can share important information. I don’t have to drill my beak into solid wood, at least in some areas anyway. I know that birdie has carved out a perfect nest for herself and she did it one spit full of wood pulp at a time. Perseverance: A wise word my writing teacher imparted during class.

The other morning I saw a squirrel just above her nest on a tree branch. It seemed relatively disinterested in its spastic little run up and down the branch. But I worried, would the squirrel try to eat her or the eggs? Should I intervene and making noises if I saw it go too close? I could see the bird sensing and reacting to the squirrel’s presence. The bird popped out her head from the hole and twisted her neck all the way up to look up at the branch above her. She stayed that way for a while in a stare down with the squirrel. She looked like a lady perched in a window of a New York tenement looking up to a neighbor on a fire escape. It actually made me laugh.

Nature lesson #4  Protect your efforts.

I noticed the Northern Flicker Woodpecker doesn’t leave her nest for too long. I see her fly out for food or rendezvous with another Flicker briefly. I suppose there will be other times for her to cruise around the social circuit more when things are at a less precious and crucial time. But for now she goes back to that nest to sit with her eggs.

They’re incubating and she’s waiting for them to hatch.

From Nothingness to Somethingness

Skype snapshot

My parents just learned how to use Skype.  I practiced with them on my Dad’s birthday last week. (Happy Birthday again Dad!) So far so good– if we can just get Ciocia and my Mom to stay in the webcam frame.  They’d just finished up a nice birthday dinner and I said I was jealous. Ciocia disappeared from view and came back with a slice of her meatloaf on a paper plate so I could see it.  Something she cooked up after watching a cooking show.

Skype snapshot: Ciocia's prized meatloaf.

I made an email appointment for them to talk to their niece, Gienia (Geh-niah), in Lithuania today. My mom and aunt and I last saw her in person in 1997, Dad only by photo.  So it’s a little more than exciting to get them coordinated.

I seem to appreciate technology much more when I’m connecting my parents to it.  I tend to have a ‘Look Mom! It’s magic!’ disposition.  She is always surprised about what is possible. Dad keeps up with these things so it’s my mom who stays marveled.  For a person who used to call a travel agent and show up in person to procure multi-layered paper stock boarding passes, I revel in telling her that now you can check in at the gate using your phone.

Well, I can’t because as you know, I’m just a few steps up from Michael Douglas’ Wall Street phone. But still the possibility exists!

Sometimes my mom will ask, “Masz wiadomość od Spacebook?”  Do you have news from Spacebook?

“Ma, it’s Facebook. My Space is one thing. Facebook is another.”

“Spacebook. Facebook. I don’t know these junks.”

I like the idea of Spacebook so much better. I picture everyone on it floating around like a tethered astronaut in space. Only silence and waving.

I have Facebook and Skype to thank for connecting me with some of my relatives in Poland and Lithuania. Otherwise it’s the slow romantic letter changing hands and making its way onto planes and into letter bags for delivery through a mail slot. I don’t want to see that ever end. But to see a long lost relative face to face on a computer screen feels like magic. What couldn’t be done before is now completely possible. From nothingness to somethingness.

Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around how something so simple can be so historic.

Another One Bites the Dust

 

I embrace technology with reluctance. Answering machine? I swore I’d never buy one in college wondering, why can’t people just call back? Eventually, I caught up with the idea but just shy of voicemail coming into the picture. If I could still be using my childhood black rotary phone, believe me I would. There was nothing like carefully dialing a boy’s number, heart pounding, finger releasing at the silver half-moon watching the disc circle back hoping my finger didn’t stutter a second dial on the way up. You had to be paying attention. Last I knew that black phone was in my brother Adam’s attic. His then young son had lifted it out of a box and asked, “Dad, What’s this?”

On a recent trip to San Francisco, my friend who works for Apple remarked that my cell phone was antique. “It’s only a year old,” I said. “You should have seen my last one.”  When I went to trade my Ericsson up, the AT&T clerk turned it around in his hands like a rare fossil.  Please. Let’s not exaggerate, I wanted to say. It’s not like I passed in a Michael Douglas 1980s cell phone from Wall Street.

It’s not that I don’t like technological advances. (I have an ipod that was given to me.) I’m just slow on the uptake. Why throw away what still works? I donated my mint condition VHS player when I moved in June. And you know what? I regret it. How am I going to watch my rare Peace Corps video vignettes from Eritrea, Africa that fellow volunteer Colin taped in 1995? If I know Colin, he’s already converted it to DVD. I must have thought this thought when I packed up the player (in its original box) as I loaded up the car for Goodwill. Otherwise, poof it’s gone. If anyone wonders whether I am my mother’s daughter, you needn’t look for further proof.

At least I don’t put plastic on the lampshades.

I’m more of use it into the ground kind of person. Enjoy it while you got it is my motto.

My mother used her Maytag for 40 years. It saw so much use, the dial was completely worn to white with only the slightest blue flecks as evidence that numbers once existed. She knowingly turned it to the click, like an expert safe-cracker. This proved to be a great excuse for my not being able to do laundry. It had its curbside exit after a few visits from the repair man who finally had to break it to my mother.

All this came up because today I was thinking about our family stereo. The wide console one with the smoky quartz colored plastic hood. I so clearly remember it in the “Big Room”- our fancy room. The Christmas tree room. The one with an ornate chandelier and crystal filled credenza. It’s also the room that for a time in the late 70s and early 80s got blocked off at the threshold with white chenille bedspread to conserve heat in the house.

I am not joking when I say, that my brothers and I would slip into our snowsuits, carefully slink past the tasseled bedspread just so we could listen to the stereo.  Winter 1980. I am eight years old. Adam had newly acquired Queen The Game album. I remember his careful, no thumb prints handling and the way he put the needle down and moved back from the turntable, palms down in a careful-do-not-disturb way. John and I would dance a jig to “Another One Bite’s the Dust”. Our dancing was a cross between the Peanuts Gang head wagging and some crazy ass kids in snowsuits trying to stay warm. On some nights we could see our own breath.  The crystals on the chandelier were in gentle percussion with our steps. If we bounced too much, Adam still in lotus in front of the stereo would yell, “HEY! Don’t make it skip.” He’d resume his watchful eye, palms at-the-ready to lift the needle up.

We’d read liner notes and learned lyrics.

We listened to one side and then flipped to the other. We studied the album, understanding somehow that it was a work of art. A concept. A poem. Something to be experienced as a whole especially because you saved up to buy it with a special trip to Record Lane or RRRecords.  At some point was it that year? Or later? Adam showed me how to put the needle down with my thumb.

And you know what? You can’t do that with an ipod.

——————-Let me tell you about my Victrola… That baby can pump out some SOUND!

 

Brotherly Love

My brother Johnny once paid me $5 to leave him and his neighborhood friend Tom alone. I took the five bucks. After a respectable 20 minutes, I found them. “You promised. Give it back, you big baby.” Johnny hissed.

John loved calling me, you big baby.

He also loved suffocating me with blankets in front of the TV and holding my head underwater in the pool at the Cape. Adam seven years older than me was disinterested in torturing me, while Johnny four years my senior relished it. Just the same I wanted to hang out with both of them.

I had friends up on Christian Hill but that wasn’t close enough for the quick after school hang out. I only had our neighbor’s granddaughter to play with and she didn’t visit all the time.  Unlike my brothers who had their two friends Tom and John L., also brothers, just down the street.

I was the sidecar. The mascot. The tail. The pain in the ass sister with five bucks in her pocket dying to play.

Who are they kidding I thought, how can you play hide-and-go-seek with two people? They needed me, even if they didn’t readily admit it.  Who else would circle around the house for what seemed like hours trying to find them. Who else would race a sled alongside them and appreciate the yellow shag carpet remnant they lined the sled with or marvel at the fake paper licenses they created for pulling themselves over for fast sledding down Mr. Ouellette’s backyard hill?

I made for the slowest snowball target. The gullible player in 52-Pick Up. I was the lightest projected human off ramps of snow and given the sacred “booster” request, meaning someone would lie on his belly and link their sled behind mine and just as I was about to hit the ramp, pushed my sled forward with all his might.

Getting air, as every kid knows, is like breaking the sound barrier.

One booster from John L. sent me flying vertical. Plastic crackling over the ice. My red sled fell away from me like the space shuttle loses its rockets when it hits the atmosphere. I ripped through the sky and then gravity barreled me straight back to earth. My head a pumpkin thud. Sky and tree branches seemingly moved in a circle. Faces suddenly popped into view. My response to are you okay, slow.

A goose the size of a plum started growing at the back of my head. No blood, a relief; a good indicator that my parents would not have to kill anyone with a look that night.

A fearful, don’t tell Mom, okay? And then a comforting, you’re okay. Somebody rubbing my head until I had to push the hat back up above my eyes. I can’t remember if I cried. I’m sure I did. It was Kryptonite to the boys when it came from a real accident.

“Man, did you see her go up?” Head shakes and ohhhhs lasted the whole way back up the hill and over our fence. They knew how to cheer me up. Our round-toed spaces boots barely gripped the chain link as we climbed over.

That night I sat next to my mom on the couch. She stroked my hair, hand stopping at the bump on my head. My eyes wide.  She called it a guza. A bum­p– oddly similar to us calling it a goose in English, though I am sure the only relation is the sound.

“Aw, nothing. Jus’ bumped my head sledding.”

Some moments called for discretion, especially when future launches were at stake.

Years later, discretion was the same friend that would get me into my first party.

Ciocia Talks Tom Brady

I called home recently. Ciocia Felicia answered. I asked her whether she was planning on watching the Pats vs. Ravens game, even though I already knew the answer would be yes. She interrupted my chain of questions to tell me in Polish, “Brady has a hand injury.”  She was certain he was going to play the game but the outcome of how well he could play was causing her to worry.

Sometimes I wonder if I call the right house.

Brady and Gaga.  Household names.

See, ever since my brothers introduced my Mom and Ciocia to the Super Bowl football squares some years ago and they started betting $20 on the game, they started tuning in. Not because they loved football, but because they wanted to maximize their twenty.  They learned to read the football square grid and somewhere along the way they got hooked.

Adam said to me the other night, “Ma called to ask me about Timeouts.” I told him Ciocia informed me of Brady’s injury and that if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have known.

They’re obsessed. Apparently, my Mom will do her walking-on-hot-coals howl when the Pats are heading for a touchdown.

After the AFC Championship game last week (what a nail biter!), I called home to see what they thought of the game. My mom said, “Miałem highablood pressure.” I had high blood pressure.

Mom never says HIGH. She says high-ah blood pressure, as if what is already high just went higher.

I realized that I’ve been catching the games myself these days.  I have watched games in the past with groups of people but it was really just to have salsa and chips and engage in some conversation.  I have called a quarter an inning before, so there you go.

I make no smoke screen to disguise my otherwise poo-poo to sports attitude I used to have.  I would have rather watched a foreign film than go to a Sports Bar. Actually, maybe that’s still true…BUT I have always enjoyed the thrill of an underdog winning or the drama of a snowy game. Maybe like my Mom and my aunt, I’m slowly finding the joy of watching a game because I’m figuring it out.

Plus, I just bought a football square for the Super Bowl next week and I want to see what happens to my twenty bucks. Go Pats!!!

 

 

 

Spiders Are Your Friends


This spider has been hanging in the house ever since I was small enough to be afraid of it and now I am old enough to want it.

It’s kind of a talisman.

At our old house, it used to hang in our hallway at the top of the front stairs leading to the bedrooms. We didn’t often use that staircase because we oddly had another staircase right next to it that led to the same upstairs hallway. So it had a rather ominous perch, the non-used stairway.

Friends who caught a glimpse of it as they walked by would say things like, “What’s that weird spider thing?” or “That’s creepy.” and my favorite, “Why do you guys have a spider on the wall?”

To these questions, I could offer only a shrug. ‘I dunno. It’s from Poland’.

My mom liked to point out that the pająk (pronounced Pie-yonk) was hand-made and that it was ciekawe– interesting. Something I could see when I allowed myself to get close to it and poke at its wicker belly.

Besides, my Dad has always told me, “Spiders are your friends. They eat the little bugs that you don’t want to eat.” This he always said in English.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I seem to have a lot of friends around the house these days. One marched back and forth on the rim of the tub last night as I warned it away from the water. Earlier in the week, one was bungee jumping on his silk cord next to the kitchen table when I was at my laptop writing. The same night, I watched one go into my closet.

I felt like saying, “Guys! Guys! You’re getting out of hand.” I’ve been known to take them outside in a glass and release them. But it’s winter.

I pretty much have only one rule when it comes to spiders- Start biting me and you all die. So far, this is a friendly group.

Still, when is it too many?

I took exception to this rule, when I was living in Eritrea, Africa. One night I had come home by flashlight to discover a web that ran from my water filter to the floor. I got up close and discovered a black widow. Seriously, pea-size body, red hour glass marking! And I know you will think I am making this up, but it was October 31 to boot. There were expletives. I quickly lit some candles to give the room some light, took off my flip-flop, aimed, and said to myself, DON’T MISS!

I sent the squiggly remains to my friend who was being a terrible correspondent.

There was also the mysterious spider sticker that was on the wall during my in-country training. Huh, that’s funny I said to myself, I wonder what that sticker is doing up on the wall. Day after day I’d come home and notice it. Always the same spot. Then many weeks into my stay, I shook out my blanket and the wave of air hit said sticker and much to my surprise the paper thin spider came to life like a children’s pop-up book and scurried under my poster. It was so flat when it was still, that I named it Plate. It was a harmless spider so we stayed roommates.

Anyway, this spider decoration at my parents’ house, I really like it now. Weird little décor item that it is– there is just something about it that reminds me that a fear can be created and dispelled.

Mom Talks Gaga

Note to the reader: Some of you have asked. Yes, I can speak Polish. I would venture to say though that I understand it better than I can speak it.  Unless I’m in language boot camp mode like when I’ve visited Poland and I snap right into shape. Immersion is good for things like that.  I usually talk to my parents and aunt in a mixture of Polish and English. My parents used to speak only in Polish to me but over the years it has also become a mix.  Not to mention the third Polonia language they’ve created. Ciocia Felicia only speaks Polish.  I can also read relatively easy things- like letters from Mom or my relatives. I can’t write very well though.  But when I push myself for small batches of sentences I can do it.  I think understanding, speaking, reading, writing is the line up of how many first generation children learn language- comprehension can be stronger than any other facet.

…and now to the musing.

I was sitting on the couch with Mom over Christmas. I half heard something she was saying ‘blah blah blah Gaga.’

Did you just say Gaga? Lady Gaga?

Yuh, Gaga.

You know who Lady Gaga is?

She shot me a look. Same one I get when I swear.

Jak bym ja to niewiedziałm, kto Gaga jest?  Ona miała suknię z mięsem. Nawet Ciocia wie kto Gaga jest.

 Translation: How would I not know who Gaga is?  She had a meat dress.  Even your Aunt knows who Gaga is.

Ciocia, a blessed 84 years old, sat on the love seat next to us.  She looked up at me and said “Gaga.”

My mom said Gaga like they are on a first name basis with each other.  When I told her to say the words Lady Gaga again, she waved me off like a house fly.

“Say it again! I like the way you say her name.”

Maybe this insistence was where I picked up one of my many nicknames, Pest and Piła (Saw) just to name two endearments. As a kid If I wanted to sleep over my friend Holly or Julie’s house, and she said no, I would pout and repeat “I wanna go. Iwannago. Iwannago.”  I mentally chained myself to her leg.

I usually got what I wanted by wearing her down.

There are certain things that my mom says in English that I want her to repeat. I like hearing the flow of Polish come to a flying halt of English. Like when some years ago she stopped by the liquor store near Market Basket to buy scratch tickets and said to me, “Kupiłem Cash Blizzard.”  I bought Cash Blizzard.

Not two words I have ever heard her put together. So I hear them. It’s the English words that become foreign and stand out to me. The figurative is distilled. The sounds and meaning seem new.

For a split second my Polish mother becomes a pop culture American and the two worlds we both live in bump out of orbit.

 

Polish Costume

Julie and Jannett, 1978. One of a few first generation Polish American friends I had growing up. So cute, we could have sold you swampland in Florida

My Polish folk costume lived in a blouse box, not a sturdy one, but one that folded at the corners. The box always kept its shape because it lived in my parents’ bedroom closet on the top shelf. I say lived because referring to the costume was like talking about a living thing.

It was stored energy that would only come out during important church and Polish events. I would crane my neck up at the impossibly high shelf and wait for my mother to put the box on the bed. I loved to open it. I would run my fingers around the white baguette beads and the multi-colored sequins, cold to my fingertips, until I touched the black velvet. I loved touching it so much I wanted to pull the beads off– not to destroy it but to appreciate how it was put together.

Wearing it was like synchronizing my breath with someone or something else. At age 6, it felt sacred.

I wonder if the Queen feels this way about her crown jewels- walks around with them like they’re breathing, knows that history and culture sit on top of her head.

Flower head wreath

When I was home for Christmas and snooping about the house, I came across my flower wreath that I wore in the picture above. It was wrapped in a clear plastic baggie sitting on top of porcelain dinner plates in the kitchen china cabinet. In the old days, at my childhood home, the crown lived separate in a built-into-the-wall credenza, probably to give it more breathing room. It sat on the highest shelf next to the lead crystal cordial glasses. Same plastic baggie, it appears. My mother’s love for plastic wrapped items is the reason I still have 33 year old paper Christmas ornaments in mint condition. I would make fun of this more, but it’s too easy for me to see my love for antiques and documentaries stemming from this care. You should see my scrapbooks.

Other things mom wraps in plastic

I thought about how much I loved wearing the paper flower crown. How it didn’t occur to me then, that I would outgrow my costume. I remember begging for a new one. I was hoping for an even flashier one like I had seen on some of the older women with thick ribbons running off their shoulders, hand-painted roses running down each strip. Their velvet bodices were a lush carpet of sequins. But no one was coming or going from Poland in the early 80s. So I never got another one. My parents shushed us every time the news came on. I asked them what Martial Law meant.

In just a few quick years, the costume became baby stuff. Pride turned to self-consciousness. I didn’t want to be caught dead in anything Polish. I wanted Levi’s. I wanted Carvel Ice Cream cake birthday parties. I wanted clothes from the Gap, not Zayres or Stuarts.

If I remember correctly, my Krakowianka costume was a gift from Kazimiera Wojciechowicz, otherwise known as Babcia, my mother’s mother. She bought it for me. I don’t think my mother ever owned anything like this in her life. I can be pretty sure of that, because she had to share her shoes with her sisters. My costume got passed on to my nieces. I’m sure it’s in one of their attics now, in the same box waiting to be opened by the next small hand.

What sticks with me the most is that everything about my costume was delicate, especially the necklace. It was made of layered strands of pink, blue, silver and red beads. Actually, bead doesn’t feel like quite the right word.

The glass balls were more like tiny strands of Barbie Christmas ornaments that got larger toward the center. If I pressed just right, I could easily crack one between my fingers.

And I did, just to know its fragility.

Na Zdrowie!

If you'd like to stop at one, best to put your hand over the top of the shot glass. Or better yet, hide it under the table. The Pourer will pour. Lesson #1.

To your health! That’s what Na Zdrowie means but you probably already knew that dear reader! (I can’t help but borrow some phrasing from Charlotte Bronte and talk to you directly.) I know you are out there and I symbolically raise these over 40 year old shot glasses to say, Happy New Year!

My friend Denise once taught me a Vietnamese phrase for clinking glasses, Cham Phan Chum (Please forgive any butchering in spelling.) It means something like, 100%. Isn’t that great? I’m looking you right in the eye.

There are many phrases we say for this moment to connect. To me Santé, Sault, Na Zdrowie etc…ultimately all say the same thing no matter your state of health. Its meaning transcends the literal.

It means, I am present here with you and that is a blessing. We can still share a story. We are still here to feel all the mysteries.

I raise my glass to you and to those on the other side. Let us take a moment to laugh, find poetry and feel love in the quiet places of our minds.

Hope your New Year sparkles.