Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Image taken from here.

I was picking up a few groceries last night and I saw them. Pink azaleas. This was the flower I liked to give my grandmother every year on her birthday...Valentine's Day. I was caught off guard by the grief I suddenly felt. After all, it was more than 18 years since she had died.
My grandmother was born near Tarnow, Poland. Her parents owned a farm. My grandmother was the eldest of several children. She was an outstanding student and won awards in reciting poetry and prose. She learned to love beer as a child. Her father brewed his own. Once, she wanted a little taste but forgot to close off the tap of the keg completely. The keg slowly dripped all day while her father was out in the fields. At the end of the day, he went out to fetch some beer to have after supper and found a completely empty keg. My grandmother said she was embarrassed when her parents talked of her drinking the whole keg, but she always had a sparkle in her eye when she told the story, letting her listener know that she knew they were only teasing her. As long as I could remember, my grandmother had a small glass of beer in the afternoon.
When she was 16 years old, my grandmother left her homeland to come to America. She always told us that her mother was quite religious and had rows and rows of holy pictures on the wall. It was my grandmother's job to clean the pictures each week and she hated that job. She said that she decided to immigrate because she knew that if she got married and lived any where close to her mother, her mother would make sure she had rows and rows of holy pictures at her house, too. So, she decided to move to America. I suspect that the real reason had something to do with the possibility of an arranged marriage to a wealthy, but much older man. Her mother didn't want to let her go, but she overheard her father say, "If we don't let her go, and she marries and is unhappy, she will blame us all her life." Besides giving her their blessing, they also gave her a few thousand dollars to start her new life, quite a sum back in that day.
So, at 16, my grandmother traveled by train across Europe and then by boat across the Atlantic to arrive in America. Like most American immigrants, she never forgot the sight of the Statue of Liberty standing as a beacon to those arriving at Ellis Island. Because she only spoke Polish, the official at Ellis Island did not understand her when she gave her name. So he changed it. That is when Agatha Borek became Agnes Borek.
My great-grandmother's sister lived in Chicago (they all later moved to Detroit), so my grandmother went to stay with her. Her aunt was not a very nice person and little by little, stole the money that my grandmother had hidden away in her room. She also refused to give her much food, allowing her only bread for her lunch. My grandmother was also required to turn over her wages to the aunt. My grandmother had found a job rolling cigars because it was something she could do that did not require her to speak English. Some of the women she worked with found out what was happening and convinced her to move out. Which she did.
My grandmother met a wonderful man and they married. On her wedding day, her evil aunt showed up outside and cursed them, saying that she hoped the man died and my grandmother was left a widow. Unfortunately, the man contracted TB and despite moving out to the warm, dry climate in Arizona, he grew worse and died. Even with all the awful things my grandmother's aunt had said and done, my grandmother never returned evil for evil and was always kind, generous, and gracious to this aunt and her family.
(more to follow)


Sara said...

oh k; how honored i am to have you share this. i loved it and can't wait for more. you've got me crying and smiling all at once. thank you

Pat said...

This is just the type of story I love to read - real life.
It reminds me of my own grand parents immigrating from Hungary and also arrivng at Ellis Island. So many had their names were changed to something more "Americanized" but their real name was never forgotten.
The is our heritage, and it's so wonderful to have you share yours - it should be retold and passed down through each generation.
Can't wait for the rest of the story!

Jada's Gigi said...

I love this story! More please...

Deb said...

....can't wait to read more!

Margie said...

wait a great story, i can't wait to hear about more grace and love.

Hepzibah The Watchman said...

Such a beautiful story.

Peta said...

Truly, your grandmother was an outstanding woman!! Wow, I loved reading the story :)