My grandma Wanda prays for people. We used to give her short shrift for it. Recently though, I’m wondering if her praying should be the norm. Since old-time pandemics have become 21st century news. Maybe she’s on to something.
Her religion came off the back of an eventful life. She was born into a rural Polish family 93 years ago – today. She can tell you about it too. How her family not only cooked in one pot – they ate out of one large bowl. Milk featured heavily. Her two younger sisters played with dolls while Wanda liked to read. Her job was to shepherdess the cows – but she was often too busy tucked up with a book. Hilariously she lost the cows a few times.
This idyll ended when she was twelve. Here she’s bemused to be a testament to history. She remembers Nazis, and Poland being full of Jewish people. She remembers her own dark-skinned father being threatened. Running from firing Messerschmitts. She remembers crossing the Vistula River into Warsaw at the end of WWII. Not easy: the bridges were all down. They walked across instead. It was so cold, the Vistula was frozen.
She and her father had travelled to try and find her sister. Her younger sister, Kasia had been taken to a labour camp in Germany. Their mother never saw Kasia return. She died before Kasia was set free. Wanda doesn’t talk about this part much.
Let’s not presume Wanda didn’t have fun though. Wanda still had lots of fun. As she gets older, this part gets more and more detailed. We tend to cover our ears until she gets to the part about my grandfather. Thank God you turned up, Adam. Adam is hers and our collective hero. He took in everyone and everything she brought home. Both sisters lived with them. Kasia returned and became a cartographer! How cool is that. Her youngest sister, Roma a pathologist.
In turn, Wanda looked after them all. All of us. Their twin girls, then son, her whole family. It was a post-war balancing act. Skill and integrity were needed to negotiate Soviet Communist times. Did she succeed? Well, my grandparents were very different. Adam came from a classically-educated Austro-Hungarian background. He was meticulously proper. Wanda hand-made the noodles and tailored his suits. It’s quite possible she didn’t have much time to pray.
The details fade into the present – in her mind now. There are of course highlights along the way. Smuggling a chicken on a plane from New York to Warsaw in the early 1980s was definitely one of Wanda’s highlights. The chicken faced certain death if Wanda hadn’t taken her from the States back home. The mystery is how airport security missed a live chicken going through x-ray in my grandma’s handbag? We’ll never know. It didn’t stop Henrietta laying a full seven years of eggs either. We may have glowed a little..
Tucked up reading again, living with my mother and my aunt in London, Wanda prays. She prays a lot – for us. After all, if a person lives through so much, and manages to carry on living, what else can they do?
I wake up every day thinking I’ve had the strangest dream. Maybe it’s time to pray too.