Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/6LscnhGdFsw) 08.10.2023.
As I leaf through the album, I remember.
The very first photo, when I was three or four.
Mum’s girandole earrings (she said it was pronounced “jeer-an-dou-lee”) with three green stones suspended at the bottom, with the centerpiece slightly lower than the other two. Not Swarovski, but Jablonex, mass-produced behind the Iron Curtain in the neighboring Czech Republic. She wrapped them in a handkerchief in a box with enamel forget-me-nots all year round and only put them on for New Year's Eve parties. Dressed in a brocade gown, with Mary Quant makeup applied to the eyelids and cheeks but with her nails bitten to the quick, she let me wear them for a few moments before vanishing with a puff of an oh-so-delicate scent like a Communist-era Cinderella. No pumpkin carriage with horse-mice waiting for her but an Icarus bus provided by the steelworks where she worked.
The second snapshot, the age of unreason - six.
My first dog (I'm on number ten now) - a pinscher and terrier mix with crooked legs and a stumpy tail. Eager to stand out, I named her Frog and cried for an entire week when she died aged fifteen and I no longer lived in Poland.
Number three, the age of defiance - around the time I was ten.
Winters landscape – a frozen river, ice skating, and my dad's warnings.
"The ice will break; you'll fall in and drown,” he thundered.
Of course, I ignored his admonitions; the ice did break, and I did fall in but survived. Dad was never the wiser.
Me at the amusement park, to the background of a pair of tired ponies, a kitsch carousel, and a cotton candy cart. It was where my first boyfriend shot a magenta flower with crepe petals and a wooden stem for me. At twelve, I valued it more than the most exquisite orchids I received later in life. Including the Swarovski ring, my first husband gave me instead of a real diamond. Cheap bastard.
Several photos, teen-hood and beyond.
Summers excursions to a village on the banks of the Warta River with storks, the aroma of freshly cut grass, lime trees, and acacia honey on rye. For two weeks, we put up a tent behind an enormous manor house that Ludvik, my maternal great-great-grandfather, a diehard drinker and adventurer, gambled away betting on slow horses and fast women more than a hundred years before.
In August, burdened by cardboard suitcases without wheels, we embarked on a 12-hour train journey to the Hel Peninsula. Despite its scary name, it was heaven on earth where I lay belly up like a beached whale, face to the sun, with no sunscreen but a thick layer of Nivea cream on my shoulders. The sunburn that followed was awful.
I can still hear the echoes of a vendor selling freeeeeeshshshhhsh bluuuuueberryyyy piiiiiieeee and smooooked eeeeeeelllll!
But I best recall the treasure hunt for tiny pieces of prehistoric resin immortalized in caramel-coloured amber by the cold waters of the Baltic. I kept them in velvet sachets for the rest of the year for no reason other than to evoke the summer warmth on frosty winter mornings.
The rest of the album - the most precious.
My kids. Each one so different, so special, so expected, so loved. I rejoiced in every centimetre of their growth and celebrated their achievements. But I also cherish the times I was ready to trade them for a pet parrot. With gratitude, I honour the challenging but sweet path of single parenthood far away from my homeland.
Photos and more photos, recollections flowing even faster.
And the bad ones? For some reason, they are not in the album of my memory. Or among the photos. Perhaps because I believe that life must be lived and commemorated as it comes. Eladia Blasquez once sang:
To deserve life is not
to be silent and to consent
to so many repeated
It is a virtue;
it is dignity!
It is the most defined
attitude of identity!
That the lasting
and the passing
do not give us the
right to boast
because it is not the
same to live as to honour life.
About the Author: Polish by birth, a citizen of the world by choice. The first story short-listed for the Hennessy Awards, Ireland, in 1996. She regularly contributed to Women's Quality Fiction, Books Ireland, and IncoGnito. She was also the co-founder of Virginia House Writers, Dublin, and helped establish the OKI Literary Awards. Her creative writing was interrupted as she moved to Latin America and started contributing to magazines and newspapers and then wrote textbooks for Latin American Ministries of Education. Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, 53 of her stories have been accepted for publication.