Aug 20, 2017

31 Days of Gratitude: Day 20

Day 20:  The Grocery Store

My maternal grandmother was the oldest of 5 daughters. She left Poland in the early 1900s, made it through Ellis Island, and settled in Connecticut. She worked as a maid/housekeeper and saved enough to send money for the next sister to come to the US, a story very familiar to most of us who were raised in the northeast. Four sisters made it to the US, but by the time there was enough money for the youngest sister to come over, it was too late.

The Soviet Union had taken over Poland and religion was prohibited. However, my great aunt continued to believe in her Catholic faith and continued to teach her children the faith. They sometimes went to underground masses, a violation of the law. Children were taught that such behavior was treasonous. So, my great aunt's young children reported their mom to the government authorities (their school principal). My great aunt was sentenced to prison in Siberia, released only when her youngest child was 18 and no longer in "danger" from her mother.

The things humans do to one another.

Fast forward to the 1980s and by then my grandmother is long dead, but her 3 other sisters send money so that their youngest sister can visit America. She doesn't speak English, but most of the family speaks Polish so they can communicate just fine. She is all right, but her children will have nothing to do with her. Nevertheless, she doesn't want to live in the US just in case the children have a change of heart.

She stays in New Haven for about a month and there are lots of family gatherings and parties. They cook and cook and cook as the large extended family comes to visit and they all sit around catching each other up on their lives. My mother and her cousins make large trays of kielbasa and kapusta and other eastern european dishes. When they aren't sitting around talking, they take my great aunt all over -- to New York City, where she goes on a Polish bus tour of the city, the Long Island Sound, Boston, etc.

On the day before my great aunt's flight back to Poland, my mom asked her what her favorite part of America had been. Surely it would be the Statue of Liberty, maybe the ocean?

Her answer: the grocery store.

My great aunt explains, "I had to take pictures in the grocery store because no one in Warsaw will believe that all that meat is available. All that fruit. I still can't believe that you can just walk in and buy as much as you want. We stand in line for hours just to buy bread."


So, today I am grateful for the grocery store.


Patricia said...

Now that's a story! The things our ancestors went through should never be forgotten.

Betty said...

thank you for your story

Leslie Miller said...

Oh, Joan, that's a sad story. The things humans do, indeed. Her own children! We take grocery stores for granted, but I realize how unbelievable our supermarkets are to people from poor or oppressed countries. It's these everyday things I'm most grateful for.

Tricia said...

What a beautiful picture of your great-aunt's faith. It meant enough to risk going underground, it was strong enough to withstand years of imprisonment, and it continued to be big enough to love and sacrifice for her children even though she could have been bitter against them. That is the kind of faith that is real. What a precious story!

Joan B said...

yes, I cannot imagine how hard her life was because of the decisions she made.

Joan B said...

I know i take a lot for granted.

Joan B said...

thanks for reading it

Joan B said...


Marie said...

Another great story. So sad that children were (and still are) pitted against their parents. And that those children could never forgive.

I love to visit grocery stores in foreign places. It's a weird quirk; but I love seeing the different labels and what is available.

How do you make your kapusta? My family sautee's onions, then adds canned sauerkraut, potatoes, mushrooms and smoked kielbasa. It is served like a soup at every Christmas dinner.

Joan B said...

I do not make it at all. I am not a fan of the dish!! I'm pretty sure my mom made it with just keilbasa, sauerkraut, and onions but i'm not sure. everyone loved it except me!! Christmas traditions are great!!

Marie said...

Ohh, that's too bad that you don't care for it. On a side note; my sister always makes it; her husband makes her cook it in the garage. He can't take the smell!