Her thick Polish slur still rings in my ears, despite not having lived near her some 20 years. Being away from her, my family would sit at the dinner table issuing funny slogans of hers in our best Polish-imbued Aussie twang, “Argh, my swveety-line!”.
My Babunia left Poland as the war drew to a close, around 1944-45. Due to her families wealth they had not lived the worst of the war in Poland but moved to Vienna, Austria to seek refuge. Yet they lost everything they had, which was quite a bit considering my great-grandfather owned a factory and ran a healthy sized business. This lead to the family’s relocation to Perth, with three grown children in tow, Victor, Richard and Halina along with a large faction of other Eastern Europeans displaced from their shattered homes and fractured cultures.
Halina was reunited with her old beau from Poland, Jurek (George). They married and settled in a migrant camp in the middle of the dry Australian bush of south Western Australia. A place so far from home, so unfamiliar.
Speaking no English and knowing no-one, this married couple kept living as they had in their homeland, where food and hospitality was a mainstay, nah, a requirement of living. So, Babunia cooked, baked and kept her house clean, not only in the 1950’s housewife tradition but also in her Polish tradition. She made cakes, hosted parties and slow cooked Goulash while Dziadzia worked hard, the kind of hard we don’t know today, as a fitter and turner. He would come home and listen to records or get together with his German friends and play old ballads of their homelands. Whether he was playing violin, accordion or piano – he had great joy making music, beautiful music.
So, I sit at this table now, that once was theirs, and with a wistful heart reminisce what this tablecloth beneath my arms has seen. The meals it has carried and the spills it has drawn to its core. I can still smell the starch and washing powder she washed it in for some thirty years, and see some of the remnants of food that she, (to her great shame) could not completely remove. I don’t mind the stains, or the broken lace on the fringe, because my Babunia and Dziadzia sat here, ate here and lived with this same linen.
Heirlooms can be weighty and can be trivial, but heirlooms can also be memory and sound and vision. It is the best when all of these come together in a full image of the people we know and knew.