Visiting Relatives in Wadowice

Sept 28 – I awoke and went to the Kismaros library to use the internet. I’d planned on driving to Poland but wanted to work on my blog for a few hours before heading out. I wrote till noon, then headed north into Slovakia to Wadowice, to visit my dad’s second cousins Lukasz and Paul Karpinski and other family. It was a beautiful, clear day, and I stopped briefly in Orava in hopes of seeing the interior of the Carpathian style wooden church. Alas, it was closed. I reached Wadowice at 6:30pm and began using goole translate, as I speak little Polish and Paul and Stasia little English. After a few hours my head hurt. Stasia made a lovely meal, and we ate and looked at the family tree and photos together. This would become a familiar routine over the next few days of my visit. They kindly gave me their bedroom, and I felt like I would disappear in their king size bed, as I’d become used to a twin.

Sept 29 – I awoke after an intermittent sleep, marked by long periods of wakefulness. They live on the highway from Wadowice to Zakopane, and the house literally shook every time a truck sped past. We had our usual Polish breakfast, a wonderful assortment of cold cuts (which I didn’t eat), vegetables, cheese, pickles, and assorted salads. I got spoiled by Stasia’s wonderful cooking, and really appreciated her good food. I went in to Wadowice alone, stopping first at the cemetery where my great great great grandmother Teofila Karpinska is buried, along with Paul’s brother and parents. I had taken soil from near Teofila’s grave on my last visit in June, and resolved to keep it in a special place as part of my ancestor worship.
I stopped by a nice cafe called Sisters which had been recommended on Trip Advisor. The cafe had lovely decor and very good espresso and cake. What’s more, I was short 5 zloty, about 1.75 USD, and the woman working there told me not to worry. I was so struck by her kindness and returned with the money a short while later. From there I walked to the main square, which has been largely renovated since the advent of Pope John Paul II, who grew up next to the catholic church on the square. Buildings significant in the life of the Pope are indicated with a detailed information placard, and I had fun walking around the old town learning about its history. I had visited his house on a previous occasion. I didn’t have time to go to the museum, but resolved to go before leaving.

I returned to the house and Paul and I walked to Halinka Rocizky, cousin of Marylka Rocizky whom I’d met for the first time in June on my visit to Bieslko Biala. We spent an hour or two with her, and Paul was kind enough to show her a family album, which she seemed to enjoy. She is 84 and apparently has dementia. Paul says her memory is quite poor, and he was eager to go before too long. He showed me the coal storage bins, and the stove where it is burned. Apparently all older homes and apartments in Poland are set up for coal burning. Both Halinka and Marylka asked if I was Christian. Paul tried to cover for me, saying that I wasn’t practicing but believed in God. Not the case, but I don’t think Poles can fathom the possibility of not believing in God (nor god). I thought Halinka was very kind. She remembered my great grandfather Eugeniusz, who had a house in Wadowice Karmelicka Street across from the Carmelite monastery. During WWII, my father’s family lived with his grandfather in a flat in Krakow near the railway station, which may have been for his work.

A few days later, when we visited Marylka Rocizky and her daughter, son, and husband in Bielsko Biala, I heard the following story about Eugeniusz. Apparently he wanted to marry his house keeper, which was attributed to his eating a large quantity of eggs, making him randy. His siblings talked him out of it, saying it was a bad idea. I’m not sure whether this was before or after his marriage to Julia Lewicka, who produced two boys, Stanislaw (my paternal grandfather) and his brother Miecislaw. It made me wonder about family patterns, as Stanislaw, his son, ended up being a kind of womanizer, or was unfaithful to his wife, Ilona Hensel. His brother Miecislaw ended up tried to run away with the nanny but fell off the train and died. Stanislaw would be hit by a train a few years later and die as a result. No one knows if it was suicide or whether he was simply depressed. Apparently he felt contaminated or dirty and not worth of holding his oldest son Jurek’s first born. He felt guilty about not being faithful to his wife (although she had a bad temper and would yell at him regularly), and between that and the war, the loss of his teaching position as biology professor, and the difficulty of waiting in a refugee camp in England, it’s little wonder.

We returned from Halinka’s house, to find Anya, Paul’s daughter, at home. I’d hosted her when she was working in Utah for 3 months, and we’d had a nice visit of San Francisco. She speaks English, and was kind enough to do some translating for us. She is moving from Krakow back to Wadowice, and is preparing her apartment for living. So she came for the weekend to work on various projects, and was able to rope Paul into helping her. She told me about her recent trip to Namibia, and the safari that she took with her boyfriend and another couple. They rented large 4 wheel drive vehicles and slept in built in tents on the roof. Sounded like quite the adventure. She had wonderful photos of her journey. I’m not sure whether she or her boyfriend took them. He’s a semi-professional photographer who works for the municipality of Wadowice in marketing.

September 30. I awoke to yet another lovely breakfast, then Renata (Paul’s brother’s son Marek’s wife) came over with her little girl Helena and son Cuba. Stasia is beside herself with Helena (what is it with many grandmothers – I don’t share their fondness for screaming tots). We ate kremowka, a cream cake with flaky crust made famous by the Pope, who supposedly ate it with his mates as a treat after school exams. She is an English teacher at the local secondary school (equivalent to junior high), and I used the opportunity to tell her a bit of my father’s story in coming to the US, which Stasia and Paul unnervingly kept correcting. They both had the frustrating habit of saying I don’t know when I told them something about my family, as if until they confirmed it, it wasn’t a reality. My Polish relatives living California do the same thing. Unless they confirm that an event has occured, then it hasn’t. And they almost never do. Explains why I am often uncertain of my reality and ask others to validate it. She suspects that she has Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and I suggested that she take natural desiccated thyroid like Armour or Naturethroid. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get a prescription for natural thyroid replacement in Poland, let alone order it from a pharmacy. I told her I’d help as I could, but later realized that without a prescription, I can’t. I suggested that she ask her in law, a doctor, to do this. Apparently the woman laughed and refused. With friends like that, who needs enemies. She was visibly tired and I wished I could help. I gave her Richard Goldberg’s phone number, as I have to many seeking medical help, and hoped he could help.

She was busy and had to leave. Paul asked me if I liked biking, and I said yes, so he got out 3 bikes and he, Stasia, and I headed out on a bucolic bike path along the Skawa River. It was a pretty day and I was ecstatic to be in the fresh air. Paul is in good shape and does everything at a good clip, reminding me of my dad, who would always leave me in the dust. It must run in the family. Paul’s brother Lukasz is also very fit and active. Whenever I see him he is on his bike. Upon reaching home, I told them of my plans to see the local wooden churches. They wanted to come along, which was nice because I only knew of one, while they knew 3 more. Paul drove to Wozniki, which had a lovely church whose awnings were painted, but there was a wedding taking place so I couldn’t enter.

From there we headed to Radocza, but it was closed. But in Graboszyce we struck gold. We walked around the church, then walked across the street to a kind of open air park of religious statues. A woman tending the grounds asked us something in Polish. Apparently she was the keeper of the key, and unlocked the church for us. I longed to understand what she was telling my relatives about the history of the church. Then a Chinese family arrived (they’d driven from Warsawa). The father is a visiting diplomat and their son speaks Chinese, Polish, and English (impressive!). He translated a little bit of the history for me, then we left. It turned out that today, the last day of September, is traditionally the last day that churches in Poland are open to the public. We went home, took Adger (the big golden retriever) for a run on bikes, then had dinner. And went to bed. We had a big day tomorrow.

October 1. I woke early, and Anya came over for breakfast. Paul and I went for a bike ride, this time to the dam. I tried to hide the bike in the bushes, as I didn’t want to ride it all the way up the hill, and ended up with burrs all over my sweat pants. Grrr. Cursing, I spent 10 minutes picking them out, then we rode back in a rush. We ate a lovely homemade lasagna, then Paul drove us to Marylka’s house in Bielsko Biala. There Barbara, her brother Rafal (whom I’d never met), Marylka, and her husband were waiting for us. Paul brought photos and a copy of the family tree for identification, while Marylka regaled us with her photos. They were organized in lovely albums, and it seemed that many had never been seen by her children. She has an incredibly sharp mind, unlike her cousin Halinka, though they are about the same age. It was ironic to watch her ordering her kids around in the preparation of food and cooking of the kielbasa. Barbara’s autistic daughter Martina moved and yelled nonstop, and I marveled at Barbara’s patience. Marylka was also very good with her grand daughter, which surprised me, as she seemed rather impatient with the rest of us. Apparently her husband (whose name I don’t remember) had heart surgery in January and is doing much better. He was quiet as a mouse. Both times I visited their home, he didn’t say a word. Literally. Probably good as Marylka talks up a storm. They compliment each other.

We spent five and a half hours visiting, and finally begged off as it was getting dark. It had been a beautiful day, and we had eaten our meal in their lovely back yard. I took a quick tour of the garden and saw raspberry bushes and a huge vegetable garden. People living in this part of the world love growing their own food. Inspiring, considering that their weather is rather inclement. We returned to Wadowice, very tired, and showed Stasia some of the photos.

We talked about the Kant family. Michal Mieczyslaw Miczek Kant was my great great great grandmother Teofila’s son from her first marriage to a lawyer in Tarnow. He was born around 1862, fled in 1885 for US with his family (possibly to New York and later Connecticut). He brought the signet ring bearing the family coat of arms depicting a Korab or arc with him. On November 11, 1906 he married Zofia Boczkowska. He died in 1933. Paul told me that Izidor, his grandfather and the brother of my grandfather Eugeniusz, was the director of the lyceum in Wadowice. His father Zbigniew taught religious singing and physical education in Radom before the war. It is a reflection of the arbitrary nature of life that Zbigniew ended up in Auschwitz for being a teacher, while my grandfather Stanislaw, though jailed during the war for being a teacher, was released (probably because his wife, my grandmother, spoke German and could plead with his captors). Stanislaw and his family ended up working on several dairy farms near Kempten, Germany, until the end of the war.

October 2. We had a lovely breakfast, then I headed into town, tried to get some writing down at the local cafe over a cream cake and coffee, then headed to the museum. One of the nightlight was a wall-sized photo of the Pope’s graduating class from the local lyceum. My father’s cousin Witold Karpinski was in his graduating class, and is there in all his glory. He had an amazing history as a prisoner of war who twice escaped Russian captors. He and John Paul II remained good friends and corresponded throughout their lives. I wonder if anyone in our family saved the letters. From the museum I drove back to Wozniki in hopes of seeing the interior of the wooden church but it was locked. From there I drove to the second most important pilgrimage site in Poland after Częstochowa, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (or rather the catholic church and chapel complex of Sanktuarium Pasyjno-Maryjne).

I walked around the old town before driving up to the sanctuary, and began in the church of Virgin Mary.  Kalwaria Zebrzydowska park is a Mannerist architectural and park landscape complex and pilgrimage park, built in 1600 by Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, voivode of Kraków for Franciscan monks (custodians of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). It was modeled on the 1584 map of Jerusalem by Christian Kruik van the Counter Reformation in the late 16th century led to prosperity in the creation of Calvaries in Catholic Europe.  I marveled at the workmanship, especially the marquetry and wood work in the nave behind the main church. From there I walked up the hill to admire some of the chapels that dot the hillside.

I continued until I came upon the ruins of a former castle overlooking the church complex. It was a beautiful fall day, and yellow leaves covered the bare ground. I took a nice drive from there through the countryside, then headed back to Wadowice, stopping at the traditional Carpathian style wooden church a few miles from town where Paul’s father Zbigniew and his grandfather Izidor used to attend church via horse and carriage before the war.

I returned home and we had dinner, then I visited with Lukasz and Danuta for an hour or so. They are both very busy, Lukasz with his work (he makes blueprints for building contracts, which he has done since 1972), and Danuta, who babysits her granddaughter regularly. We talked about Magda, and their recent visit to San Diego to visit her, as well as their memories of Lucy. Danuta said she cried and cried when saying goodbye, and that it was very hard to leave. I know she misses Magda terribly. I asked whether they thought they might move to the US when they retired. They laughed and said they couldn’t afford it, and that life in Poland was good, and that their family is all here.


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