A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post for this blog entitled “Chinese Tattoos and Spirit(s).” In that post, I concluded that whether we knew our ancestors or not, their spirit remains with us and helps to shape and define who we are both physically and psychologically. I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, especially with respect to my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, who I know very little about.
My grandfather’s mother left Poland in the early 1900’s as a teenager and started a new life in the United States…eventually settling and raising a family on Polish Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Through my mom and uncles, I’ve heard a few rather intriguing stories about this fiery woman with red hair who ran her own restaurant and confectionary store. There was even mention that she had her own distillery in the basement, which piped up alcohol to special restaurant patrons during prohibition times in the US. When I heard that, I knew I had to learn more about her.
Next week, I will actually have the opportunity of a lifetime to do so in the land where she was born…Poland.
I should explain. This week, I am headed to Leeds, England for my work at ShiftRunner. We have meetings all week with our game developers and marketing consultant, as we head into our beta launch of Pandoo Nation. Our whole team will be there, and I’m “over the top” excited about reaching this stage in our company’s journey.
Getting to England from Singapore and back on a start-up company budget is quite a challenge. The original plan and the least expensive airline ticket had us flying through Dubai, where a close friend from Houston currently works and lives. So, I immediately began making plans to spend the weekend there with my friend. Unfortunately, meeting schedules changed and my itinerary had to be adjusted…no Dubai, no visit with Zeina.
That’s when it hit me. I had been telling myself for a while now that the next time I get to Europe, I need to do a stopover and spend some time in Warsaw, Poland. I feel an almost tribal call to walk on and experience the land of my ancestors, and especially of my great-grandmother, Blanche. I love the irony, by the way, of this bold ginger being called Blanche. I recently discovered her Polish name to be Bronislawa, which means Glorious Protector – a thought I also love.
So, with my United Airlines mileage points leftover from my previous job, I made some adjustments and now have a new itinerary which includes spending the first weekend in May (after our UK meetings) in and around Warsaw. My flights and hotel were booked, but then what? I wasn’t even sure which exact area near Warsaw she lived. I reached out to my mom. It just so happened that one of her US cousins from that side of the family (one that I had never even met) had a similar desire to learn more about these family lines. He and his wife took a trip to Poland just last year. My mom put me in touch with him, and he, in turn, provided a wealth of information on what he learned during his journey there, including contact names and emails.
I reached out to these Polish relatives via email just this past week in preparing for the trip. What happened from there astounded me. These virtual strangers that did not even know that I existed the previous day fully opened their arms and embraced me from afar. Despite great distances and language difficulties, I now have a full itinerary proposal which includes everything from getting picked up from the airport to overnight accommodations to visiting with living relatives, as well as the land, the homes and the grave sites of our ancestors. So much more than I ever anticipated.
You will definitely be hearing more on this blog about this adventure in the coming week or so. I have no idea what to expect, or if my desire to connect to the past will come to full fruition. At the very least, I will have met in person some lovely people who share my bloodline in a land rich with a long history of trials, tribulations and eventual triumph. And if I’m lucky, I’ll learn a few new things about the young red-haired girl who crossed the ocean during challenging times in her personal search for a different life. I think I’ll be able to relate.