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… as I was saying “it” all started when I was six years old.

I grew up in Gościcino (watch a short video here), in a single family house.  My maternal grandparents lived on the first level of the house and my family — my parents, my sister Aleksandra, and I — lived on the second level.

Even though the house was divided into two separate “apartments” and we lived upstairs, my sister and I had spent most of our days downstairs with our grandparents, since both of our parents worked.

Our grandparents’ bedroom was our playroom and this was the place where the “it” happened.

Here is the story of the “it.”

I see myself sitting on the floor close to the foot of my grandparents’ bed.  The bed is made of dark, almost black, heavy wood.  It towers over me resembling a ship more than anything else. I want to climb on the bed and see how the humongous comforters (my grandparents have two separate comforters) filled with goose feathers can change into waves or mounds of snow.  I am not allowed to do it.  No one is allowed to touch the bed after grandmother makes it for the day, smoothing the waves with a broomstick, making sure it’s flat like a table.

It will be many years from that moment, after both my sister and I become rebellious teenagers, before we dare to jump on the bed in the middle of the day just to break the perfectly flat surface and laugh and see our grandmother leave the room, rushing to the kitchen to hide her laughing.  It will take her many years from that moment, until both my sister and I become adults, to jump on the bed with us and laugh with us until we have to wipe our faces moist with tears.

I remember music in the background, always the same and ever present.  It became inseparable from the air we breathed and from the blood that filled our veins. Here is the ballad by Fryderyk Chopin I associate with everything that means home to me.  It took me many years from that moment to learn that there is this wild world of music darker than anything I know, by Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, that doesn’t belong to me, that doesn’t run in my veins, yet touches something shamefully and excitingly intrinsic to my being.

There was an old daybed in my grandparents’ bedroom.  It was situated along the wall that was decorated with an oil painting, a bucolic scene of two deer on the hill in the middle of a clearing.  I remember myself kneeling on the daybed and running my fingers on the uneven surface of the oil paint, imagining the scene coming alive — the deer clashing their antlers, their nostrils giving a warm and visible vapor with their fast breaths.  It took me many years from that moment to see that painting as a pinnacle of kitsch and many more years to be able to admit to my early admiration of it.

And beneath this daybed was an enormous drawer where my sister and I kept our toys.

That day all the toys were removed from the drawer and placed in a heap in the middle of the floor.  Our two friends from the neighborhood came over to play but my three-year old sister wasn’t there.

I see the three of us playing with colorful wooden blocks.  The red and green ones are most “visible” to me today.  I see how we build walls. First we lay them flat on the floor.  I see us coming up with the idea of putting them up, and finally, I see us closing the standing walls to build rooms. I look inside and see patterns of light and shadows on the floor of the little room and I know we created something very special, something that connects somehow with Chopin’s music.  I feel a wave of happiness rising in my chest.

I see my friend combing the doll’s hair. The doll’s eyelids jump with every stroke of the comb.  The doll’s hair is dark and rather short.  I wish she had longer hair.  This is my second doll.  The first one’s eyes didn’t close and made her look like she was always somewhere else and never with me.  The second doll also cries when you turn her from her back to her stomach. But this becomes boring quickly.  I look at my friend’s face and I am happy to see her.  I look at her focused eyes and her lips pressed together as she goes through a tangled strain of the doll’s hair.

My second friend plays with the lead soldiers my father gave us.  There are dozens of them and they all come from different historical periods but we don’t know it. We have the Confederates from the XVIIth century on horses (like Kazimierz Pułaski on the famous watercolor by Julisz Kossak) fighting along with Polish soldiers in trenches from World War I.

None of us knows anything about the nuances of history.  All we know is that the ones on horses belong to one country and the ones with rifles belong to another country. And since the ones on horses are bigger and prettier, they are the Polish Army and the ones without horses (no doubt much slower in running) are the German Army.  Everyone knows that Germans will lose the war and no one is sorry for them.  Winning all the battles with Germans happens between combing the doll’s hair and putting up colorful walls, while Chopin’s music carries the romantic tune for us for hours on end.

And then the “it” happens!

My three-year old sister enters the room with the impetus of a giant.  In a split second I see the door flying open.  I see her pony tails, tied high above her ears, jumping up and down as she runs toward us screaming:

“Everyone back off!”

She is skinny and fast.

“Everyone back off!”

My friends turn to look at her. The comb in the doll’s hair stops suddenly as if stuck in the worse tangle ever and I see my friend’s eyes going from “focused” to “surprised” and from “surprised” to ” frightened.”

My second friend lifts a horse and stops in mid-air.  I see her confusion as she opens her mouth to say something but stops at the exact moment when her hand with the horse reaches the height of her chest.

My sister snatches the doll (with the comb still stuck in her hair) with one hand and the horse with the other faster than anyone can even process what’s happening.  And then she puts both under her stomach as she lies down on the heap of toys.  To make her point clear and strong, she spreads her arms and legs to cover the rest of the toys on the floor and screams:

“Everyone back off!  The toys are mine!”

Our friends resign without a word.  They get up slowly and quietly leave the room not looking at me or my sister.  My sister’s breath is fast.  I look at her blue dress and white tights.  And her pony tails pointing down to the floor.  I wonder about her face buried in the toys.

It will be many years from that moment before I am able to put into words what happened, and formulate the questions that entered my mind in a vague, perhaps subconscious way:

I want to know why my sister did it and I feel she doesn’t have an answer.  I want to know why I didn’t stop my friends from leaving and I know I don’t have the answer.  I want to know why I have enjoyed watching what was unfolding in front of my eyes even though I didn’t like what my sister was doing.

The “it” is my fascination with life, with “being in it” (playing with my friends) and “seeing it unfolding” (observing my sister).  And I am not sure which one is more appealing to me.

All I know is that I see a story and I want to tell it to someone.  Perhaps, I hope I can preserve the moment.  Perhaps, I hope that in telling I can also ask my questions.  Perhaps, I hope I can connect with someone who can help me to understand.  Perhaps, even answer my questions?

 

Images:

Kazimierz Pulaski: http://webart.omikron.com.pl/paint/authors/koss_ju/koss_ju1.htm

 

7 Responses to “It all started when I was six years old”

  1. Sylvia says:

    Danuta!
    A ja pamietam to cioci(twojej babci) lozko,takie duze z ogromna pierzyna,dokladnie pamietam ten dom i pamietam mieszkanie twoich rodzicow,na gorze!
    Jak przychodzilam w odwiedziny z moja mama to zawsze siedzielismy w pokoju goscinnym,takim jasnym,pelno w nim zdjec…opisujesz wszystko z takimi szczegolami.Bo i ja tez pamietam niektore rzeczy z mieszkania twojej babci i rodzicow i one sie totalnie zgadzaja.
    Pozdrawiam i jak zwykle przy okazji przypominam, ze z niecierpliwoscia czekam na ksiazke 🙂
    S_

  2. Magda says:

    To niesamowite ile nas łączy Pani Danuto! Gościcino jest naszą rodzinna miejscowością, obie mieszkałyśmy w dziadkami, ukończyłyśmy studia na tym samym uniwersytecie… oczywiście kierunek również jednakowy. Co więcej – nasze mamy często rozmawiały ze sobą podczas dojazdów do pracy. Pamiętam, że jako mała dziewczynka odwiedziłyśmy Pani mamę. Co prawda niewiele pamiętam, ale doskonale sobie przypominam, że była bardzo dumna ze swoich córek. Cieszę się, że mogę czytać Pani bloga. Pozdrawiam ciepło z zaśnieżonego Gościcina:D Magda S.

  3. ypatton says:

    Maybe she wanted privacy? Wanted not to have to always share? I will think about your story more today.

    Also, I enjoyed your Gościcino video. It felt like I was taking a visit.

  4. Mike Clark says:

    It is
    a broomstick
    swept
    across waves
    of goose feathers
    smoothed down
    so
    It
    won’t
    fly away
    as
    all
    time
    does.

    s/ Mike Clark

  5. Daniel Sanchez says:

    I remember my last Halloween.Halloween was my favorite time of year because each person became who they wanted to be for one night, I also liked it because of the all of the different colors it represented that matched the season. I was an energetic, fat, cartoon loving 7 year old. It was October 31st and my mother was helping me put the finishing touches on my batman costume. I was very excited and could not wait to trick or treat. I could not wait to see what kind of candy I was going to get from each home I went to. My father, my sister, and my cousin were ready to go.I stepped outside and I wasent myself anymore, I was batman. My mission was to get as much candy as possible more than my cousin and sister combined. I remember feeling the cool breeze that moved through the air that fall evening as I ran from house to house with excitment. After collecting as much candy as possible I dumped it all on the kitchen table, I sorted them by flavor and by brand. Candy tasted different back then I dont know why, maybe its because I hardly ate any as a child or simply because it was Halloween, what ever it was I am glad I was able to experience it and because of it I will never forget that one night on Halloween.