Everyone calls my husband’s grandmother Stella, although her first name is actually Anastasia. Stella is 92, and still lives in the house her husband built. Incidentally, when I was 10 or 11, the name I wished I had was Anastasia – I thought it was very cosmopolitan.
When Stella was 19 she fled Ukraine with a Catholic priest, eventually landing in America, where she made her way to a small town in Western New York State, to live with strangers. And there she made a life. She met a man and they settled down and had four daughters, one of whom in turn met a man and settled down in the same town, and had three children, including my future husband.
When you visit Stella’s house, you notice immediately the mix of American and Ukraine – an uneven blend that reflects a life lived in one place, and apart from another. Cyrillic letters wink tantalizingly on shelves from commemorative plates, or from postcards tucked behind framed photos on the walls. Shopping lists adorn the fridge in English, half-hidden behind the masses of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who populate the freezer door.
Everywhere you turn, you see a pattern repeated, trebled, overlapped, sifted to utter simplicity, and above all, relentlessly red and black. Mostly, the pattern appears on eggs. But it also appears on plates, on postcards, on nesting dolls, a ceramic pig. In Ukraine, embroidery is a national pasttime, and most women traditionally learn how to do their own regional embroidery. Stella doesn’t do embroidery (at least not now), but she does much else – crocheting, weaving, crafting. From her chair, from her loom, from her kitchen table, if she raises her eyes, she sees her pattern. Woven throughout her house, a snug house built by her husband for her to grow their family in, Ukraine whispers.
Stella has never been back to her village. Her home is instead an outpost of her culture. Pieces of her native land come find her, using her friends and family as a conduit to secure a spot on her shelves or a patch of wall. Her heritage has filtered down in smaller and smaller particles over successive generations. Even so, her great-grandchildren know what perogies are, and that they sit on their doupas.
When my own father was working on his vast family history project, he discovered, much to everyone’s surprise, that Stella’s village has changed beyond what you might expect over the past 75 years. It’s now in Poland.
This is my entry for the Daily Post one-word prompt: polish.