Today is my Babcia’s birthday — in heaven. She would have been 99 today. Wow, right? She passed away in 2006 at the age of 88. My older daughter Lauren had the privilege of knowing her. My two little ones were not yet born, and it weighs heavy on my heart realizing that they have never known my stubborn, hard-working, generous gram.
It takes time to know and understand this wonderful woman. Helen Budzinski was born in northeast Pennsylvania of Polish immigrants in 1918 during the world-wide flu pandemic which was particularly deadly during that year. My dad says that it was her exposure to this flu virus that may have caused Babcie’s poor hearing. And, yessiree, her hearing was poor. Communication was mainly through shouts. No hearing aids for this woman. Did I mention she was stubborn? Hoo boy. And subsequently her speech was difficult to understand as well. She completed school only up to the eighth grade, during which time she quit her formal education to stay home and help her mother care for her step-father (a coal miner) and younger siblings.
Babcie wed in her early twenties, gave birth to a daughter a short time later, then went off to Maryland to work in a munitions plant during World War II. Her baby daughter (and husband? I am unclear on these details.) stayed behind in Old Forge. A few years later my dad was born, and a few years after that Babcie’s husband vanished for good. This woman was now left to raise two children on her own. I try to imagine the difficulties her situation posed. She was essentially uneducated, very hard of hearing, and trying to secure employment in a man’s world. Her “handicaps” instilled a sense of paranoia in her, making it quite hard for her to trust anyone.
I only have sketchy details in piecing together my babcie’s early life. Occasionally my dad recounts memories of his childhood. Some times seem to have been happy, family-oriented, and fulfilling. But if I listen carefully, or if rarely I get to hear the not-so-happy stories of his childhood, I learn about times of sadness, fear, anger and poverty. I listen. I absorb. I imagine. I allow my heart and soul to open and to soak up the daily life of this woman and her young family. Babcie’s life certainly was not for the faint of heart. I ponder some more. Hell, any hardship I encounter in my cushy life is not nearly the tough times my gram and her two children went through. Press on, I can!
Don’t get me wrong. Babcie had much extended family nearby, and they were a tremendous help and support for her and my dad and aunt. I imagine there were nice times. Times when meals were shared, and happy occasions like holidays and weddings were celebrated. I have certainly been to plenty of Polish weddings, and they are fun and happy like no other weddings! One of my favorite customs at a Polish wedding (aside from the yummy food!) is the Bridal Dance, where traditionally wedding guests must pay money to dance with the bride. The Redovy polka plays as the bride twirls and whirls round and round with each guest. Her maid of honor sits nearby collecting the loot in a pretty apron.
I offer traditional Polish wedding accessories for sale in my online bridal shop Sto Lat A Wedding Shop. Each time I sew up a beautiful Bridal Apron, or a delicate lace Babushka, I not only think of the recipient. — how happy and wonderful her wedding day will be for her, but I also remember my Babcie. I think of the meaningful Polish traditions and customs she passed down to me and my family. I remember her life, her love and her work ethic. And I am strengthened. I love you, Babc, and I miss you. Happy Birthday in heaven. Sto Lat! ❤