Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day one thousand two hundred and eighty three . . . For Polska



My mom would be so proud.

I mean, if she's out there somewhere in the cosmos, the ether, the universe of the unknown, and there's some way she can see what her boy has accomplished since she left her mortal coil she would undoubtedly be so thrilled that her hard work had paid off--the thirty five years she put into me through thick and thin--I'm sure her smile would be so wide it would clear up the grayest skies and cheer up the saddest souls the heavens had ever had to put up with.

But right now, if she's watching, she'd see her boy in Poland--one of her favorite destinations--and she'd see me making friends, pronouncing what little vocabulary I have, properly, and sharing little tidbits of info that she, herself, had imparted to me years ago.

She would also see that I will be reuniting with some distant relatives who will be coming to see me perform with the Young at Heart--the reason why I'm here. Great aunts, great cousins and even greater nieces--five people in all--will be coming to see me and spend a little time on Wednesday.

It's all amazing stuff. I mean, these people came to Berlin when I played there in 2006--an eight hour drive from where they live--and brought me back to their house for a couple of days right before Thanksgiving. This trip was made even more special by the fact that I was able to call my mom from their house and say hello, and they could say hello, and we could all connect in one room on one phone while my mother was right there on the other end. It was an amazing experience. And looking back on it a very fortunate event as she would only be with us for another six weeks. She had always thought that one day we would go to Poland together. I even remember a time when I was a kid when she tried teaching me one Polish word a day. That didn't last very long. But here I was, in the country of my ancestors actually spending time with family. And family had always seemed to be in short supply on our particular branch of the Johnson tree. But these people rolled out the red carpet for me. They made me a meal that only happens at Christmas. Dorota--my great aunt--spent the better part of a whole day toiling in the kitchen to put this lavish feast on the table. It was amazing, to say the least. Pierogi, golumki, kielbasa, kielbaski (small kielbasa stirred with grain alcohol and set on fire . . . I kid you not), rabbit paté, smoked salmon, crazy-good chocolate, and special vodka from special vodka glasses.

Oh yes, this was back in "the day." And those days were not that long ago when I really stop to think about it. Regardless of whether I took my last drink of alcohol three and a half years this past June 27th, that time in my life is still very fresh in my mind. I hope it remains that way, too. I don't want to rehash it every day and beat myself over the shoulder with a ball-ended whip, but I do want to have some kind of contrast to my current clean life. With nothing to compare it to I may think that I can do whatever I want, and that kind of thinking didn't often work out so well.

And as much as I regret the way I felt waking up after our last night in Berlin--like a dead, drunk, sewer rat, if that can be imagined in human, living form--I am glad that I went through it. Like I said, contrast can focus commitment and further understanding. It's a very powerful thing.

But all the planets are aligning on this trip. I tell people my name is Frederyk (pronounced Fred-EHR-eck, with the first "r" rolled) and they say "like Chopin?". And I get to say "yes, like Chopin." And it's nice to hear it because my mom said my name that way when she was in a particularly silly mood.

There was a lot of Polish spoken around my house when I was younger and my babush (my grandmother) was around (maiden name: Machnik); she spoke it fluently. We would go over to my aunt Stacia's house in Taunton every week or two and her and my babush and my mom would sit around and talk and eat pastries. I would sit in the other room and be a good boy and make my puppets. Sometimes I'd go out in the yard and look for trouble, but really my trouble at that time consisted of going down the street too far. And when you're eight years old and can't buy your own snacks from the store--and your aunt Stacia had a house full of Polish pastries--you don't stray too far too often.

A woman on the crew is named Judyta. It's the Polish spelling of Judith and it's pronounced You-DIT-ah. I haven't heard that name said that way in a long time. It was the way my aunt always called my mom when she was in a particularly silly mood.

It all makes me so happy.

I got an email from another bunch of relatives yesterday, completely out of the blue. They had no idea that I was here in Poland. It came with several pictures of me as a child: me with my mom, and, my mom, my babush, and this woman who's granddaughter was writing to me. She found her way to me through this very blog. When I was reading her email I initially thought it was a set-up. But who on earth would possibly set me up like that?

I can't explain so much of what happens to me these days. I'm just happy to have these surprises coming to me on a seemingly regular basis. There used to be all kinds of things that happened to me that I couldn't explain, but the reasons behind those events were very much of this earth. I don't forget much anymore. I don't have a reason to. Sometimes I wish I didn't notice so much as I do--the little things, mostly, nothing of much consequence. But I'll take my heightened sense of awareness over the heightened sense of cluelessness any day.

It's late here and I'm going to finish up. It's been six weeks since I had anything to say. Tonight I just decided it was as good a time as any to chatter on a bit.

I have good chocolate in my hotel desk drawer. I have clean clothes in my dresser. I have a tuned guitar waiting for me at the performance space. I have a sold out crowd to play for tomorrow. I have a hankering for some quinoa salad and a nice slab of broiled, wild-caught salmon that will have to wait a week. I have thirty or so fellow travelers scattered around this Poznan, Poland Novotel. I have blood relatives coming to the show on Wednesday and a buch more that just crawled out of the woodwork (and if there's something Poland has a lot of it's woodwork). I have a beautiful girlfriend who loves me. I have a clear memory of all my actions. I have a bed with two semi-comfortable pillows waiting for me three feet away.

And I have Poland.

My mother would be so proud.

Her little Frederyk has come back home.

"Dobranoc", (dough-BRA-notes) would be what she'd say to me every night--every night that she could no matter how old her little boy got.

I can still hear her gentle, soothing voice in my head before I go to bed most nights.

And I will let tonight be no different than the rest.


Thanks for reading,

~F.A.J.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dziękuję Pan Frederyk. I've enjoyed your tour updates on FB, and was particularly moved by this tribute.

Good travels.

Best,

Duke J.

MALOWANY IMBRYCZEK said...

Nice post :) I'm from Poland :) But golumki - it's wrong :) GOLOMBKI is correct :) I hope you really like polih kichen :) we love cooking and this tradition is really important for most of us :)

Best,

Agnieszka G. (Agnes)
Poland