Memories

The Clean Plate Club

Have you ever spoken the words “finish your dinner, or… else – some consequence directed at one of your kids or grand kids? Or do you remember hearing those words growing up?

There are many phrases about meal time struggles with parents and children each having an opinion about what foods the kids need to eat before having dessert or leaving the table. One favorite one comes to mind is “Eat those peas or beans – you can’t leave the table until you do.” To this day my husband won’t eat a pea or a bean. Power struggles between parents and children produce no winners but they do produce vivid memories.

I grew up with food being precious and the edict in my home was you have to eat everything on your plate. It was sacrilegious to waste food. I was raised to be in “the clean plate club”.

If you knew my parents you would understand why they felt this way. The mere fact that they had no money may be reason enough, but also knowing that they were starved during the early years of World War II, would be the better reason for their strong feelings on the subject.

I recently read this about the starved Polish population from Siberia during the war – “Once they were starved in Siberia by the Soviets, they were always obsessed with food.” My dad in particular showed his propensity for weight gain more than my mother. These are some before and after shots of him – the one of the left was after he was released from a Soviet prison and the one on the right was a couple of years later when he was in the Second Corps of the Polish Army, eating well and when not training or in battle, enjoying life.

before and after tatus (2)

My mom had an interesting relationship with food. As I mentioned there was no food waste in my house growing up. If it was on your plate you ate it. Later in life we would have these lively discussions when I visited Mom. We discussed the pros and cons of not eating when you were not hungry.

So here we had a woman, my mom, who was not only obsessed about having to eat everything on her plate but also obsessed with her weight. I think she realized that because she was no longer being starved, she had a tendency to gain weight when she ate too much or made bad choices. She then ate other “non-fattening” foods like popsicles that had 10 calories or the no fat whipped cream that comes in a container which helped to keep her weight down. She loved her sweets and enjoyed them because they had few calories. Even with this license to eat, she would pace herself and only eat the sweets for dessert or in the evening as a treat.

When the grand kids were at her house for a visit, Mom had many snacks in the house and they knew where to find them, like bread sticks, cookies, and all sorts of crackers. She was known for her popsicles because they were the brand that had a joke on every stick. She loved to tell those kidly knock – knock jokes; many of which she learned while eating the popsicles.  These are some of the memories my children have of their grandmother.Mama and kids

We all have an individual relationship with food, either as a panacea for an emotional or physical ill or as a bribery weapon against someone else. Eating your feelings is a good example of how some react as opposed to eating to live. Living to eat is more fun but then eventually life catches up with that choice.

Unknowingly this phrase “Clean Plate Club” actually had an origin. After the two major wars and the Great Depression, when food was scarce, our government instituted the club to help people realize that when they had food, not to waste it. The government drew on the public’s patriotism from during the wars and knew people wanted to help. The concept primarily focused on school children with a pledge that read, “At table I’ll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I’ll not eat between meals, but for supper time I’ll wait.” This idea grew impractical over time as lifestyles changed and people became overweight, as our portion sizes grew.

As children my brother and I struggled with being overweight in a time when society did not have its current weight issues.Sunday at the creek

Most of my adult life, I have been obsessed with watching my weight just like my mother. So much for the “Clean Plate Club”, but in my house there is very little food waste. If you don’t cook as much food, you won’t have to eat it all, and if you don’t put as much food on your plate, you’ll have left overs.

Weddings and Anniversaries – a Tribute

Recently I attended two weddings. The first one was my own daughter’s wedding, my youngest, which was in the planning process for months and the other one was  my niece’s wedding. Both were well organized and each was a distinctive celebration. Each wedding had a beautiful weather day, with a striking setting, and both receptions were good parties. But I must admit my daughter’s was by far the best. I may be a bit partial, however.

Anniversaries are time honored milestones in a marriage and recently my son and daughter-in – law celebrated their 8th anniversary. Remembering my own wedding 46 years ago feels like it was not that long ago. Then I recall the day my parents celebrated their anniversary every year, October 3rd, which is today. They would have been married 74 years had they lived. My dad predeceased mom by 30 years and every year when October 3rd rolled around, mom would count the number of years they would have been married had he lived. Many people seem to revel in the numbers as if it were a badge of courage they wear surviving so long with their partner.

Getting back to the two weddings I recently attended, I can only speak to the preparations for my daughter’s wedding. She painstakingly made sure all her details were nailed down. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. Her wedding was perfectly orchestrated and simply lovely, a fairy tale wedding. She was a radiant bride who also had fun at her own wedding.Samantha and Braden 162

The wedding planning process seems to change over time as new concepts and fun activities for guests or wedding party members enter into the planning. Being married almost a half a century, at the time of my wedding, there were no bachelorette parties. Comfort items for guests now include goody bags at hotel check in for out of town guests.  Receptions are usually elaborate to keep guests entertained and well fed.

My thoughts now go back to when my parents were married. It was October 3, 1943 in an army tent, in the Palestinian desert. Their life was in the middle of World War II. They were both in the Polish Second Corps which was the reorganized Polish fighting force made up of both men and women, many of whom were once exiled to Stalin’s Siberia. In Stalin’s Soviet Union they were slave laborers deported out of their homes, political prisoners, or POW’s following the invasion of Poland in September 1939. My parents each had their horror stories from the invasion of their country and all the repercussions that followed.

They had met each other the winter before the war started in mom’s home town, and somehow miraculously found each other during the war, after each was released from captivity and then struggled to make it to where the army was forming. My mom was able to join the protection of the army by becoming an auxiliary support person, a nurse. She received nurse’s training in Tehran, Iran and my dad became a fighting soldier again, as a light artillery specialist, which was his training before the war. Many of their stories I share in my upcoming book, “Letters from the Box in the Attic, A Story of Courage, Survival and Love”.

Their many post-war struggles kept them together for 36 years, until my dad died in 1979. It amazes me that I’ve been married 10 years longer than they were. I am very fortunate to still have my spouse and to keep clocking up those years. Wedding vows usually say, for better or for worse and my parents kept their devotion to each other alive during their married life, even though some of the time their relationship was rocky. Here’s to devotion and for better or for worse!

Happy Anniversary, Mama and Tatuś! I hope you are able to celebrate 74 years on this your anniversary.

Grandma’s Simple Family Values

Samantha’s wedding is this coming week; finally here after so much planning.  As the mother of the bride, I need to reflect not only about my baby, but on how family has influenced my life and the family relationships which develop. The dawn of a new life which my baby and her fiancee are about to enter, has arrived. The memories I have of Samantha as a child, I hope I never forget as I grow older and seeing the young woman she has become, makes me proud. But when did this little girl grow up? She did so right before my very eyes, and now brings with her a young man to complement our family. As our family is about to become larger, we will be forever be connected not only to her fiancee but to his family.

May I just say that we are blessed to love our soon to be son-in-law and his parents, including their other son, his wife and their babies. As we add other families into ours, we continue to be blessed, as with the addition of our daughter-in-law and her family.

Now what would grandma, my mom, say about her youngest granddaughter getting married, if she were alive? She has been gone for a while in time, but never far from the heart.

She would be thrilled that Samantha is so happy and about to be married. Simply put, she would say, if Samantha loves Braden; then I love him as my new grandson. It’s as simple as that. Her family values were not complicated. They were a reflection of how she viewed the world – that family comes first.

The future is bright for Samantha and Braden and we trust they will be happy. As a mother, I wish I could wave a magic wand over my daughter and her fiancee’s heads to assure their happiness. In the meantime I just need to trust and love.

We welcome Braden and his mom and dad, his brother and his young family to our family. We are now forever connected.

 

 

The Kitchen and the Attic

These are my parents, Zdzislaw and Stanislawa Serbinski, who spent much time in their kitchen. My dad would start reading the paper with his morning coffee while mom did her daily crossword puzzle. This photograph, taken by my brother Andrew, is a special reminder of our parents.

The kitchen is a focal point of family life in most homes. It’s not just where meals are prepared but also where lively conversations start and stop, a gathering space for friends and family.

This kitchen was in the first and only home my parents bought after living in the United States for 12 years. The purchase was in the summer of 1963; they were proud. This kitchen is where my mother made her famous pierogi’s on a pastry board, on that table. She never had any counter space. The kitchen is where we would spend hours talking while I was home from college on breaks. This is the kitchen where mom collapsed from a stroke while making a cup of tea on the night of February 17, 2007.

This kitchen brings back many memories of time spent in that house. I was already in junior high when we moved in, so time living there was short.  But I spent more time there after my marriage, bringing the grand kids to mom’s house. My memories are a blend from several decades.

Unlike the kitchen, the attic was never a place where anyone went unless sent there on a specific mission. It had always been in disrepair, as I remember, with falling plaster and in need of paint. Mom did, however, do a lot of DIY repairs to it over the years, just like in the basement. By the time the house was to be sold, the attic looked good.

And then there were all those letters, documents and old photos up there too. Having found the box in the attic, with all the memorabilia that mom saved, set the stage for constructing the details of mom’s past. The joy of my life has been exploring the past – my mother’s past through those letters.  With all its contents, the box in the attic represented a link to those days which either brought a smile to her face or brought back horrifying memories, all of which defined who she was.

The box had letters written primarily in the 1940’s between mom and dad during the war, as well as communication with dad’s family during and after the war. Since my mom liked to keep anything sentimental, she even saved letters from me while I was away at school. Talk about a journey into the past!

You may have gathered that my family was not born here in the United States. Yes, my parents were Polish, born and raised in Poland. In the U.S. they raised two children to speak the Polish language and to like Polish food. The language is hard, while the food is often quite good, if you like it! To keep up a language when you hardly ever speak it is really difficult. The saying, “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” is so true. But I love the fact that I try to speak another language.

The journey into my mother’s life, found in Letters From the Box in the Attic: a Story of Courage, Survival, and Love, is my labor of love. She grew up in Poland, suffered trauma during the war, came to the United States where she and my dad hoped to experience the American Dream. They bought a little house in a quaint town with an inviting old kitchen and saved their memories in a box in the attic.

After much research, including travel to Poland, and letter translations, I started the writing process. Letter From the Box in the Attic will soon be unveiled. This post and others will introduce this piece of non-fiction, as I tell her story.