Happy New Year
My parents loved New Year’s Eve.
They loved dressing up in their fancy clothes. For weeks, my mom would search the department stores and dress shops on Milwaukee Avenue and Chicago Avenue looking for the most beautiful gown and shoes she could afford. For days, my dad would polish up his shoes again and again and make sure his best suit was free of any wrinkles and tears. They wanted to look as fancy as the Americans they dreamt of being.
They loved the spectacular ballroom they went to on New Year’s, the one in Wicker Park, on Wood Street just north of Division. They loved spending a long evening celebrating the coming year with their friends. These people – like my parents – were survivors. They survived the German invasion of Poland in 1939. They survived the years in the German slave labor camps. They survived seeing their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and friends killed by the Germans and the Russians. They survived the hardship of coming to America with nothing more than a wooden trunk filled with the few possessions they were able to gather together in the years they spent in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany waiting for some country like Canada or Australia or the United States to say finally, “Sure, we’ll let you come in, but it won’t be easy on you.”
My mother loved to dance the evening away. My father never learned to dance growing up, and so my mother would dance with anyone who looked like he or she was in need of a partner. She danced polkas and waltzes and tangos. She loved to hear the band on the stage play the old songs like “To ostatnia niedziela” and “Ada, to nie wypada” and “Dobranoc, kochanie” as she swirled around the dance floor with her friends and even strangers. Dancing, my mother would once again be the little girl who loved to dance with her sister Genja. My mother would once again be the girl she had been before the war killed her sister and ended all of her childhood.
And while my mom danced, my dad would sit at his table with his friends and talk about the war. They would talk a little about what they themselves suffered, but that wasn’t at the heart of their conversation. Whatever suffering they experienced was nothing compared to the suffering of those who hadn’t survived.
My dad and his friends would sit at the table drinking their drinks and talking about the friends they had lost in the war, about Andrzej and Piotr and Janus and Antoni, about their suffering and bleeding and dying.
And dancing and drinking and sharing stories, my parents and their friends said goodbye to the year that had passed and embraced the year that was coming.
Read more about my parents in my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues, available at Amazon and most bookstores.