Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Charity in America

When we first arrived in Chicago in 1952, we were lost.

We had spent 6 years in the DP camps in Germany and another year outside of Buffalo, NY, working for a farmer who paid our passage over.

But now we were in Chicago, and we were lost.

We had nothing, just the things we brought with us from Germany, some plates, a crucifix, a wooden comb, some goose down pillows, a frying pan, and letters from a friend in America.

In Chicago we lived in dark rooms in small apartments that we shared with other DP families from the camps in Germany.  We were all people who had left everything behind, our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters.

We were alone and didn't know where anything in this new world was.  I remember one time my father went out looking for a store where he could buy some Polish sausage and my mom said to him, "Maybe they don't have kielbasa here."

I was 4 years old that first winter in America, and I remember staring out a window at the snow falling on the buses moving slowly up and down Milwaukee Avenue, and begging my father to take us back to the refugee camps in Germany.

We were lost in America -- but sometimes people helped us.

We didn't know who they were, what their names were, or why they helped us.  But they did.

Here's a poem I wrote about those people who helped us in Chicago during that first winter.


The women who came to our apartment
didn't speak Polish, and the only English
my parents knew was "Thank you, Missus,"
but they came and brought dresses for my mom,
rubber boots for my dad, cans of pork and beans
and loaves of bread for all of us,
and for my sister and me, comic books
and sometimes a hard rubber toy, a doll
or a red truck with a missing tire.

We didn't know who they were or how
they'd found us or even their real names.
But they had names: "dobra" and "fajna,"
and we knew what those words meant.
These were "good" and "fine" women.


The poem is from my book about our refugee experience, Echoes of Tattered Tongues.

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