It was sad, but not surprising to read in the Baltimore Sun this morning that there will be no Polish Festival this year. Although the festival plans to be up and running in 2012—albeit in a different location (the city raised permit and sanitation fees this year, and the organizers can no longer afford to hold it in Patterson Park), there really aren't that many old Poles left in the city. I should know, since almost no one older than my mom's generation is alive.
Yesterday, we met and had dinner with my dad's side of the family to discuss some things we had inherited after my grandfather died in December (he, along with my maternal grandmother, both passed). My aunts brought out some old pictures they'd found in my great aunt's house (she also passed away in December, along with a cousin). I was so touched to see my relatives, pressed faintly into photo paper, a reminder of the old weddings, beach outings, holidays. I wished I could slip into the pictures and know them. As a child until I was a young adult, I didn't care so much about my heritage. Polish people were the butt of jokes, and our blue-collar, working-class family was not the association I wanted to advertise to my new friends at college.
But as an adult, I became interested in my grandfather's time in World War II. But only after dementia had riddled his mind. Similarly with my grandmother and her recipes. My great aunts, uncles, grandparents have all died over the years, but I was too busy with work, with writing, with relationship problems, to do much more than attend the funeral and promise to keep in touch.
We received a sum of money from my grandfather. Enough to take a trip overseas, maybe something fun, or to save. Yet, I would give it all back to have a second chance to live my roots. These are the riches, I've realized too late, that my bones crave.