During October, we celebrate Polish Heritage month, and we remember the great holidays like Christmas and Easter with all of their Polish customs and foods that we love so much. But, although we don't always think about it, opportunities to recognize our Polish heritage come up regularly in our lives, and not just in October and on holidays. Here are a few examples of moments from my life that were memorable because of my Polish heritage.
As a very young boy in the early 1940's, I was sitting at the family dinner table, and my father ask, "What did you do in school today?" My older brother volunteered, "I saw a Polack today." My father's blue eyes widened. He pursed his lips in an exaggerated expression of surprise and said, "Oh! And what did he look like -- this Polack?" Not really expecting an answer, and getting none, he motioned with his fork and continued, "Do you know that YOU are a Polack? Yes, all you kids are Polish." Then he proudly announced, "And I am Polish." This was my first recollection of being Polish. I quietly finished my soup wondering what my newly found nationality would bring.
Later, as a teenager at my first summer job, I was standing in line with the other laborers, and a self appointed work director came along asking each of us, "Dago or Polack?" When he got to me, I answered that I was Polish, and he said, "You go over there," motioning to a small group of other Polish guys a few feet away. My first day on that job was tough -- loading chunks of broken concrete onto a dump truck. I was proud of what I did, but without that informal census in front of the city garage, I might not have realized that I was working side-by-side with my fellow Polish-Americans.
While attending a dance as a young man, a pretty blue-eyed blonde had caught my eye, and I finally got up the courage to talk to her. We introduced ourselves and discovered that we had similar names -- mine was Gil Mros and hers was Jan Mrozka. I was usually at a loss for words when meeting new people, but our similar Polish names made the perfect icebreaker. That was over 40 years ago, and we are still happily married. I often wondered which direction that initial conversation, or my life, might have taken had it not been for our common Polish heritage.
A few years later, I was a new father sitting in the Church of the Holy Cross rectory as Monsignor Siegienski asked, "And the child's name?" "Stanley Peter," I replied. Laying down his pen, he leaned back in his chair for a moment and then said, "That's a good strong name. You don't get names like that much anymore." The Monsignor was right. Both my father and grandfather were named Stanley, and I wanted to keep that good Polish name in my family's heritage.
Then last year as visitors to Poland, Jan and I were singing with our Polish friends after a lovely dinner that the hostess had gone all out to provide. We joined in with the only words of the song that we knew, "Hej! Hej! Hej Sokoly!" Again, it was our Polish heritage that brought us to Poland and to its wonderful people for that truly enjoyable experience.
So you see, there is no need to wait for October or for a special holiday to celebrate your Polish heritage. Embrace it always, wear your Polishness on your sleeve, and be proud to be Polish every day of the year.
We recommend: Xenophobe's Guide to the Poles