POLAND, January 2011

The Funeral

MY 11TH (and saddest) VISIT






Sunday, January 8, 2011

Dallas to Chicago to Warsaw


Monday, January 11, 2011

Warsaw to Chicago to Dallas


SATURDAY, January 8, 2011

My husband and I had to make an unscheduled trip to Poland. I am writing this to share my experiences in yet another part of Polish life/culture.

If you feel lost reading this then please read my Trip Diary from July 2010. If you'd like to "cut to the chase" then click on the "Trip Index Page" link at the top of this page, then select "Poland July 2010, part 4" and then scroll down to July 15.

I will have some photos from this trip on my web site under FUNERAL 2011.

You might remember that one of the wonderful things we did in Poland last summer was to attend the three day wedding of Karol and Natalia. My family has known Karol (27) since 1996 when he was 13 years old. Karol's parents are about my age and we had become so close that we cry every time we have to leave them after a visit. We exchange large boxes of presents at Christmas and we always take gifts when we visit them, staying in their home. Karol has stayed with us for two months at a time, twice.

After the wedding in July, Karol's father, Stefan took a trip around the world which included a few stops in the U.S. His trip was made with a few coworkers. They didn't stop in Texas though! Hmph!

In December, 2010, Karol called me but I wasn't home. I called his mother's house thinking he was there when he called me. Barbara, Karol's mother answered the phone. I said, "To ja Debbie." Barbara said, "Dehhhhbi, Karol nie ....." I understood that Karol was not there. Barbara kept talking and the words I understood were, "Stefan, chora, szpital and papierosy" (her husband, sick, hospital and cigarettes). I knew this was not good. I knew Stefan, age 55, was already insulin dependent. In Polish, I told Barbara I would call Karol the next day. Instead, a few minutes later the phone rang, "Hahlo?" It was Karol. He called to say that in November his father was diagnosed with cancer in both lungs and another organ. I just knew the prognosis would not be promising. Stefan had already been through one round of chemo therapy and was scheduled for round two on January 4. Stefan continued to smoke - in the hospital!

Barbara had apparently smashed some bones in her right hand and could not drive (manual transmission). Karol had to be his mother's chauffeur to her doctor and to the hospital which meant he couldn’t work. Karol thanked us for the Christmas presents and apologized for not sending our presents. I couldn't believe they were concerned about this considering what they were going through!

The whole family works for the same company. The owner is Stefan's cousin. Barbara and Karol were given paid time off from work because of Stefan's health problems. I am sure this whole situation was difficult for the newlyweds, Karol and Natalia.

Marek, the company's owner gave Karol and Natalia a rent-free apartment for three years as a wedding present. This would give Karol's parents enough time to do a little renovating on their home so Karol and Natalia could eventually move in and upon the deaths of his parents, own the home. This is the custom in Poland.

On Saturday, January 8, I received a call from a tearful Karol. He said he had sad news. I knew immediately. Stefan had died that day at 2:25 p.m. Poland time. Karol could not talk. For a few minutes we could only share the crying. I was finally able to learn that the funeral would be on Wednesday, January 12. I told Karol how sorry I was and expressed my love for him and his mother.

I immediately told my husband and younger son, who still lives at home. The question was, should we go to the funeral? My biggest concern was that I did not want to be a burden on Barbara and Karol. I did not want to be the center of attention but I did want them to know how much we cared. I called my cousin in the U.S. whose own mother had died in Bukowsko just before Christmas and asked for her advice. She was very helpful.

After pondering the situation for awhile my husband and I decided to go for it. I called Aleksandra Kacprzak in Grudziądz to see if she would be available for hire, to spend a night in Solec Kujawski and be our interpreter so Karol would not feel obligated to be with us all the time. I knew there were two hotels in the town (gmina) though I couldn't remember the names of them. As it turned out Aleksandra could not be with us on the day of the funeral but would be there Thursday and leave Friday night.

I never thought it was possible to make arrangements for flights, two hotels and a car in a matter of hours. It usually takes forever for us to do this but of course we were flying in and out of the same airport, Warsaw, and only going to one city, Solec Kujawski in old województwo Bydgoszcz.

Before I called Aleksandra, I made reservations on United Air Lines to Chicago and then LOT Air Lines to Warsaw and not trusting my Polish made reservations at the Holiday Inn in Bydgoszcz which is the big city to the west of Solec Kujawski. The second hotel was at the Warsaw airport for our last night in Poland. This is the same hotel we stayed in last summer and the rates were the same! In fact the Holiday Inn and Courtyard by Marriott were both about $85.00 a night.

By the way, the rate of exchange was absolutely horrible; 3 złoty to $1.00.


I did something different and rented a car from Avis, for 1/3 of what we paid in the summer. We were charged $544.54 for six days which included a second driver (my husband) but no comprehensive insurance. Yes, it is cheaper to visit Poland in the winter. Our airfare was $2385.30. I think if we had been able to make our reservations in advance, the airfare would have been less.

A drawback for us was that we didn't have a closet-full of winter clothes but winter clothes are heavy. We were allowed 22 kg /44 pounds for each piece of checked luggage. Since we were only going to be in Poland a week we didn't need to take too many clothes but we did need a change for each day since we didn't think we'd be able to do any washing of clothes.

Things at my house on Saturday, January 8 were hectic to say the least. Appointments had to be changed, people called, "to do" list typed for Josh, move "stuff" from my computer to Dave's laptop, call our older son, pack, get cash from the bank and take down the rest of the Christmas decorations from the yard. The inside tree would have to wait. Due to our late flight reservations we weren't able to get seat assignments except for the trip from Warsaw back to Chicago. Weird that we couldn't get seat assignments from Chicago back to Dallas.

SUNDAY, January 9, 2011

We woke up to rain and threats of 3 inches of snow. Great. We decided to get to the airport really early for two reasons: 1) We had to get our seat assignments from Dallas to Chicago and from Chicago to Warsaw and 2) we wanted to see if we could get out of Dallas before the snowstorm. If we got stuck in Dallas we'd never get to Poland in time for the funeral.

We couldn't get out on an earlier flight from Dallas so we had lunch, bought a sympathy card and waited at the airport for about five hours. Our flight left on time and arrived at Chicago at about 7:00 p.m. We had plenty of time to take the tram to another terminal and eat a Chicago hot dog (pies gorąco).

Our LOT flight left at 9:55 p.m. We hadn't traveled through Chicago to Poland since 2000 when two of our five suitcases disappeared from American Air Lines. No problems with this flight and we arrived in Warsaw on time.

MONDAY, January 10, 2011

The reason the funeral was four days after Stefan's death was because the "offices" were closed in the city and arrangements could not be made right away. Also, Stefan was buried in the same grave as his grandmother, mother, Florentyna and aunt, Waleria, so the headstone had to be removed and the grave opened. I knew the cemetery's location as I had visited it after Florentyna and Waleria died.

Aleksandra had called Karol for me to get the particulars on the funeral and mentioned that the family would go to a restaurant afterwards. This brought up all sorts of questions. Where is there a restaurant in Solec Kujawski? Who pays to feed all these people?

I was pretty sure we wouldn't have a translation problem at the funeral and dinner since, I assumed, Karol's friends would be there and most of them spoke English.

Aleksandra also took care of ordering flowers for us which we picked up the day of the funeral. The banner across the flowers would read, "Drogiemu przyjacielowi, Dawid, Debbie, Joshua, Aron."

As soon as we arrived we changed a little money at the airport kantor. OMG! The rate was even worse! 2.60 złoty to $1.00. We hadn't brought enough cash which meant we'd have to use our credit card and I didn't like to do that because our bank charges a fee for the "exchange" of the currency charged. We had no choice but to charge some things.

We also bought a SIM card for my husband's phone. This is the cheapest way to make phone calls in Poland.

No problem picking up the car. However, what we thought was a normal 2 1/2 hour drive from Warsaw to Bydgoszcz took us 5 hours through heavy fog and icy spots. (I realized later that the drive should take about 4 hours.) It was slow going for most of the way and it got dark at about 4:00 p.m. and was pitch black by 5:00 p.m. This meant driving on roads without street lights and that very necessary white line that marks the shoulder of the road.

We had only one problem on the road. The fog was so thick it was a "white-out." At one point I was headed straight for a blockade because I couldn't see the road turn for the ice/snow. I was going very slow though so I was able to make the turn just in time.

Driving to Bydgoszcz we passed Solec Kujawski and noticed a new hotel right there on the highway but we continued on since we had a reservation at the Holiday Inn in Bydgoszcz. We arrived, found the hotel (I had brought city maps of Warsaw and Bydgoszcz and a map of Poland), checked-in, ate in the restaurant, unpacked and went to bed.

This was a very nice hotel, being brand new. The staff was incredibly nice and even the waitresses could speak a little English. We ended up changing hotels though because in my haste to make a reservation I didn't realize that breakfast and parking were not included in the room rate. Suddenly, $85.00 a night became $145.00 per night and worse depending on whether I used a 3 złoty or 2 złoty exchange rate. It was hard to leave that hotel because the room and bathroom were so nice, but my thriftiness won over.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

After breakfast at the Holiday Inn I called that new hotel in Solec Kujawski, the Hotel Autos and the receptionist spoke English. I was shocked! Then we quickly packed and checked out of the Holiday Inn. It is only about 20 minutes from Bydgoszcz to Solec Kujawski.

We needed to do some shopping so we drove a little ways until we found a Tesco. Any store would have been fine though. We bought vodka and candy for Barbara, vodka, dried mushrooms, chrzan, porzeczka jam, three pair of leather slippers and candy to take home. Our plan was to locate the church and the flower shop in Solec Kujawski and then check into the hotel and not call Barbara. We decided she and Karol were probably too busy to be bothered by us; we would see them at the funeral.

We left for Solec Kujawski taking the back road which we had been down many times before with Stefan. We located the flower shop and then after making sure the church near the rynek wasn't St. Michał's (where the funeral would be) we drove to Barbara's parish which is only a few blocks from her house. I wanted to make sure that this church was St. Michał's. The only other car there looked awfully familiar. We parked in front of the church and there on the sidewalk, in front of the priest's house stood . . . Barbara and Karol. What were the odds? They were waiting to talk to the priest. We got out of the car and hugged and cried for the longest time.

After protests by us (a waste of time) we all drove back to their house. There we were met by one of Barbara's sisters, Ania, a cousin of Stefan's, Maryla, and a niece of Barbara's, Beata. We had not seen Beata in nine years; she grew up! These three women were staying with Barbara, cooking and taking care of things for her. They were surprised to see us. Ania cried upon seeing us. I was surprised at that since I'd only just met her in July at Karol's wedding.

Barbara's right wrist was in bad shape. Even though the doctor had put three pins in the arm, the bones had not healed straight and her hand was still swollen and hurt.

As is the Polish custom, we ate almost immediately. Natalia was sick and stayed at home. I gave Barbara the sympathy card I had bought at the airport. I had written a few phrases which Aleksandra had translated into Polish, via email. The card read, ""Bedzie nam brakowalo Stefana prawie tak bardzo jak Tobie. Zawsze odwiedzalismy Go z wielka radoscia. Byl wspanialym czlowiekiem. Kochamy Cie Szkoda, ze nie moge byc przy Tobie. Debbie" ("We will miss Stefan almost as much as you will miss him. We always enjoyed visiting with him. He was a wonderful man. We love you. I (Debbie) wish I could stay here for you."

Barbara immediately started crying and this triggered my tears. Barbara said how happy she was that we were there.

At 4:00 p.m. we drove to the kapliczka (about 5 minutes from the house if there isn't a train) in the cemetery where Stefan's body was kept until burial, for a rosary. The ground was covered in ice and snow and Barbara and I walked arm in arm. The kapliczka had two outer rooms where the coffins were kept. This was not like a refrigerated room in a funeral home. The temperatures were hovering around freezing so keeping the body here was no problem even though bodies are not embalmed. The main room of the kapliczka held about 45 people sitting and standing. Karol and a cemetery worker rolled Stefan's coffin into the main room. After a few minutes a friend of Barbara's lead the rosary.

It was very cold in this room - the same temperature as outside. No flowers except for a single yellow rose on the coffin. I could remember asking my grandmother to teach me the "Hail Mary" when I was very young. Apparently that interest waned because hearing it now in Polish was foreign to me. Saying the rosary took about 1/2 hour. At the end Karol opened the casket and held it open so everyone could pay their respects. Stefan looked so thin. I was surprised at how well he looked without embalming. It was heart breaking though watching Karol hold the casket open for the duration and then watching him wheel the casket back into the holding room.

Afterwards we walked to the grave which had already been opened. It was just one big empty hole. The time was not right to ask what became of the caskets of Stefan's grandmother, mother and aunt. I didn’t think enough time had passed for the last two to deteriorate.

The family along with cousin Marek, the company owner and his son, Łukasz, went back to the house to eat. Marek always takes charge of the conversation. He always has a lot of questions for us about life and politics in the U.S. Marek likes to discuss controversial and difficult topics but we are always up for it. Between Karol, Łukasz and Beata the languages were translated back and forth.

Karol called Natalia and handed me the phone. After Natalia answered, I asked, "Natalia?" and she said, "Hello Debbie." She recognized my voice! We talked for a few minutes and she invited us to their apartment on Thursday after she arrived home from work.

At 7:00 p.m. we left the house for the hotel. True to form, I was stopped by a policeman. Wow, this was early in the trip! Two policemen were discussing something with a truck driver and one of the policemen waved me over after I turned onto the small street in front of the hotel. After I gave my usual spiel of, "Nie mowie dobrze po polsku. Jestem amerykanka," in perfect English (a first!), the policeman told me that I had made an illegal turn. I disagreed with that but he stuck with it. He was very nice and told me to drive safely. Well, at least that was out of the way. I figured I wouldn't be stopped again during this trip.

We had no problem checking-in. We walked up two flights of stairs to our first floor room. The hotel was not as nice as the Holiday Inn; a bit more primitive but fine.

We unpacked, turned down the heat in the room and opened the window. The temperature outside was still around freezing (1C/32F) but the room and the comforters on the beds were just too warm for us. At first I thought the comforters were real pierziny but they were only filled with foam!

WEDNESDAY January 12, 2011

We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 8:45 a.m. in order to leave the hotel by 9:15.

We drove to the florist (kwarciania) to pick up the flowers. I had asked Aleksandra to convey that we wanted a good-sized arrangement but not larger than Marek's (owner of Solbet company). We had a little difficulty explaining to the clerks in the store why we were there as the order was not placed under our surname (nazwisko) but under our given names (imię). It didn't take long though for us to work things out. The wreath was indeed ready. It was an original design in that it had purple and white tulips on it. The wreath cost 250 złoty.

We drove to the cemetery to meet the family at the kapliczka. I slipped on the ice and fell but wasn't hurt. It was really cold out and I wasn't dressed quite appropriately but there was nothing I could do about that. I just didn’t have warm clothes in my closet.

Everyone was dressed in black. Many people left their flowers in the kapliczka, as did we. A cemetery worker hung our wreath on one of the stands in front of the casket. Karol once again opened the lid of the casket so he, his mother and others could say goodbye to Stefan. From there we drove to the church for a rosary followed by a high mass at 11:00 a.m. The casket did not go to the church. There were about 400 people in attendance! I was amazed. Stefan, an only child, had been born, was raised and worked in this town so he was clearly known and loved by many.

The church was still decorated for Christmas and looked very pretty. There were no funeral flowers brought to the church. Two other priests who were friends of Stefan's joined the pastor in the mass. One nun and three postulants came from Chełmno. They, too, were friends of Stefan's.

Outside of the church on a sign board was Stefan's death and funeral notice. This is a common practice in Poland. Unfortunately, Stefan's death date and age were incorrect. Something quite new to Poland are laminated memorial cards similar to the funeral/mass cards given out by U.S. Catholic families. On the front was a picture of Jesus' resurrection and on the back was Stefan's name, age, date of birth, death date and the cemetery in which he was buried. His age and death date were incorrect here as well. The people who arranged the funeral were responsible for these mistakes and they did reprint the mass cards - but two days after the funeral. Also on the card was a request "from" the deceased to think of him and pray for him. It was quite touching.

After mass people offered their condolences to the family outside of the church. We kissed and said hello to many family members and family friends we knew. Everyone drove back to the cemetery. No limousine, no flower car, no hearse, no funeral stickers on the cars, no police escort. The family had, however, hired a bus to take people from the church to the cemetery. Several years ago this would have been a necessity since most people did not have cars but now-a-days, almost everyone owns a car. Only seven people took the bus. The cemetery is about a mile and a half from this church.

Back at the cemetery 400+ people gathered up and down the aisles of the cemetery leading to the kapliczka. Six men who were hired funeral "home" pall bearers wearing clothes that made them look almost priestly (black and purple caped cassocks with ruffled shirts) placed the casket onto a rolling cart to take it to the grave. They were led to the grave by a man carrying a wooden cross with a temporary metal headstone plaque on it. There was singing and a trumpet played during this short procession. Dave and I recognized the trumpet song but could not name it.

We were not very close to the grave but I could see that Barbara, Karol and Natalia were each holding a rose. The priest blessed the grave and Stefan's coffin was lowered into the ground. It was painful to watch Karol and Barbara saying goodbye to Stefan.

Immediately people placed their flowers on top of the coffin and paid their respects to the family. I noticed that several older men were crying. That was very moving. The grave was not covered with dirt at this point but there were so many flowers you couldn't even see the grave. All of the flowers and bouquets had ribbons with sentiments on them as well as the name(s) of whomever gave the flowers.

Dave and I hugged Barbara, Karol and Natalia. (Natalia was feeling well enough to attend the funeral.) All I could say in Polish was "I'm sorry."

We gave kisses to Natalia's parents and her brother, more cousins of Stefan whom we'd met previously, as well as friends of Karol's.

Leaving the cemetery for the stypa (a specific name for this dinner) at the Hotel Leśny, Dave fell. We were one for one.

The Hotel Leśny is just down the street from Barbara's house. If a train isn't blocking the way, it would take about 10 minutes to get from one end of Solca to the other. This town is a gmina and probably comparative in size to other "small" town gminas in Poland.

Even though the dinner was for family only, the parking lot was jam-packed. I guess there were 150 people in attendance. People hung their coats on hooks in a small room near the restaurant. I noticed that everyone’s coats except ours, had little loops at the collars to make hanging easier.

We were asked to sit with Marek, his wife Teresa and their oldest son, Łukasz who acted as our translator. There were 10 people at our rectangular table. The rest of the people at our table were distant cousins of Stefan.

The conversation centered around U.S. funeral customs which Marek, his wife, Łukasz and another cousin found very interesting. We pointed out the differences in the various regions of the U.S. Marek also asked who was eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery and whether Jackie Kennedy was buried there. Neither Dave nor I could remember! I checked later on the internet and found that Jackie Kennedy was indeed buried next to her husband. This led Marek to ask why John Kennedy Jr. flew a plane and why he flew it in the storm (which ended up killing him and his wife). We had no real response for him except that some people like to fly planes and some people think they are good enough pilots to fly in storms. Apparently this question arose because people in Poland do not have pilot's licenses. If they want to fly in a private plane they hire one with a pilot.

We discussed some of the genealogy work I had done on Stefan and Marek's family and how I did this with "Mormon" films. Łukasz was most interested in why the Mormons have filmed Polish records (as well as other nationalities' records). I explained that one of the things a Mormon was supposed to do was baptize the dead regardless of whether the dead were from another religion. He thought this to be very strange. I explained how useful the records were though and that they were open to everyone and in fact there was even one Family History Library in Warsaw now.

When the dinner was over about 14 people went back to Barbara's house for left-overs from the stypa, wódka and wine. We were all crammed around a dining table which is situated in their living room on the second floor. Most of the conversation was light-hearted and we toasted several times, but not to Stefan. During the evening Karol, a cousin and Dave went back to the cemetery to make sure the grave had been filled-in properly. It had been and the mound of flowers was now about four feet high.

We sat next to Barbara's brother, Piotr who is a photographer. He told us that his wife's grandfather, from Jasło, was a train engineer and that during WWII he took Jews across the border to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I told him a little about "Righteous Among the Nations" and suggested his wife file papers to have her grandfather honored. In subsequent emails with Piotr we discussed how important it is for Poles to be recognized for their heroics during WWII. I found it quite interesting that Piotr was well aware of the U.S. press erroneous insistence on referring to Polish concentration camps rather than the correct label, Nazi concentration camps in Poland.

Six people ended up spending the night at Barbara's so they drank more. We stayed until about 9:00 pm. Karol thought it best that he drive us home and Piotr would follow and then take Karol back home. We were in no way inebriated but I guess Karol did not want to take a chance. Was he remembering the tłuczenie butelek from last summer?

THURSDAY, January 13, 2011

We slept until about 7:30 a.m. The beds were uncomfortable and once again we slept with the window open. The beds had the big, square European pillows which we hadn't seen in a number of years but these were not feather or down rather they were filled with foam. We also noticed that this hotel and the one in Bydgoszcz, both being new, had discovered water softeners. Although this hotel was new, already one knob on the shower door was missing and the rubber strip down the shower door was coming off. A real problem in Poland is the lack of standardization and the difficulty in getting replacement parts. The maid had not cleaned the sink, toilet or shower, had not replaced nor cleaned the glasses and the room hadn't been dusted in some time. We did have clean towels and sheets though.

The breakfast buffet consisted of hard-boiled eggs, kielbasa, hot dogs, deviled eggs, cheeses, cold cuts, breads, cottage cheese with green onions, naleśniki, small sweet rolls, cereal, juices, coffee and tea. You could also order scrambled eggs with ham. There was a large screen TV in the room and a very large water feature which consisted of three waterfalls. It was a very nice piece except that above the waterfalls were posters of fish and so on beneath the ocean. The chandeliers were still decorated for Christmas and a Santa Claus stood in the lobby. The hot news topic on TV was the result of the Russian investigation of the plane crash at Smolensk (Katyn) last year. It was quite obvious that the Poles did not believe the Russians conclusions.

We met Aleksandra at the Hotel Leśny where she would spend one night. We decided it best to pay for her hotel right then. We then drove to the center of town to see if the parish priest would allow me to look at some records of Karol's family. These would be records he nor the family had yet requested and which were not on microfilm. Though the office did not open for a few hours we went to the priest's house and Aleksandra asked him for the favor of opening his records. We threw in that Dave and I had been in attendance when the church’s bronze statue of Pope John Paul II was dedicated in 2000. We let him know that we knew Marek, who was a huge financial supporter of this church. I think that helped plus the fact that I had some general dates of the records I wanted. The priest let us photograph the record, gave us some postcards of the church, a little poster of the church and a history book of the parish. I think he was pleased that I asked about the history book. Afterwards the priest took us to the church to show us around. It, too, was still decorated for Christmas. He pointed out all the stained glass windows and renovation which had been paid for by Marek Małecki, Stefan’s cousin and the owner of Solbet. After about a half-hour we thanked the pastor and headed for the Urząd Stanu Cywilnego to see about getting another record which the church did not have. OH! The pastor also let me photograph a list of the parish books which were at the Archdiocesan Archives of Gniezno. This was not important as I was pretty sure that information was now available on the internet.

At the USC the clerk would not let us actually look at the records but did tell us what was in them so we could write them down. We found out that more information was available at the archive in Bydgoszcz but the family would have to request that information as "they" would not tell me anything.

We left our car parked near the church and started walking to stores looking for a new hair dryer with a diffuser for me. We found one (and only one) at the first store in the "Mall Inga." The store sold large and small appliances including curling irons, televisions, clothes washers and so on.

We then walked around a little looking for an idea for a housewarming present for Karol and Natalia since we would be going to their flat at 5:00 p.m. that same day. I decided not to buy anything and just wait to see what they needed.

We received a phone call from Karol asking when we were going to the house as his mother and Maryla had obiad ready. We made one more stop, for wine, and arrived at the house at about 1:00 p.m. Introductions were made though Barbara remembered Aleksandra. We sat down to a big lunch of bigos, kielbasa, cheese, croquets, sliced pork roast, sauerkraut, cold cuts, and I don't remember what else!

When obiad was finished we cleared the table. Aleksandra had internet access even though the house did not. She showed me a couple of interesting web sites I had not seen before. Karol had gone up to his old bedroom to see if he could fix the internet connection for his mother. I followed him up to have a private talk. In looking over his bookcase/dresser I saw a lot of things we had sent him over the years. We talked about his ta-ta (dad), the wedding, and my hope that he, Natalia and his mother would come visit us in a year or two especially since I found out that Barbara had a visa! Karol told me that dressing his father was more difficult than he had expected. Oh! I hadn’t realized that the family did this for the deceased. I can remember insisting that the mortician allow me to see my grandmother while her body was being prepared. I wanted to make sure her hair was done properly. I was about 33 at the time and that wasn’t too upsetting since she was “ready.” I thought how hard it must have been for Karol to dress his father in preparation for burial. Karol had probably never had to even put a coat on his father when he was living. What an incredibly emotional experience for someone to go through but also so very personal. In talking later to my cousin Ela, I found out that dressing the deceased is still a wide-spread custom in Poland. Ela’s sister had dressed their mother when she passed away in December, 2010.

At some point Karol gave up on the internet-fixing idea and left for his apartment. He said he needed to clean it up a little before we visited later.

Barbara, Maryla, Dave, myself and Aleksandra decided to visit the cemetery and then go to the new museum in Solec Kujawski before heading for Karol's new apartment. We bought a candle to place at Stefan's grave from the candle sellers outside of the cemetery. We took a lot of photographs of Stefan's grave for Barbara. She also took the time to look at some of the ribbons on

the flowers.

Afterwards we drove to the museum which is just off the rynek. The museum was free. "Łukasz" (not Marek’s son) was our tour guide and between him and Aleksandra we received a nice tour of the small museum. Solec Kujawski's history is quite interesting and involved.

Karol and Natalia's apartment was actually bigger than the apartment he grew up in. When they moved in there was nothing there; no appliances, cabinets, floors, etc. Karol and Natalia had done a wonderful job making the place habitable in such a short time. The apartment consists of a kitchen with a small table, refrigerator, stove and oven, dishwasher (Bosch) and a clothes washer/dryer. The bathroom had a toilet, sink and tub with a hand-held shower. These rooms had ceramic floors. The living room had a wood floor with a green shag area rug, dresser, flat screen T.V. on a cabinet, full length curio cabinet, sofa, love seat, chair and a coffee table. The bedroom had a double bed, dresser and night stand. The second bedroom had some workout equipment and their wardrobes. Typical of most European homes, there were no closets. I was quite surprised at how well they had done. I tried to look around to see what they might need but I was not successful except to note that they could use some art for the walls. Subsequently on Saturday I was able to question Natalia as to what they did in fact have and they seemed to have everything they needed.

I gave the newlyweds the bottle of wine. Natalia served coffee (kawa) and tea (herbata) and put several bowls/boxes of candy on the table. How on earth do these people not get fat? OH! Karol had lost about 30 pounds since July and looked really good. I don't know how he did it. I suppose preparing the apartment and the stress of his father’s situation had something to do with it.

We left the apartment at about 7:00 p.m. and had kolacja at Barbara's house. All this food was killing me. I still hadn't recovered from our trip to Poland in 2008! We didn't stay too long after dinner and drove Aleksandra to her hotel and then drove onto ours. Clearly a different maid had been in our room. Notice I didn't say "cleaned" our room. We were given clean towels and sheets, more shampoo and soap but the room was not cleaned. We went to bed at 11:00 p.m.

FRIDAY, January 14, 2011

We awoke at 7:30 a.m. I was pleased that my new hair dryer worked. I would give Barbara my old one. We had breakfast in the hotel and picked-up Aleksandra at 10:30 a.m. and then onto Barbara's. Maryla was still at Barbara's. Her father, brother and other cousins lived in Nowa Wieś Wielka, south of Solec Kujawski but she and her family lived near Zielona Góra, very far away.

The five of us visited for a few hours and I reminisced about Stefan. I didn't want Barbara to think he'd already been pushed aside for the day-to-day busy-ness. The custom is for the family to wear black for a year. Barbara was in need of a black everyday winter coat so we decided that after Natalia got off work we would all go to Bydgoszcz to a mall to look for a coat. We took three cars. Karol and Natalia drove in theirs, Barbara, Maryla, Dave and I drove in our car and Aleksandra drove in hers so she could drive home to Grudziądz from Bydgoszcz. It would take her about 1 1/2 hours to make that drive.

We walked around the mall looking for a coat. I checked the prices on a lot of clothes and was shocked. I wouldn't even buy these clothes on sale! Perhaps if the exchange rate was four złoty to one dollar I might. All the stores seemed to have sales but even the sales weren't good enough. A few stores had their own labels as if they were designer stores. After about an hour Aleksandra thought it best if she headed home. We said our goodbyes and I expressed my appreciation for her help. We had paid her earlier in the day so that transaction was already taken care of. Aleksandra would be coming to the U.S. in April to speak at a conference of the Massachusetts Polish Genealogical Society but we would not see her then.

The remaining group continued to shop. Not meeting with any success we decided to stop for ice cream and coffee. Ice cream in "parlors" or at restaurants is served in an exceptionally fancy presentation. We don't do anything like this in the U.S. I will probably put some photos of our concoctions on my web site. Once finished we decided to go home.

We met Karol and Natalia at his mother's house. The dog, Kody/Cody, barked his hello warning. This poor dog needs a bath, but of course, no one has had time and it's winter! I suspect his next bath won't happen until late spring when Barbara can wash him in the backyard. I asked Karol to ask his mother if she wanted me to drive Maryla to her father's house on Saturday. She said to wait and see as Maryla's daughter, Natalia, would be coming from school in Toruń where she is studying to be a teacher.

Back at home it was time for Kolacja and wódka. I was able to talk Barbara into just having snacks. Well, that turned out to be dinner and of course with cakes! We stayed until about 9:00 p.m. and once again Karol drove our car with Dave inside to our hotel. Natalia drove me in her car. As it turned out, the company she works for is just down the street from our hotel. She was able to point out her office window. Natalia graduated from university with a degree in economics but her job involves incoming and outgoing logistics. She said she really likes her job. In a short time we were at the hotel. We said goodnight and I told Natalia she was a good driver. We confirmed that we would see them Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at Barbara's home for śniadanie.

Dave and I stopped by the hotel reception desk to pick up our room key and walked up the one flight to the "first" floor. Apparently, we had a different maid each day as there wasn't one day when we'd come back to the same level of housekeeping except that the bathroom was not cleaned and the glasses were still dirty. At least the maids were leaving plastic glasses wrapped in plastic. We opened the window, set the clock for 7:30 a.m. and went to bed.

SATURDAY, January 15, 2011

This morning we did not have breakfast at the hotel as Barbara wanted to make it for us. We arrived on time (!) and were greeted with "siadaj"/ sit down. Karol and Natalia were right behind us. We had coffee, deviled eggs, kielbasa biała, fried breaded cheese (!), cold cuts, bread, tomatoes, bigos without bones, sauerkraut, mushrooms in cream sauce and mushrooms with eggs. OMG! The mushroom dishes were sooooo good! While we were still eating breakfast, Maryla's daughter arrived. She had a little breakfast. Afterwards we watched a DVD about Solbet that was produced in English and Polish. It was really well done and we were able to pick-out a few people we knew in the film.

Natalia and her mother, Maryla left for Nowa Wieś Wielka so Maryla could visit her father for a day. Originally, Maryla was to spend Saturday night with Barbara. I was glad because today marked a week's anniversary of Stefan's death. Now, it looked like Barbara would be alone. I had previously talked to Natalia, Karol's wife about them spending the night and that was when I found out that the other Natalia would be staying or so we thought.

The five of us who were left decided to go to the cemetery. We bought candles and I took photos of the flower ribbons that had names on them for Barbara. There was no way we could see all of the flowers nor their ribbons. There were just too many piled up. Many of the flowers were real and in good condition due to the cold weather.

From the cemetery Karol drove us to the huge, new elementary school and church on his side of town. Because the school was still under construction, all roads leading to it were closed. Karol, however, was determined that we would get a better look at it. He kept trying different approaches. His determination would have been fine except that there was a lot of mud and large puddles. We were able to take some good photos of the school from a distance and convinced him that we could wait until the school was finished for close-ups. I also talked Karol into driving us past the apartment building where he grew up and the house in which his father grew up for photos. I reminded him that we did the same thing for my family when he and I were in Chicago in 2008. The timing was right as Barbara mentioned that the house in which Stefan grew-up in is set to be demolished.

After the visit we went back to the house for . . . obiad. We had decided that since Barbara would not be able to look for a coat once Karol went back to work on Monday that we would go to Bydgoszcz again to the Galeria mall. We went in our car which, though small, was the biggest of the choices we had. It only took about 20 minutes to drive to Bydgoszcz the "back way."

The Galeria is a single level mall with a cinema and grocery store. Both malls in Bydgoszcz had a Levi Store and a Wrangler store as well as stores I'd never heard of. We went into every store but did not find a coat for Barbara. Either the styles were not what she wanted or they didn't have her size. At one point I offered to give he my coat if it fit and if she wanted it. I wouldn't need it after that night. After our last store Barbara said, "Nic, lody!" (“Nothing. Ice cream!”) So we had two small balls of ice cream in cones. The previous night Dave was able to sneak away from the table and pay for our deserts, tonight Karol paid. For 10 small scoops of ice cream it cost 20 złoty.

When we finished I took off my coat and had Barbara try it on. It fit but she didn't care for the style. We got in the car and headed home.

Time for kolacja! I begged Barbara for just a little food so she only put out a few small platters of meats, cheeses, and bread.

I had read an email from my younger son the night before and told Barbara and Karol that Josh had dedicated his band's performance that night in Dallas to Stefan and his family. They were surprised at this but appreciative of the thought.

During the conversations I was able to understand Karol asking his mother if she wanted he and Natalia to spend the night. She said no, she would be fine.

Karol and Natalia had about 50 bottles of Finlandia wódka left over from the wedding and wanted us to take two home. That's all we were allowed to take home due to U.S. customs. Barbara also presented me with a souvenir Stefan bought for me when he was in Japan last September. The significance of this particular gift is that I always carry a fan when I visit Poland. I started crying immediately. This in turn caused Barbara and Karol to cry. All I could say was thank you and how I kept all the souvenirs Stefan gave me from his trips.

It was now about 7:00 p.m. and we decided to call it an evening as everyone was pretty tired. We made plans to be back at the house at 10:00 a.m. and then Dave and I would leave for Warsaw at 11:00 a.m. We had one shot of vodka, said “do branoc” and drove to the hotel.

Once again we had a different maid. What is up with that? This time she gave us clean glasses, but no clean towels or sheets and in fact, took two of our towels. I went back down to the desk and asked for two more towels. Apparently all of the reception desk employees speak English. This is quite a change from even six years ago when not all desk clerks spoke English. Of course this is a reflection of Poland joining the European Union.

While Dave packed so we could check-out in the morning, I typed this. We were able to get to bed by 9:00 p.m.

SUNDAY, January 16, 2011

Today would have been Stefan's 56th birthday.

We awoke at 7:30 a.m, had breakfast at the hotel, packed and checked out paying cash, 860 złoty/$296 for 5 nights. That's $59 per night including two breakfasts and parking. I have to say that the beds here were not comfortable. For some reason our room had a roll-a-way in it so I placed its comforter on top of my mattress to make it more comfortable. That helped.

The weather was again, though I hadn't mentioned it, dreary. Cloudy sky, no sun.

We headed for Barbara's house but stopped at a small grocery store (sklep) to buy chrzan (horseradish) for my younger son. What I had bought earlier was not chrzan but a mustard with some horseradish in it. I left that first jar with Barbara. I also picked up some candy to take home and to give to Onna's kids since we would be seeing her for a little while in Warsaw. ("Onna" is the co-administrator of Polish Genius email list.)

We arrived at Barbara's home at 10:05 a.m. almost on time! Dzien dobry's all around. We took off our shoes and put on slippers (something we did each time we visited). I noticed the table was set for śniadanie! I had told Barbara we would eat at the hotel since it was included in the cost of our room. My weight would never get back down to where I was when I visited in 2008!

A friend of Barbara's was in the kitchen helping with breakfast. Her name was Ela and she lives close by. Background: Stefan's grandmother, Władysława, his mother, Florentyna and his aunt, Waleria were buried in one grave and their headstone indicated that fact. Apparently there wasn't enough room in that grave for Stefan and when the time comes, Barbara. Ela gave Barbara one of her family's graves which happened to be right next to Stefan's family. So this means that Stefan was actually buried in a separate grave from his mother. I asked Karol if the coffins for his aunt and grandmother were still intact and he said yes. I thought that since the cemetery workers had removed the headstone from the "women's" grave that Stefan was being added to that grave but I was wrong. Karol did say that a new headstone would not be placed until spring when the ground had settled.

Karol and Natalia showed up shortly after our arrival. Barbara had gone to an early mass and found out that a mass for Stefan would be said the following Friday. Karol said he had to work and wouldn't be able to attend the mass. There will be numerous masses for Stefan though, arranged by family and friends. As I did for Waleria and Florentyna, I will have a mass offered on the year anniversary of Stefan's death.

Back to our second breakfast. You can not say "nie" to food in a Polish home. Barbara had set-out bigos, cold cuts, kielbasa, cheese, bread, tomatoes, coffee and tea. We did not eat much. I told Barbara I would turn into a świnia which made her laugh.

The conversation was general. We had to leave at 11:00 a.m. for Warsaw so this day's visit was short. We were expecting the drive to take about 4 hours. Barbara's brother, Adam, was due between noon and 1:00 p.m. but we could not wait for him. He did not attend the funeral because their mother, who lives with Adam, is not doing well and can not be left alone. Adam's wife and children hd attended the funeral however (Beata is Adam’s daughter).

Barbara gave me a copy of the photo Stefan used for his U.S. visa. She assured me that it was OK; she had his visa. The two bottles of vodka we were given earlier were for my youngest son and David. My oldest son does not drink. I bought him Kindersurpriz candy! Barbara gave me a big book titled, Bydgoszcz which has loads of pictures and a section about Solec Kujawski.

Karol gave Dave Stefan's St. Christopher key chain, a souvenir from Alcatraz and some wild boar tusks. I took some more photos of everyone and of Barbara's kitchen which was renovated in 2008 while Karol was visiting us for two months. I also made a list of things Barbara wanted from the U.S. This is the first time she's actually requested anything. Years ago I had given her an ergonomic potato peeler and she wanted another one. I asked, "So you can peel with both hands?" Maryla had also liked the peeler so I will send one for her also. Barbara also wanted another vinyl tablecloth. She loved that it could be thrown in the washer and not ironed! I will send her two I think, for two different tables. I will also send some SOS pads. I sent some at Christmas because they are not available in Poland and Barbara liked them. Hoping I won't be too late for sales, I will also look for black clothes for Barbara, Karol and Natalia.

At 10:50 a.m. it was time to say goodbye. This is always difficult but this time was even harder. Standing in the hall, Barbara reminded us of the time Stefan did push-ups, clapping his hands in between each one. Of course we remembered! We were so impressed and I had photographs of this. Barbara had packed food for us to take on the road and to eat later at the hotel. You'd think we were driving to Dallas!

I hugged and kissed Natalia first. Natalia had told me earlier how much she loved Stefan, not able to hold back the tears. Natalia referred to Stefan and Barbara as father and mother. We were both tearing up now.

I hugged Ela next and told her she was a good friend to Barbara.

Then it was Karol's turn. I stood on my tip-toes to hug him. We both started crying. I said that this was a difficult way to start a marriage but that's how life is sometimes. I told them I thought if they were considerate of each other they could get through this rough period.

I turned to Basia and tears were running down her cheeks. I had hoped that I wouldn't cry that hard but the thought of saying goodbye and never seeing Stefan again was too much. We hugged for the longest time. I told Basia that I wished I could talk to her on the phone. I told Karol to get the internet in the house fixed so his mother could at least email me (in Polish).

Karol walked us outside and I told him that even though it would be hard, and take up more time, he was in charge of two families now. I also told him that in time he needed to talk to Natalia and his mother, sharing his feelings. He said he didn't think he could do that now but I assured him that it was normal, the pain was too recent.

I mentioned again, that in a year or two I wanted all three of them to come to the U.S. for a visit.

Do zobaczenia.

We got in the car, waved and drove off towards Warsaw. There is a new section of highway between Solec Kujawski and Warsaw. It's not very long yet but I expect by the time we visit again it will really make a difference in the driving time. We expected the trip to take about four hours so we only stopped once for gas and to use the bathroom.


It seemed very strange not to stop to photograph every church, cemetery or shrine I saw along the way, especially since the trees which usually block the churches were devoid of their leaves. It was difficult for me to pass them by. I really did feel guilty. At one point during the drive Dave said, "It's 2:00 p.m. It'll be dark any minute now”. We hadn't seen the sun for the past week.

We spent the night at the airport Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. The rate, with breakfast, was 255 złoty or about $85.00. We drove directly there, checked-in and unpacked a little. We had arranged to meet Onna at 5:00 P.M. at her flat which was located southeast of the airport. We had no problem finding her building even with a detour.


Warsaw is full of detours now, mostly due to preparations for Euro Cup 2012. Onna had given me directions if we wanted to take public transportation but I was not quite ready to attempt that.

Onna lives on the top floor of her building and I was relieved to see an elevator. I was glad I understood Polish addresses for apartment buildings; 3/12 indicates building #3, apartment #12. I couldn't however, figure out how to "buzz" the apartment but two children with a dog came out so we took that opportunity to go inside. We rang Onna's doorbell and she opened it immediately. Those children were hers! I have only seen photographs of the kids and with them bundled up I couldn't tell it was them. I gave Onna the candy for the children and we sat down for tea and dessert. Onna owns the flat. It's a really nice two bedroom, 1 1/2 bath apartment/condo. She has a huge roof deck which is perfect for the kids to play on in the summer as well as for a table and chairs. Inside, I couldn't help but notice a few items I had sent Onna and the kids.

Onna's English is excellent and she uses idioms and slang correctly. We talked about hers and our kids, the death of her mother a few months previous and Onna's plans for her mother's flat which is in Poznan. Onna is doing photography on the side for extra money. She does really nice work.

We also talked about health care in Poland which was very interesting and enlightening.

The rental car was due back by 8:00 p.m. so we were only able to visit with Onna for a couple of hours. The children were very well-behaved and passed some of the time watching "Nickelodeon" on T.V. which was dubbed into Polish. Onna gave me two books; one about Gdańsk and one about Szczecin as well as a jar of marinated mushrooms. We said our goodbyes and gave hugs and I said that next time I came to Poland we (she and I) would try to schedule things so we could spend more time together.

We drove back to the airport, stopping to fill up the gas tank and turned-in the car. This took no time at all though it is a bit confusing getting around the airport due to the construction. No one inspected the car. We walked to the hotel which took all of two minutes. Once there we decided to use the hotel's computers to check our emails. Internet in the "cafe" and in the rooms cost 7 Euro for 24 hours. Internet had been free in Bydogszcz and Solec Kujawski. I generally refuse to pay for internet. Though I didn't want to write any emails using the hotel's computers I did want to check my email. Afterwards we went to the room and re-packed for the trip home. I brought a lightweight nylon bag in case we had too much for our suitcases and it turned out to be a good thing, what with two bottles of vodka, three big, heavy books, jam, a jar of mushrooms, dry mushrooms, and candy. We got to bed about 11:00 p.m.

MONDAY, January 17, 2011

Woke up at 6:45 a.m. The beds in this hotel are really comfortable but the room was hot and the temperature could not be changed, just turned off. Breakfast was very nice. It included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, pancakes, omelets made to order, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, pastries, breads, croissants, juices, coffee and tea. Way too much food. Oh, we didn’t have to eat all of it?

After breakfast we checked-out (9:30 a.m.) and walked across the street to the airport. We were able to check-in right away. Our luggage, even with all the jars/bottles and big books, was under the maximum weight. We had only taken a large and a medium sized suitcase so we were pretty sure we wouldn't exceed the weight limit. We invested in a hand-held scale last year which has been proven to be very useful now that the airlines has a maximum weight limit on luggage.

We went through security. Interesting that in Europe you don't have to take off your shoes or put liquids in a baggie. We decided to buy two mini-bottles (50 ml) of Scotch and one pretty, mini-bottle of Belvedere vodka in the Duty Free store. One bottle of Dewars' scotch and the Belvedere cost 13 zł. each and Bailey's cost 16 zł.

The store had lots of Polish souvenirs from key chains and flags to porcelain from Opole. Of course like all airports souvenirs were expensive.

We walked over to our gate and sat down. Next to Dave was a young man who spoke English. Turns out he was born in the U.S. but his parents were born in Poland. His parents had moved back to Poland a few years ago and opened a hotel. He said his father had two regrets. One was that he brought his John Deere equipment over instead of his Caterpillar equipment. Parts for John Deere equipment are non-existent in Poland. He also was sorry that he brought over his Land Rover because of how expensive gasoline is. The father since changed the car over to LPG which is very common in Poland.

The young man had been visiting his parents during the Christmas holidays and was now going back to Chicago. He said he speaks to his mother in Polish but speaks to his father in English. I asked some of his impressions of Poland and he said "Poles can't drive for s***. They need more police." LOL He said his father wanted him to move to Poland when he finished school but he didn't know about that. I asked if it was because he had been raised in the U.S. and he said, "Yes."

The LOT plane to Chicago was only a few minutes late leaving Warsaw. We received dinner and breakfast. Dinner was hot pork with potatoes and green beans, two slices of bread, some cold cuts, a slice of paprika, cheese, butter and a small piece of Lindt chocolate. Beverage choices were: coffee, tea, juice, water. The movies in our section of the plane didn't work. I hadn't brought enough to read! Liquor is no longer free in economy on LOT flights. This flight had about 50 empty seats in economy. Once the plane got above the clouds we saw . . . the sun! Dave mentioned he didn't know if he could spend more than a month or two in Poland in the winter if there wasn't any sun.

We arrived in Chicago on time and had about four hours until our flight to Dallas. Some of this time was taken up waiting to get through passport control (confusing signs even for English speakers), our baggage, customs and traveling to another terminal. This was the first time our baggage was x-rayed entering the U.S. Apparently the customs' agents weren't interested in the mushrooms, dried or in a jar.

We parked ourselves at a United Air Lines gate and I finished up my diary without going online. About an hour before the flight Dave had a Chicago pizza and I had a Chicago "dog". The plane was full to Dallas and actually left the tarmac 45 minutes late. By the time we got home we'd been awake for 24 hours. I have to find a shorter way to get to/from Poland!


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