November 19, 2016

Travel Plans

I went to Poland once, when I was 15. It was one stop in my last European vacation with my parents. We visited relatives, my mother’s childhood home, and my grandfather’s grave. It was a powerful emotional experience for my parents, and while I know the trip was meaningful to me at the time, my clearest memories are of listening to R.E.M.’s Out of Time on my Walkman and missing my boyfriend.

Drinking espresso in my jean jacket. 

This time will be different.

A few weeks ago, I finished translating my grandfather’s memoirs of his time as a spy and resistance fighter in World War II. The story drew me in. 

They say that a sculptor chisels away stone to reveal the figure that’s already inside. This is how I feel about my first novel. It exists; I see the shape of the thing. The deeper I dig, the more details come into focus. It's a historical novel, rooted in true events but colored vivid with fiction.

I have been sharing my translation and my research with my mother. She was born during the war, and her memories are limited to the pieces her parents told her about. She was as surprised by some of her father’s stories as I was. She shared childhood memories with me, helping me understand what kind of people her parents were.

My mom is the little blond girl in the center.

Together, we have solved decades-old family mysteries, and we have uncovered new ones. One of the greatest joys of the Poland Project has been getting to know my mother on a deeper level. 

A few months ago, I suggested we visit Poland together.

She dismissed the idea for multiple reasons. Her health. Her mobility. The expense. The unspoken, complicated reasons she left Poland 40 years ago, and why she has not returned for 20 years.

My grandfather described the locations of important scenes with military precision: A forestry outpost 2 km outside of Meszcze, on the road that leads to Wolborz. The church of St. Adalbert, Krakow, the confessional at the left, under the choir. The two-room café on Bierut Street in Piotrków Trybunalski. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being called on a trip.

Perhaps instead of my mother, I’d bring my daughter.

After I finished translating her father’s memoirs, I mailed my mother a copy.

A few days later, she called me.

“Are you serious about going to Poland with Evie?”
“Have you bought tickets?”
“Buy one for me too.”

Just like that, this abstract idea of “Someday, I’ll go to Poland” became a very real flurry of web searches, phone calls, and a dizzying moment in which I typed in my credit card number and clicked Confirm.

I am going to Poland. We are going to Poland. My mother, my daughter, and I are going to uncover an old story and to write a new one.



Jessica Bring said...

I am so happy you three generations will be sharing this adventure!

Jessica Bring said...

I am so happy you three generations will be sharing this adventure!

Kelli Shaw said...

I can't wait to hear about this journey!! <3