My mother told me about a cold man. A detached man. A man who’s dark eyes and firm brows and pointed goatee were all that was really ever seen of him in his time; and yet his presence was still so defining—still so powerful. He remained, it sounded, like some sort of contradictorily-omnipotent ruler in portrait form.
It was always a story I liked to hear her tell when I was younger
“We learned his languages and his history” her Polish accent was pronounced enough, but much less apparent for me, having heard it my whole life. “Always Russia, Russia, Russia. Never Poland.” Of course her mannerisms remained audible for all, and here they were applied with force. “We had to know Russian, know the anthem, every single capital city—every victory! Every single one, I tell you! Oh, it was just terrible!”. She waved her hand towards me as she spoke, as if attempting to ward off some foul nuisance. “That Lenin!" she scoffed. His Russians even took our Christmas oranges one year!” They weren’t his Russians, per se, but there was a notable tinge of venom behind her words nonetheless, as if spitting on that once ever-present portrait would collectively deface all that wronged her then...
Vladimir Lenin, the very man who pressed the heel of Russia on the neck of my mother’s birth country, fired the first salvo of communism in Poland, and handled the creation of Poland as a nation indebted to the Russians, was certainly a man with a powerful ability.
He was also dead.
He had been long dead, too, for the course of my mother’s years in Poland but his presence was so strong as she had said it, that the man himself seemed to be a personification of all that was wrong with Poland then…of all that forced my mother from her country so many years ago.
“No. I didn’t really like it anymore. I wouldn’t go back. I’m Canadian now. This is my country” she had offered, rather matter-of-factly to me, when I asked whether she would go back, full time, if she had the chance.
You see, my mom was a young adult when she left her family behind. She was adopted instead by two well-off Germans who ran a few properties-for-rent. They were friends of the family, and now took up residence in Canada—Thunder Bay no less. They were seen as her way out of communism...Out of the suffering that those dark eyes and pointed goatee so immovably represented.
Her adopters treated her poorly when she came and lived with them—cooking old food, offering unfit clothes and even limiting water-consumption for things like showers and tea and coffee. It was strange then that despite the money they had, they used so little of it.
And despite the proposed liberations of the capitalist world, my mother was as hemmed-in as she ever was in Poland and still haunted by that spectre of limitation-- communism or not .
Could communism really be so bad? So terrible, that a residence full of grumbling German cheap-skates was preferable?
It was more than just communism at it’s core that kept her away though. It must have been!
Raising a hand as if responding to having a winning ticket called: “I saved you hunny! We both know you stayed for me, after I came riding in to rescue you!” Even though I could only see the back of his head, that small-mouth smirk of his was audible enough in his voice to know it was creeping across his face just then.
I hardly needed to look at my mother to know that she was rolling her eyes in response, either.
… But it was more than just communism that kept her away. More than suffering. And by all-ccounts more than just my dad. After all, she suffered as much or more in her early strides in Canada…
“They told me I’d be back”
“The men at the airport”
--Her family could only afford to send one of their children to a better life in Canada… She was the youngest. She was it—
“I knew they were wrong. They had to be. I didn’t need their country anymore. Didn’t need their rules and limits...”
I pictured a bearded official, dark facial hair and grubby hands in uniform. I imagined sallow-coloured walls and an opressive pane of glass between the man and my mother. I pictured his snarling smile, and teeth capped with gold and silver fillings. I saw a pea-green uniform with red accents and gold edging. I imagined harsh strokes from his pen as he signed her release papers.
“Vhy in de Vorld vould you leave diz kountree for Kanada, of all place?” I could heard his condesending, heavily-accented grumble light my mother's stubborn Polish blood aflame while he slipped her the release papers through the slat at the bottom of the dirtied glass. -- My mother said nothing.
...She never was...