Today I need to wish my wife a Happy Anniversay and its a milestone year. One of those dates that’s a long haul to reach, then when you do get there you look back with pride and nostalgia on the path you took and you try to look ahead at what lies further down the road. Thirty years! Definitely a milestone and though I acknowledge it and share it with her in a manner, it’s not my anniversary. Our friends and family, and probably most who follow Lens On Life know that Eve and I just celebrated our anniversary last month, our twenty seventh. This is her milestone. On July 31, 1981, Ewa arrived in Canada from Poland.
About three weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday, Ewa, her mother and father packed only the belongings, clothes, and memories that you can squeeze into a few suitcases and left their home in Opole, Poland for Canada, leaving most of their possessions behind. They flew out of Warsaw and into Montreal via the old Mirabel airport. There, her brother who had emigrated a few years prior, met them for the long ride down Highway 401 to a temporary home on her aunt and uncle’s farm near Highgate.
She left behind her childhood friends, the security that having a history brings, a pet guinea pig named Clementine, and a boyfriend, (although on that count I like to think she traded up), in exchange for language barriers, an indifferent schooling system, and an uncertain future. Leaving Poland was painful and life changing but as food and necessities were already in short supply, it appeared to be the best path to a brighter future. Little did they suspect that just five months after their departure the situation in Poland would get much worse with the declaration of martial law.
I met Eve (Ewa) less than a year later on what would be my last day of high school. I had become intrigued and wanted to meet her after seeing (and hearing) her sing in a year-end school assembly. The teacher leading the assembly gave her a passionate intro, describing her as a recent immigrant who had fled a country torn by war and revolution. I remember thinking ” where’s she from, Nicaragua”? While dating we learned more about each other like any couple, our personalities and histories, and she worked on her English while I attempted to learn Polish. I lost that challenge by the way. Now, thirty years later she still has a bit of an accent that most people find cute, that she always wants to hide, and that myself and our girls, for the most part don’t hear. To this day I am always amazed at how effortlessly she can slip back and forth between Polish and English in one conversation, and she’s somewhat chagrined that her Canadian friends tell her she has a Polish accent while her Polish friends say she has a Canadian one.
She watched from Canada as conditions in Poland worsened, then through the growth of the Solidarity movement, the eventual fall of the old socialist regime, and recent growth and restoration of an old and proud society. It was fifteen years after her departure as a teenage girl before she could finally return as a woman, a wife, a mother of two beautiful girls… and a Canadian citizen. I know from our talks and simply from observation that she has often been conflicted, bearing mixed emotions regarding her departure from her birthplace. At times she was thankful to have escaped the hardships forced upon the Polish people, yet at the same time she faced the difficult realities of starting over as an outsider. Wishing she was there with her friends as change gave birth to reform, yet grateful she could watch it from a distance.
The first line of the Polish national anthem begins with “Poland has not perished yet” and goes on to tell how they will take back their land from conquerers. I’ve jokingly referred to this as the song of someone on their knees, beaten, bloodied, but looking up defiantly and saying “Oh Yeah?”, but in truth that’s really what it is. Throughout its history Poland has been invaded, conquered, won back, ruled over, and for several years, ceased to exist as a country, but always the Polish have fought their way back with pride, tenacity, and the mantra echoing through their collective history “Poland has not perished yet”. A product of the old black and white movies and war stories told by elders, Eve always said that as a child she was a “little partisan”, a scrapper. I think that had she been there as a young adult during the upheaval and change, she definitely would have joined in the marches (and possibly thrown a rock or two).
Leaving Poland gave her opportunities she may never have had while denying her experiences she’d always dreamed of. It has tempered her views, colored her dreams, and enmeshed itself into every experience and interaction of her life. It is reflected in every lesson she has tried to impart on our children, in her fears for them, her hopes for them, and in her pride of them. She’s built a life here and planted roots, but what has become her annual pilgrimage to her homeland, is never long enough and she is caught between homes, longing to have both at the same time. Canada is where her family and loved ones are, where her life is…but her heart is forever rooted in the soil of Poland.
I am proud of the woman she’s become, the life she’s built, that we’ve built, and I for one am glad she came. Happy Anniversay Baby!