Friday, October 24, 2008
Gathering History in Poland
We had to go back to the graveyard! We'd been kidnapped the day before, yet we still had to dig up information on some close acquaintances. It didn't matter that these folks have been dead for 150 years--Dee gets to know them so well they become his friends; it was important to find out anything we could.
Przybyla family had shown such hospitality, we were certain we'd already passed the high point of our Polish research. Now we needed info on the Wojton names. Dates on the graves were too recent; we decided there must be an older cemetery in a nearby village, but we didn't have a clue of how to find directions. Stores were non-existent in the tiny town of Trzesniow.
I stood by the car while they talked animatedly to each other, and then Dee went into the chapel with one of the men. I assumed they were looking at some documents or something because they were inside a long time. Dee came out with his new buddy, and stood by while the men gestured and spoke excitedly, and then they loaded the coffin into a minivan. Our main man called someone on his cell phone, and the other men drove off; then Dee followed his friend over to our car, and they both got in! (I know this sounds made-up, but it's true.)
I asked Dee what was going on and he wasn't sure. He thought they were construction workers since they were apparently showing him the craftsmanship of their new chapel. They were measuring the coffin to make sure it fit. Anyway, the guy was in the back seat, motioning for Dee to drive, tapping him on the shoulder and indicating where to turn. We thought maybe he was taking us to another cemetery, so we were surprised when we arrived at a large farmhouse.
English teacher visiting her parents, and she was going to be our translator.
Tadesz Wojton (pronounced Vochick, I think.) Unbelievably, he had the same surname we were researching! Dee told Agate (the teacher) that we were searching for a library or an archive that might have a written history of the village, land records or other documents.
Handing the baby to her husband, she ran inside for her jacket and she and the mayor got into our car. They directed us to a non-descript building on an unpaved road off the main street. Inside, up a flight of stairs, was a tiny library where the very helpful librarian searched for references to the Polish names. No luck.
The mayor then showed us pictures of himself with some important Polish people and pointed to one on the wall of him at the Vatican meeting Pope John Paul II. His wife brought in photos of their 50th anniversary party, their niece who is an opera singer in Rome, a cousin who lives in Canada, and one of their son who died last year at age 27. It felt like we were friends.
Unbelievable things happen to us. Although we knew the approximate location of this Polish town, we couldn't find it on a map. We stumbled on it almost by accident, met the exact right people at the exact right time, and left with information we'd have never discovered on our own. I don't think our experiences are coincidences. I am convinced that people who lived long ago want their descendants to know their stories.