Social anxiety takes over as I approach the Queen Ann style home used by the Polish American Foundation of New Britain. While I am excited to improve my Polish language speaking skills, I am nervous about meeting the strangers. I know once I get in the building and into the classroom the feelings will begin to dissipate.
Parking is a bit confusing and I make two drive-bys before finding the parking lot behind their building. I am a few minutes early so I decide to check my email, Instagram and other items as well as attempt to calm my anxious stomach and racing heart. I would prefer to walk in with someone else rather than stumble around wondering where to go and what door to go into.
I retrieve my iPhone from the bowels of my overly large Michael Korrs bag. At the very moment I tap the Instagram app icon there is a loud knocking on my driver’s side window. Startled, I fling my phone into the air and it lands on the passenger seat with a low thud.
“Come to class! Come to class” beckons the strange women outside my window.
“Oh, hi, I arrived a bit early so I thought I would wait.”
“Nie. Nie. Witamy!”
Childhood memories recall the meaning of nie so I exit my car and follow her in the side door. The interior of the building impresses me. The varnished oak wainscoting and lincrusta-clad walls cause me to spin my head to and fro in appreciation. I walk closer to a wall with the hope of touching it when the women who welcomed me in the parking lot bellows once again.
“Come. Come. What is your name?”
“Ah, Bednosh” she says using the Polish pronunciation.
“Yes, that is me.”
“And you? Who are you?”
I turn and look around the room unaware there was anyone else present. A young woman, likely early 20’s is standing directly behind me. Where did she come from?
Lauren stammers for a second and then offers up her last name. I am startled. Lauren’s last name and first name is the identical name carried by my daughter’s half-sister on her natural father’s side. Lauren carries the very Polish sounding surname that my daughter would have had.
Recovering from the jolt, I study Lauren. I know the age of birth dads’ daughter. This young woman is definitely older. It is not her. Related? I am not going to ask as doing so may require me to state how I know him.
“Okay, pani, class is up the stairs, end of hall on your left.”
Lauren follows behind me as I ascend the grand staircase of the 1800 era home.
Walking into the room I see three older gentlemen and three younger women already seated. I smile at them all and find a seat at the farthest edge of the long table. Lauren sits directly to my right. She casts her eyes down and begins to take notes on her pad.
“Okay, before we get started lets go around the table and introduce ourselves. Who are you, what is your connection to Poland, why do you want to learn to speak it, and anything else you want to share.”
Suz (another one!)
Tatiana (who clearly looks very Polish)
Amy. Daughter to Kathy.
Julie (same name as my Grandmother!)
“I am a Julie and I am an adoptive mother. I adopted my daughter from Poland many years ago. She is older now. Asking questions about her native tongue. I thought it would be nice if I learned it. She no longer lives at home. She does not speak it but is interested so I thought it would be nice if I tried.”
Lauren (of bdad last name) says something.
It is my turn. I am still reeling a bit about the adoptive mom just now learning about her adopted child’s (now an adult) culture. My head is spinning with the last name incident, now this.
“Uh…I am Suz and I…..”
Class is nearing the end. Discussion ensues regarding the twenty of us in the room, nearly all raised by Polish speaking parents who chose not to teach us their native tongue. Mr. Older Gentlemen end of table chimes in about how not only have we lost the native tongue but the “young generations” (is that me?) have also lost the practice of Catholicism.
So this is how it is going to be. Learning my deceased father’s language means I also have to immerse myself once again in deeply held religious beliefs that told me I was a bad girl for getting pregnant out of wedlock but a good girl for abandoning my first born child to a stranger adoption.
I sit there and bite my tongue. I have nothing to offer this conversation. Correction. I do but I will not. I have seven more weeks with this group and I do not want to show them so early that I can swear in Polish.
That much my father did teach me.