Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Searching For the Right Word

I attended the funeral services of our neighbor yesterday, the woman who taught my children how to say sunshine in Polish. It sounds like 'swonechka'. (I just know I'm mangling the spelling.) She taught it to them because that's what she called them. "Hello sunshine!" she'd call to the babies as they came spilling out of the house. She'd dig in her pockets for lollipops and pass them out like, well, candy. They loved her.

If the day was nice, we'd stand on the sidewalk for a bit and watch the kids sugar up. While we did, we'd chat about this or that. She'd fret about the condition of her grass, I'd sympathize. She'd gossip about neighbors, I'd gossip back. And now and then she'd tell me little bits and pieces of her life story. Before she came to live across the street from the house I'm now raising my family in, she'd lost her family in a war. She suffered time in concentration camps (including Auschwitz), faced the prospect of death more than once, served in the army, participated in an uprising, and survived. She lived in Poland, in Italy and then England. She married a suave young man, a singer, and started a family.

She arrived in the U.S. in the late 1940s and went about the business of being normal, whatever that means. She raised a son and a daughter here, worked hard, tended her garden, cared for her husband until the day he died, loved her grandchildren dearly, and through it all, maintained close bonds with all the Polish friends who joined her in the states. She kept faith with her church, got her hair done every Saturday, and never left the house without makeup. She was powder-scented, soft-cheeked and fine, with restrained elegance and a ready laugh.

I know I'm not getting it right - the picture of her that you must have in order to know who she was - resiliant, beautiful, steady, weak sometimes but always trying, lovely and full of life. She was a surprise and happy greeting, she was what lifted you when you were down, she was strong and constant and good. So then, perhaps the only way to describe her is by using a word she might use herself. Teresa was 'swonechka'... sunshine. And, oh, how I'll miss her.

1 comment:

  1. We had our Natalie in Logan Square. We still visit her in Lake Geneva when we get a chance. Eventhough the hard life that Natalie faced over the years...the concentration camp, the early death or her husband...cancer...mental illness...have taken their toll on Natalie she still welcomes us like family!

    In our case it was cookies...Natalie always had cookies for the kids (and us!).

    I can really empathize with you--it's hard to loose a neighbor/friend like that.