So I put the large volume of “Kajtek Majtek” on the kitchen table, and with a flourish, I open it to the page where my idol wrote in it: “Pełen podziwu dla wytrwałego zbieracza.”
My mom is impressed and my dad is beaming with pride. They want to know everything that happened at the meeting. What does Mr. Christa look like? What did he say? I excitedly begin to tell them everything… “I told Mr. Christa that soon we’ll move to Canada, and… then he said that maybe Kajtek and Koko will go there with me, and…”
“What did you say?!?” – my father yelled as his face became beet red.
In shock I realised what I had done. I had broken a promise to my parents, to never mention to anyone our emigrating to Canada. After all, why would we leave a perfect place like communist Poland for the decadent, capitalist West?!
“The cat was out of the bag” that night, and I got a mighty scolding for it! My one consolation was the penned note from Christa in my book: “Pełen podziwu dla wytrwałego zbieracza.”
Excerpt from my journal, 1975.
Finally, years later, I understand my parents reaction on that memorable evening.
Emigrating to Canada was complicated, and filled with challenges for my parents. I vividly remember Russian tanks grinding down the streets of Gdansk, in suppression of the shipyard workers uprising. My dad remained at the Shipyards for several nights and no one was allowed on the streets. After his return home, there was much whispering at night between my parents. Although I was young, I could feel their fear and their worry for their two small children.
Eventually Poland became somewhat “stable”. Edward Gierek, the new president, managed to keep Russian oppression at arms length.
By then, some aspects of life seemed to improve because my dad was an economist and my mom a medical doctor. We had an apartment, a fridge in the kitchen and our own car! Upon notifying the communist authorities of plans to move to Canada, my father was approached to become an informer. He was promised a good job abroad, but he declined the offer. That is when his nightmare began. He was threatened that due to his work at the Shipyards he and his family would never be allowed to travel outside of Poland. He was ostracised at work, and ridiculed for his unwillingness to cooperate with the government. He became very depressed.
On another front my mom was working (behind the scenes) to arrange through her family in Vancouver for American dollars to be payed (under the table) for visas. US $ 2,000 was a huge amount of money for us. Within a few weeks, we had our papers. It was done in a blink of an eye, and so we began making real plans.
I remember us boarding a plain in Warsaw with a couple of suitcases, and me carrying one of my Kajtki books. The rest were packed into another suitcase. In looking back, I see how extraordinary it was for having one suitcase to be devoted to my collection.
My father spent the entire trip looking over his shoulder, when he finally realised that the plane was not returning to Poland, he burst into tears.
In the years that followed, my parents rarely spoke of those days. After returning to medical school and becoming certified to practice in Canada, my mom became a respected General Practitioner in Vancouver. Their sacrifices, opened doors of exciting possibilities for myself and my sister. My longing was to explore the vast and wild nature of Canada and become an artist, for my sister it was delving into books that enabled her to later become an archeologist. Our gratitude to our parents is way bigger than words can express.
As this month is my fathers 95 birthday, I like to dedicate this blog to him! Happy Birthday dear Dad!
Excerpt from my journal, Yandoit, Australia, 2020