My grandpa Zygmunt had never dropped us. He was always there to catch us when we jumped of a rock into his arms. The rocks were first just a foot high, then we climbed higher and higher and he was there waiting with patience. Nobody ever told me that girls supposed to stay on the ground and going up the trees was the best part of a day. Not necessarily for him, as we picked them higher and higher. I don’t remember him yelling at us or parenting in any way. When I went too far, on that one branch too high up and couldn’t get back down, my grandpa climbed just below and guided my descent.
Indoors, he was running with one or two of us on his shoulders and we were making imaginary journeys to Galapagos Islands or Honolulu. I was convinced that they were made up locations. Who would name a town Honolulu?
Me and Grandpa shared the same condition, with the difference that my asthma attacks ended in a hospital, his in the forest. He often recalled an incident when he just took me for a walk and my wheezing stopped.
When it became unfair to jump on the ancestor, I remember sitting in the kitchen while Grandpa prepared scrambled eggs on butter and recited Petrarca’s sonnet in Italian. Then he gave me a line in Italian with an immediate translation, and after that only the Polish version. He confessed he had learnt it to impress an Italian girl but she preferred his friend at the end. You can read his article about Mickiewicz translating Byron here, but there is nothing like a small kitchen filled with a smell of fried butter and nostalgia.
I enjoyed his lectures. For lack of the proper audience he often would make monologues about poetry. He recited in original languages Goethe, Moliere, Shakespeare, Petrarca. Grandma told me that when he finished the university material before time, he would recite a long, Polish poem by Slowacki which took merely 45 minutes. In his diary, he mentioned walking long distances (no public transport when you hide away from Russian army) and to entertain himself he was repeating poetry. I think it’s an amazing use of a brainpower. These days, my memory is fragmented into little pieces, I remember nothing from Goethe, but I can’t get a Coca Cola jingle out of my head. There must be something passed on in DNA however. As I walk with my headphones, I realise how much of lyrics I could sing along, but I do it only in my head, or in my car when no one can hear me. I did not get the musical talents from my grandpa, who played his mandolin while patiently ignoring my random sound-making on piano.
When my passport said I grew up, I left Poland and now live in an almost imaginary town named Tralee. Thanks to my Grandfather I’m less afraid of any fall, take a walk to feel better, and poets don’t easily impress me.