As the snow softly gathers in the folds of Mother Earth's skirt, I find myself thinking of you, the Polish grandmother I never knew. In the bitter cold Siberian winters, when you fought for your life and the lives of your children, did Christmas come or did it slip away in the icy night of your exile?
I wonder what your laughter sounded like, Babcia? I never got to hear that sound or to know your voice. I wonder what it was like? Was it soft and musical like mine? Was it filled with wonder at the beauty of the earth even as you were surrounded with death and misery in those long forced marches?
Babcia, grandmother; I never got to call you by that name or any other. You were never to brush your grand daughter’s hair, as long and dark as yours. You never had the chance to smooth out its tangles or to do any of the other things a grandmother does so lovingly.
We were lost to one another from the moment Hitler declared war on Poland. You were fated never to see me from the day that his monstrous ally, Stalin, stole you away from your homeland. The soldiers came like thieves in the night and with their guns they forced you out of your home into the cattles trucks with your three children.
In those vast snowy forests of Siberia, as you laboured, half-starved, to keep your children alive, did you ever dream of their unborn children? Did you pray to God to keep them safe and healthy so that those dreams might come true one day? Well, dearest Babcia, your prayers were answered. Each of your three little ones survived; each of them married and had children of their own. I am one of them and I wonder how I can miss someone I never knew, how I can feel my heart ache for a face I never saw, a voice I never heard, a touch I never felt.
You kept the flame of life alive in each of those children and I am here today because of your love, your courage, your sacrifice. I wish you were here to hold me and to wipe away the tears that I shed as I write this, tears of sadness and lingering regret for one I have never known and never will know. Yet there is a soul knowing and that is what I have for you.
My father and my aunts tell me that you were a wonderful mother, intelligent, loving, and compassionate. They are a reflection of all that you were here on this earth, little grandmother, and I am a reflection of the reflection of you. As long as I walk this earth and the seed of my seed follow me, you too will live on.
You would find your great grandson, named for you and your son, a constant source of delight. He is already the philosopher that your husband was, the caring, passionate man whose charisma swept so many people to him. You would see his magic sparkling in my Jan’s eyes. You would hear him in the wonder of his eloquence. You would know that the man you loved lives on in his grandson. You would love him as I do.
It is almost Christmas day. How many Christmases have passed since you were last given a present, Babcia? It is over sixty years since you perished in the hospital in Teheran, far from home but finally free. You gave your food to your children, You gave your life so that they would live. You died knowing that your children were safe but that you would never see Poland again, never feel the embrace of your husband, never see the spring flowers shooting up through the earth, never know the grandchildren you already held in your heart.
This year Babcia, I will give you a gift. I will make a little spring garden for you and whenever a bulb sends up a pale green shoot through the darkness of the earth, it will be in remembrance of your spirit, the triumph of love in a world filled with hatred. The daffodils will be your golden medals for courage. The snowdrops will symbolise the purity of your soul. The forget-me-nots will be my promise to you.
Your life, your love and your dying deserve to be remembered, Babcia. This gift will be your memorial; it is yours little grandmother. It blooms for all that we never had together; for all that I carry within me that is yours; for the eternity that we have been apart and for the eternity that we will share together. It blooms for the love of grandmother and granddaughter. Thank you for the gift of my life.