A few days ago, I discovered a surprising – and heretofore unknown – truth about my heritage. It turns out I’m part Polish. How, exactly, did I arrive at this conclusion? It was right around the time my mom said, “Guess what? You’re part Polish!”
To say this pronouncement caught me off guard is an understatement.
“How can that be?” I said. “My last name doesn’t have three zs in it!”
‘Tis true. Have you ever seen a Polish name? They are absolutely bogged down with zs. Poles are also fond of the letters y, c, and k. Hello, Walerian Borowczyk. How do you do, Zbigniew Cybulski. My last name does have a k in it. Could this be the missing Polish connection that had eluded me all these years??
“I thought we were Russian and Czechoslovakian?” I asked.
“Well, the borders shifted a lot over the years,” came the reply. Man, talk about confusing! A few years ago I had to contend with the fact that we might actually be Hungarian instead of Czech because of those same, elusive “shifting borders.” Then there was the Austrian false alarm from last spring. A friend had done some genealogical research and for a few glorious days I mistakenly thought I’d descended from a bunch of Austrian peeps, until I dug deeper and realized the town they actually hailed from was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire and was technically within the Hungarian border. Goodbye, lederhosen and schnitzel and The Sound Of Music - hello, paprika. So, I took the news of my Polish ancestry somewhat dubiously at first.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
This time, my mom was sure. Some distant relative – a great-grandmother, or a great-great grandmother, I believe – listed Poland as her native country, and her last name (starting with a Z and ending with an i) did, indeed, back up this claim. It seems that I am, indeed, part Polish after all!
This news did not really surprise me, given my penchant for kielbasa and fondness for Loretta Swit, who played Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on M.A.S.H. Yeah, she’s Polish, as is Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi and the Wachowski brothers (who directed The Matrix). “You Give Love A Bad Name” is an awfully catchy song, one that I was quite fond of in 1988, and I really dug that movie starring Keanu Reeves. In retrospect, my Polish heritage seems a given.
I was, in fact, secretly delighted to learn I was Polish. I figured, this gives me a built-in excuse whenever I screw up and do something dumb, what with the abundance of Polish jokes. Hey, maybe it does take a bunch of us to screw in a lightbulb – I’m okay with that! Mastering clockwise motion is trickier than you might think. And before you get all bent out of shape and call me a racist, it’s okay – I can make those jokes since I’M POLISH. And you know what? There’s some basis to that stereotype. It seems that, when Polish people emigrated to America, their primary motive was to earn money for their families back home. As a result, they chose to move to urban areas and work in factories and mills rather than focus on education, since a hard day’s work was valued more than an education at the time. So maybe they – nee, WE – weren’t book smart, but we were hard workers! Plus, in the Polish culture, humor was relied on to deal with the constant turmoil and political strife in the motherland. It appears that the famed “Polish joke” actually originated from Poles themselves!
I do have a killer sense of humor, by the way. I should have known that I was Polish all along!
Sadly, Rusty did not take the news as well as I did. When I told him he was part Polish he said, “I’d rather be Italian instead. Or black.” He seemed quite crestfallen when I told him the odds of either of those races appearing in his lineage were slim to none. I told him that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, was Polish, thinking that would sway him a little since he does love his iPhone, but nope. He’s secretly hoping we’re somehow related to Martin Scorsese or Tupac Shakur. I told him he should simply be thankful we named him Rusty instead of Andrzej or Krzysztof or something. If I’d known then what I know now, I might have pushed for one of those names!
I, for one, am embracing my Polish ancestry. Catherine I, the second wife of Peter The Great and Empress of Russia from 1725-1727, was Polish. I can’t help but be proud of that association! Coincidentally, when I posted news of my Polish heritage on Facebook, Tara’s aunt informed me that she, too, is part Polish. It’s just one more thing we have in common.
Polish power, unite! Solidarni, as my people say.