(The story is copied by permission from an email sent to us by our recent Genealogy Tour’s guest Steve)
I’m writing to show you the final chapter of a portion of my family’s story, a story I would not know if it were not for you amazing people and the incredible work that you do. 10 months ago, we stood with Lucjan in a muddy field outside a decrepit and decaying house as he negotiated in Polish with Mrs Kielbasa (whose name will always make me giggle) for us to get inside and see the home of my closest in-Poland relative, a man who had died a decade earlier. Jan Szlosek was a man I would never even have known existed were it not for Polish Origins and the work you do to bring people’s families to life for them. Kinga found the records of his existence when she went to Zalipie (I still struggle to believe that my grandmother came from that now-famous village!) to compile a report for me during the dark days of the CoVid pandemic. We did not know that my grandmother had a brother who did not leave Poland or that he had a son, my father’s first cousin Jan. We would never have known that we are related to a folk artist of some renown, whose work is owned by and displayed at the ethnographic museum in Tarnow. To say that I was moved when we went there with Lucjan and they showed me my cousin’s artwork would be the mother of all understatements.
Back to Zalipie. Lucjan’s conversation with Mrs Kielbasa, the groundwork for which was laid by Kinga, who found Mrs Kielbasa in the first place, was successful and she unlocked the door to the time capsule that was Jan’s house. The house was exactly as he had left it the last time he was there. His clothes were hanging in the wardrobe, calendar and books on the desk, bicycle in the back room. And then there was the art. Painted both directly on the walls and on paper hanging on the walls, hanging inside glass-front cabinets and laying both on the ground and atop the tables in the house, there was the art. And astonishingly to me, Mrs Kielbasa said I could have any of it that I wanted. Hollywood couldn’t think up this movie. This just doesn’t happen but it did.
I chose a few paintings and we took them back to Krakow, where we rolled them carefully in plastic and put them in a plastic tube that Lucjan had helped us to buy in Krosno. Into the tube we dropped an Apple Air Tag so that we could track and monitor their way via DHL from Krakow to Boston. The process of two gringos (OK, Luis was born in Colombia and has native fluency in both Spanish and English, but in Krakow? We were 2 gringos) finding packing tape and then locating a DJL outlet and navigating the process of completing the shipping forms and paying the fee was pretty epic. In the US, shipping companies have standalone storefronts – there is a FedEx store, a UPS store, a DHL store. So because of our cultural conditioning, that’s what we were seeking. We used Google to find a DHL location and it told us there was one in a relatively nearby shopping mall. What it did not tell us was that the shipping location was the counter at the back of a convenience store inside the mall. Or that there were no signs to indicate that this was a DHL shipping location. We found it inky because we happened to see a DHL delivery person and we followed him to see where he was going!
Then we needed to communicate with the lovely Polish woman who ran the store and who spoke as much English as I do Polish. And as we attempted to do so, the line of customers seeking to purchase items from her store or ship packages of their own was growing, making us feel ever more conspicuous for slowing everything down. We owe a debt of gratitude to the young mother in line to ship a package of her own who wanted to practice her English and asked us if she could help. She could and she did and for an incredibly reasonable fee, we were able to leave Jan’s precious paintings in DHL’s capable hands. And thanks to the Apple Air Tag, we were able to track their journey to Boston as we continued our journey exploring Poland.
After arriving back in Boston, I took the paintings to an art conservation company that happens to be only a couple of miles from our home. This company does work for all of the major museums and universities in metropolitan Boston and is well known for the outstanding quality of their work. They cleaned and preserved Jan’s paintings for me, which was no small task, considering that they had been hanging unprotected in his house for over a decade. The house is not heated or cooked, there are holes in the walls, animals have nests in it and there were cobwebs, animal droppings and dirt everywhere. After they cleaned and conserved the paintings, I took them to a local framer to have them framed.
And that takes us to the end of this chapter of my family history. The paintings are now cleaned, conserved, framed and again hanging in the walls of a Szlosek home. I thank you amazing people each time I look at them.