Today is Sunday so it was obviously a good day day to visit the church in Debowiec where Wojciech Michnal and generations before and after him were baptized, attended mass, etc. We went to the 9am mass which was well attended. In fact, it was so crowded that we had to stand in back while dozens of others stood outside the church where audio of the mass is amplified over speakers outside. The Church is called St. Bartholomew’s and it was built relatively recently (1838-1848). The outside is plainer than most in this region but the inside is beautiful.
The mass seemed typical although the confessions went on near the entrance of the church for nearly half of it. It was interesting that the confessions were very open to view with the priest merely covering his mouth when he spoke rather than the dual entry booths I am familiar with. The robust attendance and dedication to confessions reinforced my impression that Poles still take their religion very, very seriously. Hearing mass in bewildering Polish brought back memories of being dragged to St. Hedwig’s for mass in Polish by my grandparents about which I protested unsuccessfully for a dozen years or so. I’d give anything to go to mass with Grandma and Grandpa again though….even in Polish!
After church, we stopped by the hotel to change clothes and then proceeded to cousin Danuta’s home for lunch. Danuta was again so excited to see me. She must have sense that I was somewhat Catholic-icon deficient as she presented me with this lovely pressed metal portrait of Jan Pawell II. I was very moved by the gift and though I am not particularly religious, I am sentimental and have this hanging in my DC apartment as I speak. Pope John Paul II is so revered in his native Poland and Europe generally that his portrait hangs in every church I visited both in Poland as well as Slovakia and Germany.
Soon after we arrived, Danuta brought over her neighbor, Edwarda Konopka, who was a 19 year old in 1949 on Wojciech Michnal’s last and perhaps only visit back to Zarzecze before he died of leukemia (I believe) in 1956. Edwarda was tasked much of the time on his visit with taking him around town. She described how villagers from all over the parish came to visit Wojciech during his month long visit as if he was a celebrity. She also mentioned that he was out visiting and touring the country every day and that he liked to party while he was here. On his last night before returning to the U.S. the village surprised him with a surprise party that went late into the night. The band apparently followed him home and kept playing until 4am. She noted he had tears in his eyes when he left.
After Edwarda’s visit, we sat down to a large lunch which included a butter chicken noodle soup, fried, battered pork chops, potatoes and shredded cabbage with some sort of flavored brandy.
We were extremely fortunate with the timing of my visit to Poland as there happened to be a harvest festival in the parish that weekend and Danuta took us along. Beforehand; we posed for pictures with Danuta (in her folk costume) and family members.
The festival was amazing and I was quite the novelty to the group of her society who were quite amazed to meet someone from America named Michnal. Throughout the afternoon and evening, this table passed around two bottles of vodka and a shot glass from which we were obliged to drink a shot as it circulated around and around until they were empty. Even the older lady second from the right drank a shot every time…it was pretty incredible and I was not just a little tipsy by the end of the evening.
Each of the villages also created these harvest displays made up of grain from the harvest and whatnot…sort of like mini-floats in a parade. They were beautiful but there was one clearly better than all the others…
I had a blast at the harvest festival and hope to do it again someday….I woke up with quite a hangover but it was one of the most fun days I had on my trip
Tomorrow is getaway day and I will miss Danuta and Zarzecze. Next up….visits to Zmiaca and Rozdziele, the ancestral home towns of the Rosiek and Paruch (my father’s maternal grandparents) families respectively.