Posted tagged ‘memories’

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

December 4, 2012

Surprisingly I have recently caught the “bug” for the Weekly Photo Challenge by WordPress.

Here are a few of my photo reflections:

From Cape Cod
From Cape Cod © Alicja Mann

From Yuma
From Yuma © Alicja Mann

From the Patio
From the Patio in Tucson © Alicja Mann

From the Road

From the Road © Alicja Mann


If you enjoy this blog, please subscribe to it. Thank you!

* * *

Text and photos copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann.

My Father – Made of the Sky

June 17, 2011

“My father was made of the sky,” I concluded while pondering what I was made of in an essay in my book Looking at the World Twice. Yes, my father Kazimierz, who was fearlessly passionate about flying, was definitely made of the sky! And not just any sky, but the sky above Poland. A jet pilot and later a high ranking officer of the Polish Air Force, he could not imagine himself in any place but in Poland. He raised me with the expectation to feel the same. So my decision to emigrate from Poland was extremely hard for him to accept. “Cosmopolitan,” a word which I used often, was a ‘dirty’ word in his mind and for others with his political beliefs. It meant not belonging. It meant not being loyal. It meant not being patriotic.

A true believer in the ‘socialistic system’ of post war Poland, my father wanted me to feel the same. But I did not. I developed a strong dislike of the Soviet style system and the Soviet domination of Poland. When I was mature enough to stand against his political opinions, our relationship become painfully rocky and even hostile. Still our love and respect for each other prevailed. That respect was a crucial element of our bond and was based on a painful sincerity. At times I just wished we could simply lie….

My father Kazimierz Pieniazek, circa 1960
My father, Kazimierz, as I like to remember him from the times of my life in Poland

I love memories and images of my father from my childhood years. I loved his slate colored uniform, high boots and his strong hands that could pick me up high without any effort. The idea that he could master those powerful metal beasts and take them to the sky was very romantic. My father was a symbol of strength and courage for me and I simply adored him. I even liked the smell of the tobacco he used for making his cigarettes, as well as watching him clean his fifkas — special glass holders for those cigarettes.

My memories of that time are painted in earth tones: colors of the forests where he taught me the art of mushroom hunting and gathering hazel nuts; the bluish gray of the lakes and rivers where he was tirelessly fishing in summer and hunting in fall; the color of the wheat fields and brown horses in the countryside where I spent part of my summers to “experience life so different than ours,” as he used to explain. It was my father who read with me my first real books and talked about geography and distant countries where he would fly occasionally on governmental missions.

When I finished first grade, I was asked to write my name as beautifully as I could (my nickname Ala to be exact). It was then traced, made into a gold inlay, and placed in the upper right corner of his hefty, silver cigarette case. The other corners were occupied already by his monogram (KP), my mom’s name, and the emblem of the Polish Air Force. I felt very proud to see my name on that silver surface each time he used his cigarette case. And he used it often. Now I am the owner of that case. I inherited it in the year 2000.

My father's silver cigarette case Alicja Mann, about 8 years old
My father’s cigarette case Me, Ala, at about 8 years old

It was at the beginning of 2000 that I moved to Tucson, leaving behind familiar Cape Cod. Just as I had settled a bit into my new place, a night call from Warsaw interrupted that settling. The voice of my uncle was filled with urgency. “If you want to see your father alive, come to Warsaw as soon as possible!” he stated.

I was not surprised by that call, but I did not expect it to come so soon and to be so urgent. I knew that my father, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, was having some new health problems and had been in and out of the hospital a couple of times, but….

That night in late February I learned that Kazimierz was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and that not much could be done for him, “especially considering his age,” as the messenger of the bad news stated. “But 79 is not so old!” I cried into the black phone receiver. There was no response — only the long characteristic sound of disconnection. The next day I booked my flights to Warsaw.

When I entered my father’s room in the hospital a few days later, he was greatly surprised. “Why are you here?! I thought you were coming in June,” he scolded me. After hugging he continued, “So why are you here? Is it sooo bad?!” I did not know what to say.

The next day, after consulting with me, the lead doctor decided to deliver the verdict to my father personally and asked me to be there. My father looked at the doctor’s eyes straight with all his attention, understanding the importance of the visit. He did not blink when the words “lung cancer”, “impossible”, and “we are sorry” entered the room like deadly bullets. Some explanation of why Kazimierz could no longer stay in this hospital followed. My father behaved like a good soldier. He did not ask any questions and responded shortly — “I understand.”

The hospice in which I placed him was very pleasant — modern, well furnished and with an excellent kitchen. That made my father happier for a while as he liked to eat well and was tired of boring hospital meals.

I spent a lot of time in that hospice witnessing his ups and downs. His body was failing him and that made him angry, especially when he lost his ability to walk and had to stay in bed most of the time. Later he calmed down.

We did not talk about death as I thought we might, nor did we talk about the future. We talked about his meals and about my new place in Arizona. He became preoccupied with the small 8.5 x 11″ laminated map that I brought for him from Tucson — one side had the USA and the other had the World. He examined that map endlessly and would not part with it for anything. I wondered where he was flying….

The final visit before my return to Tucson arrived and it was filled with silence. I could almost hear my pounding heart. I sat on the side of his bed and we stared out the window nearby. It was April already. The trees looked energetic with their new green leaves and the sun dancing on them. The outdoor world that my father loved so much looked beautiful!

I procrastinated as long as I could and finally gave him that last, long hug. I whispered into his ear, “I wish you a soft landing.” A short silence and his “me too” followed. I wasn’t sure if it was for him or for me.

The next day I landed safely in Phoenix. Two days later he landed softly in the everlasting darkness.

Alicja Mann and her father Kazimierz Pieniazek Cover of CD by Michael Mann: Pilots Will Always Fly
My father and I — as I like to remember him from numerous visits to Poland after my emigration Michael’s CD

You may click to hear the special song composed by my son Michael for my father — his dziadek.

Polish and English lyrics of "Pilots Will Always Fly"
Text of the song in Polish and English

Eleven years have passed and I still wish I could call him this coming Sunday to say “Czesc Tato — Happy Fathers’ Day!”

* * *

Pilots Will Always Fly and CD cover copyright © 1999 by Michael Mann. Text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Magic of a Writing Hand – Part Two

June 2, 2011

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

Submerged in the nostalgic thoughts triggered by my previous post of this blog, I found myself on a tiny “island” surrounded by piles of letters, postcards, photographs, tapes, and newspaper clippings. My brave attempt to organize them ended up with reading them! Special attention went to a relatively new pile of letters written by my own hand and which were mailed to Poland years ago. I retrieved them after my mom’s death (my father died several years earlier). I was surprised by the length of the letters I wrote at that time. My parents and I had very few chances to visit each other due to the great distance, cost of travel, and political atmosphere between Poland and the United States. Telephone communication was not available or not reliable. So we wrote letters…. Mine were written mostly at night as I was busy with my professional work in science and raising two small children.

Here are some pages of my letters, some photos, and in the center a letter from my father.

Collage of letters, envelopes and photos

His letter was written on pages pulled out from a notebook. It appears that the pages were torn out impatiently and that the writing was done in a hurry, as indicated by numerous corrections so uncharacteristic of his other writings. The letter was written in 1980 and the poor quality paper has yellowed considerably after 31 years. I read with great curiosity his hurried words of concern and worry about my future. He was upset about my decision to separate from the father of my two very young sons. I was touched by my father’s concerns which I dismissed at that time. Mostly I was touched by the authenticity of these pages demonstrated by their ruggedness and imperfections.

Many memories were awakened and I was falling down into a big dark hole of sadness. I was drowning in the past. An invitation to a friendly, colorful Memorial Day party offered a great escape from it.

After such a welcomed break, handwritten letters from the past were again on my mind. The books of published letters by some well known and not so well known persons suddenly became more visible among the other books in our home, as if asking for special attention.

Four books

Above we have:

Letter to Mother, an anthology of over 100 letters that start with the words “Dear Mother.” They are written by well known politicians, poets and writers, painters, musicians, scientists, and philosophers. Among them are letters of Henry Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Anton Chekhov, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Henry Thoreau, Helen Keller, Tom Wolfe, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Wagner.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh — this book is well known and does not need any explanation.

Letters to Olga is a collection of letters written by Vaclav Havel, a playwright and Czechoslovak dissident at that time (1970s). He wrote them from prison to his wife Olga. After the fall of Communism Havel became President of his country.

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is a very recent publication by Verso. “Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish-born Jewish revolutionary and one of the greatest theoretical minds of the European socialist movement,” as the publisher of the book introduces her. It is a huge collection of Luxemburg’s letters to her friends, lovers and colleagues. To describe this book is impossible in this space, but I would like to salute my friend George Shriver for his excellent translation of Luxemburg’s letters.

My very favorite books of published letters are pictured below:

Two books

Mother and Son: A Wartime Correspondence of Isoko and Ichiro Hatano. I simply love the tenderness and kindness of the words exchanged by Isoko Hatano (mother) and Ichiro Hatano (son) in the period 1944-1948.

Letters from Prison and Other Essays by Adam Michnik is one of my favorite books of political writings. Period! And who is Adam Michnik? Another impossibility for this small space. Starting in the late 1960s Michnik played a prominent role in the political opposition in Poland that subsequently gave birth to the Solidarity movement. He was a major intellectual force of that movement. One of the best minds of Eastern Europe, he was often referred to as a tactician of the non-violent struggle against the Soviet totalitarian system.

Regardless which letters one would read — Van Gogh’s, Michnik’s, or one of the Hatanos — there is an aura of the author’s personality and a feeling of the moment in history in such letters. Their authenticity and their permanence are their greatest assets. Those letters survived years in their handwritten form and will survive much longer in printed book form. No special technology is needed to read them now or will be needed to read them in the future.

So I wonder what will happen to our contemporary electronically written words and images stored in the corners of our own computers or on Facebook or some other social networking contraptions. Will we be able to find them and read them twenty, thirty, or fifty years later?

Tucson’s poet Judy Ray ponders a different, yet very relevant, question:

Ink of the ballpoint fades and is gone.
The pen continues across the page
with little pokings up and down,
circles left and right, pressing firm
on paper its invisible message.

I can get up and fetch another pen.
But what if I were in prison
And this my sole, rationed tool?
Like conserving water in the desert,
there would be only sips of words
written small….

Copyright © 2009 by Judy Ray

If we could not write or our writings were to be lost, we would feel that thirst for words. A power of the handwritten word lies in its endurance.

* * *

Fragment of the poem titled Written Small is from the book of poems To Fly Without Wings by Judy Ray, Other text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Magic of a Writing Hand – Part One

May 19, 2011

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

I pulled a creamy envelope from the mailbox with excitement when I saw my name and address written by hand in black ink. A nice feeling of anticipation enveloped me. “Looks like somebody wrote me a letter,” I thought and ripped the envelope impatiently with my index finger. Two printed sheets of white paper fell out of the envelope and landed on the floor. I picked them up and quickly learned it was not a personal letter, but advertising from a local company. I felt disappointed and somewhat cheated. So I tore the envelope into small pieces and threw it into the trash.

“You are so gullible,” I scolded myself, understanding that I had been fooled by clever marketing people who know how attractive it is for anyone to see a hand addressed envelope waiting patiently in the mailbox. That “personal touch” of marketers is pretty well known and used to ensure that the envelope will be opened. “Oh well,” I thought, “not the first time and not the last one!” Still, I was bothered by it and I tried to define why.

It is really pretty simple — postcards or letters written by hand are very special, particularly in today’s rushed world, a world in which we are preoccupied with the Internet, social networking, and mobile phones’ amazing capabilities. We do not have time, or take time, for writing personal letters or colorful post cards while traveling. Why to bother when one can write an e-mail, attach some photos and send them directly and instantaneously? No paper, no ink, no stamp, and not much time consumed. Better yet, one can send the same e-mail to many friends at once. Yes, it is very efficient! Yet, the charm of a note written by hand is indisputable for me. It is slower — much, much slower — but such a card or letter represents a lot more.

Collage of correspondence

For me seeing someone’s familiar handwriting evokes a warm emotion, as if that hand is touching my hand. I imagine that person choosing the card in some local gift shop or pharmacy, later sitting at the table, desk, or nightstand, and writing by hand. Addressing it carefully, so there are no mistakes, is very important. Postcards usually do not have space for a return address. When they are lost, they are lost for good! Placing a stamp and smoothing its surface with the tip of the hand gives the card an extra touch. Finally it is ready to be mailed and to start its travel to the destination point. Sometimes the distance is short, but it’s often long. The recipient can imagine the journey each time a new card arrives.

Being very sentimental, I have been keeping many special letters and cards in a protected place. Today I looked at them as if they were little pieces of art. Actually they are! Many contain memories and touches of people who are no longer among us and those pieces are becoming even more precious.

Collage of correspondence

Each card or letter is unique — the strokes of the pen are fixed on the page at the moment of writing. The grey, transitory e-mailed words shimmering on the computer screen do not hold a candle to the handwritten words arriving in my mailbox. But they arrive very seldom… I also send them very seldom….

Today however, I decided to write a few colorful postcards and send them to some friends in faraway places. Maybe you will too.

P.S. Just in case you would like to send me a postcard, my current mailing address is:

Alicja Mann
P.O. Box 32855
Tucson, AZ 85751

* * *

Text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

%d bloggers like this: