Monday, 31 December 2012

A Polish Christmas

My mother's parents were both Polish, they escaped during the Second World War via Sweden where my Uncle was born, Scotland where my mum was born and then had six months living in Argentina before finally settling in London. For fear of being arrested, they never went back to their homeland. Nan worked as a bookkeeper on Fleet Street and Granddad worked for British Rail, they got a decent sized house in Southh West London, which my Grandmother at 91 still lives in (Granddad died in August 1991).

Like many Europeans, for Poles, the Christmas celebration was on Christmas Eve, so every year we'd drive up to my Nan's from Kent. With my cousins and aunts and uncles, she'd do a full Polish Christmas dinner for us, complete with herring, breaded fish, potatoes and bigos, and poppyseed cake for dessert (eurrgh!). After that, we'd open our presents from that side of the family then head home, before celebrating a British style Christmas at home on the 25th.

As the years went on, the dinner stopped, as cooking for 12 people was all too much and we'd go for coffee and cake instead, but now, Nan isn't really able to do much as the host, and the tradition has stopped altogether, and my Uncle's family prefers to take holidays in the UAE at Christmas, so Nan comes to us, along with my Dad's mum, all the way from the Black Country.

This year Nanny Kiki (so-called as that's what she called me when I was a baby) had a heart attack the weekend before Christmas and spent the 9 days in the run-up to Christmas in hospital. Her hearing is dreadful and her memory worse, but she loves to talk and is always cheerful. She had us very much on edge all over Christmas though with sudden gasps and grunts, and I felt I shouted "ARE YOU OK?" more than I said anything else! What I love about my Nan is her relentless cheeriness, even though it's repetitive, her most used words are "unbelievable", "lucky", "amazing".

Nan probably won't be in her own home much longer. The vast amount of medication she was given is too much for her to remember to take properly, the stairs in the house are steep and it's all becoming a bit of a worry. For years my mum has been doing the Christmas shopping for her, as it's difficult to get to the shops, find the gifts we want and carry them all home. This year my mum bought me on her behalf the stunning Rose Petal Jam Polish cookbook by Beata Zatorska and Simon Target which I thought was a particularly thoughtful given the circumstances.

My Nan may be with us for many years to come, or this heart attack may be signalling that her rich life is coming to an end, and even though she didn't choose this book for me herself, I can remember her by it.

2 days after Christmas, Nanny P went home from our house, and on the very next day, she fell over and broke her ankle. If it doesn't rain it pours (all this follows my Dad's back injury which he is still recovering from)! She is 96, and is very, very immobile anyway, so it's unlikely that she will recover well and will probably need to go into a home too. I am glad we go to spend Christmas with them both at home this year, and in subsequent years we can make the best of whatever the situation is.

I grabbed a handful of old photos from Nan's house yesterday. Unfortunately I don't know who's who in most of them. With my grandparents escape to the UK, I never knew my other older relatives or their friends. That's them at the back, top left.