Babcia

Today’s post is a little different to normal as it’s about my Babcia.

You see, when discussing amazing untold stories of parents, grandparents, family and friends, I’ve always been so aware that hers was particularly incredible.

My Babcia, Danuta, was born in Lublin, Poland, in 1937.

It was then, age 2, that the first world war broke out, and despite being Catholic, her whole village were taken to a concentration camp in Siberia.

There, she and her mother lived on the bare minimum, surviving in the freezing climate among desperate times. I remember her retelling stories when we were children of her life, as if it belonged to someone else. The horrors we can’t even begin to imagine, the the fact that as a tiny toddler, she’d save the crusts from her bread ration under her pillow, only to wake up and find the rats had eaten them. It was her cousin, who by joining the British army to fight against Hitler, managed to smuggle them onto the Trans-Siberian railway and provided their rescue, following the long tracks through the middle east and into Africa.

Here, she grew up eating fresh mangoes, her pale Polish skin browned under the equator sun and fears dissipating from the hideousness of war and instead projected onto snakes and hippos.

Then, age 11, she won a scholarship to a British boarding school, and as her mother was taken very ill at the time from TB, had to travel across to this strange isle completely alone, not able to speak a single word of English. I can’t even imagine how as a child she felt on that long voyage across the sea, from so many uprooted moments previously, uncertainty in her formative years was prevalent.

However, the story isn’t all hard.

Babcia learnt English pretty quickly, amongst a host of other languages (she’s the most multi-lingual person I know by far!) and her mother, after having one lung removed, managed to join her in the UK. She’s lived a wonderful life here, meeting my Grandad, a Yorkshire man through and through, in a Kelloggs factory in their teens. She became a teacher of languages, a mother of two, and a grandmother of five of us.

She is a fantastically generous, stubborn and intelligent woman whom I admire very much. She makes the best chrust (like a delicious combination of a Polish biscuit and a doughnut), and though she couldn’t bear to speak about her untold story for decades, is now willing to tell us all the amazing tales of her childhood. In 2015, my brother Ned and I were even lucky enough to visit Poland with both of them to explore her birthplace through her eyes.

I love telling this story.

As grandparents go, Babcia has quite an incredible one to tell, and I’d always vowed I’d make it into a book one day. It’s only when you sit down to write about your grandparent’s childhood that you realise how many gaps in your knowledge there are, and how many spectacular memories there must be that could be told. It has certainly made me reevaluate how much time I spent with them, so I’m going to be booking in many more afternoons with Babcia pottering around her garden listening to the incredible tit-bits of information about her kaleidoscope past.

Do your grandparents have any fascinating stories? I’d love to know below in the comments!

 

 

***This post was in collaboration with a brand, but all storytelling is my own***