21 years ago…I couldn’t fully understand what was happening. I had just turned five. My grandmother was crying, and everyone was hugging and saying good-bye. Na pewno zobaczymy cie znowu, Babcia! (Surely, we’ll see you again, Grandma!)
I don’t remember much, but I do remember this…
The man sitting in front of my mom on the plane turned his video camera on during take-off…even though the “Polish Lot” flight attendants strictly said to turn off all electronics. This man’s rebellion made my mom upset. It was her first time flying…It was probably everyone’s first time flying.
Our 9-hour flight took us from Poland, over the Atlantic, and we were to land at JFK. As we began our descent over New York City, the pilots circled around the Statue of Liberty twice. After all, we were in America, the land of opportunity…everything deserved a second, third and fourth look, even if we didn’t know what we were looking at.
We stayed with a family in Ewing, New Jersey until my parents got on their feet. It was where I made my first memories of life in America. My sister and I climbed trees. We ran away from the three boys next door who liked to torture us girls, and it’s where I was taught that tree branches shouldn’t be drawn as straight lines, but as crooked lines that thin out the farther they grow towards the sky.
Our first apartment on Florence Avenue. Two bedrooms, one bath, big living room and a yellow kitchen with a separate dining area. The sofas we had were the velvet kind where the shade changes if you swipe your hand against it. My sister and I had white metal bunk beds that we climbed into each night. We played word games before we fell asleep in order to practice our English.
My first friend was Evette. A little black girl who would be in my kindergarten class that September (if memory serves me right). She lived with her mom and older sister. They lived across the street from us, and I have no idea how we communicated, haha…but we did. Kids don’t need to say much anyways, as long as we all understand the rules of whatever game we’re playing.
Our first family car was a pretty big deal. It was a 1992 pastel green honda civic. My mom took pictures of my dad in the drivers seat from our second story living room window. We were proud to own something.
We came home from church one day to find groceries sitting in front of our front door. Brown paper bags filled with food all the way to the top! I never realized why we received this food until I joined Key Club in high school, and we were organizing a fundraiser to raise food for needy families. I do have to say though, that even now, I would have never categorized us as “needy.” It always felt like we had everything we needed.
It’s hard to believe that 21 years has gone by so fast. I remember all those memories, and more, so vividly. They may not seem important, but every experience we had (as an immigrant family), every mistake we made, every person we formed a relationship with (whether good or bad), has helped to shape me into the person I am today…with the values that have been instilled in me.
So, to my mom, dad and sister, let’s celebrate our 21 years of living in America. It’s important to remember where we came from, and it’s even more important to look back and see how far we have come…and where we are now. Kocham was tak bardzo…
A photo of my dad, me, sister and mom at my wedding. October 3, 2009.