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Wladyslava Malachowski Zaczek Kaminski


Good ol’ Grandma. She left Łomża, Poland to escape an arranged marriage to an old man named Zaczek whom she didn’t love. Her mom sneaked her out of town to ride steerage to the United States. She spoke a provincial Polish, and the other girls on the boat were making fun of her accent. She listened closely and learned the new dialect on the trip. My parents still have the basket which carried her things to America!

Grandma was a terrible cook but a really good seamstress. She’d boil the chicken for soup (of course!) before she’d fry it in that new-fangled Southern way her kids were clamoring for. But she could eyeball a dress and make it without a pattern. She taught her kids to say the Lord’s Prayer in Polish and to read using a Polish McGuffey Reader (!?!). She was intense, argumentative, and loud. <<ahem>> My mom says I am a lot like her.

Konstanty Kaminski's Shoe Repair Shop, c 1937 (Dad, Irene, and Grandma K are in picture) Repaired Copy

There she is at the sewing machine for this advertising photo for the family cobbler business. You see Grandpa there standing next to the shelves. My Dad’s the tall, skinny kid in the back handing merchandise to a “customer” who happens to be his sister, Irene. That shoe leather in the lower left-handed corner feels like a member of the family too. I think my dad still has that leather in the trunk of his car convinced that some cobbler would want to buy it from him. Any takers?

When Wlady and Konstanty visited Poland to make a killing in the whip business, she and Dad and my Aunt Irene sat in a government office to file some paperwork. Another woman was sitting there weeping. Wladyslava asked her why she was crying. The lady explained that her husband had died, and she needed to get the title for her farm transferred to her name or she’d lose everything. Her crop was dying because she had spent every day sitting in that office waiting for one of those clerks to wait on her. But they wouldn’t. She had no power and they had no reason to pay attention to her. That was the last day before time ran out and her farm would be gone.

You can guess what Grandma did, can’t you? Of course you can. She marched over to the counter and yelled at the two men sitting there. “Get up now and help this woman, do you understand me?” And they did.

That’s my Grandma!


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