“If I Didn’t Have a Sense of Humour, I Wouldn’t Be Alive”
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve embarked on a project with my maternal grandmother to document her stories of survival as a young girl in pre-WWII Poland, through Western Europe, and eventually to Canada.
The title of this post is the first little gem I gleaned from my first official story-telling visit with Nanny Antoinette yesterday morning. She cracked a self-deprecating joke when we sat down to the obligatory visit meal; I can’t go to her house without eating a meal, no matter the time of day, it’s always time for a “late” breakfast or an “early” lunch.
I have really no idea how this process is going to unfold. I am not a writer and all I remember from OAC English was introduction, three development paragraphs, and conclusion. I did write a Master’s Thesis, but that was in Human Kinetics, so I don’t think it counts.
I’ve decided I’m going to let my grandmother guide the process. I’ll go with the flow at each visit, see what she’s in the mood to talk about, and interject questions when clarification or insight is required. I think I’ll then take my notes from each session, reflect on them, and then go back the next time with more questions.
My dad is lending me one of his doctor dictaphone things so I can record our sessions.
After a 3o minute breakfast and coffee, we retired to the living room and began to talk. Nanny wants to race through the story, getting to the things that are most vivid in her memory, often the most horrific details. I want to get into the nitty gritty of her family life pre-war and pre Russian occupation, but she wanted to get to the part where her family and friends were starting to disappear. So I let her go there.
I had to slow her down and try to make chronological sense of some of the details several times. Luckily, I have several other sources of information about specific events that I will go to for accuracy, but I’m really interested in her perspective and her feelings.
The best thing about these visits is that I get to reconnect with my grandmother one-on-one, with no little munchkins stealing the show. She is very outspoken, perhaps that’s where I get it from. We both tend to be brutally honest at times. I think she is quite pleased that she gets my undivided attention and can tell me what she thinks about everyone in my extended family. She even did impressions of each of us.
I was also given a lecture on trying harder to avoid butting heads with my mother.
Overall, it was a great visit.
Here are some of my Nanny’s direct quotes:
-On one of her forced labour bosses, “he had a face like a Pekinese dog and a nose like a big juicy strawberry”.
-On the Red Cross Sisters for whom she was doing laundry by hand on a laundry board and then pressing their little hats to creaseless, starched perfection, yet, if there was even the hint of a crease, they would throw it back in the water and make her start the whole cycle over, “I called them the Red Cross Bitches”.
-To the her 13 co-workers as they were loaded into a truck from their workplace, expecting to be taken to the area outside the town where the mass shootings took place because they wouldn’t rat out the woman who stole a pound of butter, “My friends, I have one thing to ask, I want to be first”. They were instead taken to prison.
-On why she survived, “I had a wild desire to tell the world what was going on; I was afraid no one would be left”.
So much more to come; I look forward to sharing. In the meantime, please please my writer friends, some tips, resources, links on how to go about this would be most appreciated.
Entry filed under: Nanny A's Story.