I was fourteen when I found my first job. My mother was friendly with the local chemist, Ruta Strachowska, who was looking for a babysitter for her five-year-old boy, Paul. Mrs. S. was a middle-aged Jewish lady of about my height, with eyes that crinkled up when she laughed, which she did surprisingly often. My mother told me that she had escaped from Poland during the war by swimming across the River Dnieper to Russia at the dead of night, with Nazi soldiers shooting at her as they ordered her to stop. My mother would never have made up anything so incredible, so I believed her, but it was difficult, looking at Mrs. Strachowska’s pixie face and the dumpy figure she had now, to imagine her going for a swim anywhere.
She owned the tiny chemist’s in a row of small shops not far from our house. The bell would ring as you entered, and she’d appear Continue reading →
3 minute read When I was a child in 1950s London, fruit was rationed. It wasn’t government rationing, but anything from abroad was scarce in our household. It was easier to find produce grown in England. And with five daughters, … Continue reading →
4-5 minute read I once had an antiques stall in the Portobello Road; at least, that’s what I tell people at cocktail parties if the subject of antique shopping comes up. It wasn’t exactly like that. Portobello, on any Saturday … Continue reading →
It may have started with the Great Smog of 1952. I was three, and the air of London had become so polluted from coal-burning fires, that people were dying. There had been smogs before; London’s fogs were famous and they’d … Continue reading →
There’s a photo of Jay in a garden – not ours, but the one he had with his first family. A hint of autumn is in the air, a rusting around the edges of the photo, though it could just … Continue reading →
A version of this was published in the anthology Tangerine Tango. Hope you enjoy it. GC
It was time to tackle the garage. I’d been meaning to do it for some time, ever since we’d finished painting the new house, in fact. I found the light switch and blinked as the glare of neon replaced the furtive gloom of the late afternoon. I looked around and wondered where to start.
In the summer, when the weather was good, we walked to church. Daddy would be in his suit and tie, wearing a trilby hat, which he would remove as we crossed the threshold of the church.
I’m on the left, my Polish godmother is on the right, with my sister Alex on her knee…
My four sisters and I would be in our best dresses. The twins, at twelve two years older than me, usually had identical ones, with perhaps a different colored cardigan each, blue for Jane, and green for Kay.
Last week’s post was about my father – here’s one about my mother… My mother was always looking for ways to save money. Although she had little spare time, with a job and five girls to feed, she decided to … Continue reading →
My father was stranded in England after World War II. So he wasn’t an immigrant, exactly – he hadn’t made a plan to leave Poland for better things. I suppose, technically, he was a refugee.
What he had done, before the world went to war, was to leave his homeland in 1938 to work in Toulouse, in south-western France, for a year. He was an agricultural economist, and at 25, had no ties to prevent him from going. He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, and they assigned him to the Polish consulate in Toulouse, to give him some gravitas. His French is excellent, although the regional accent of that corner of the country can be hard to understand.
I have a couple of photos of him from that time. Here he comes, strolling along a French street, sporting a beret, hoping to blend in. But the camera Continue reading →
I didn’t want to write the Christmas letter this year. But I don’t want to skip a year, either, just because it’s been a tough one. So here goes. As most of you know, Jay died from pancreatic cancer at … Continue reading →