I remember my mom once opening a plastic bag with dried mushrooms that came all the way from Poland. She put them in a broth, and while it was heating she talked about how Polish mushrooms were like no other food on earth.
I was a kid, maybe 7 years old, and I expected them to taste like the greatest chocolate cake in the world.
You can imagine I was disappointed.
But when my mother finally poured the mushrooms and broth into our bowls, she smiled first and then she started to cry.
Years later, when she was in her 70s and I was in my 40s, she told me about what her home in Poland was like before the war, the woods around the house, and the things she loved about those woods.
I wrote a poem about it.
Like any poem, it doesn't capture the truth of what she remembers, but now that my mom is gone, it's all I have.
My Mother Before the War
She loved picking mushrooms in the spring
and even when she was little she could tell
the ones that were safe from the ones that weren’t.
She loved climbing the tall white birch trees
in the summer when her chores in the garden
and the kitchen were done. She loved to ride
her pet pig Caroline in the woods too
or sit with her and watch the leaves fall
in the autumn. She felt that Caroline
was smarter than her brothers Wladyu and Jan,
but not as smart as Genja, her sister
who was married and had a beautiful baby girl.
My mother also loved to sing.
There was a song about a chimney sweep
that she would sing over and over;
and when her father heard it, he sometimes
laughed and said, “Tekla, you’re going to grow up
to marry a chimney sweep, and your cheeks
will always be dusty from his dusty kisses.”
But she didn’t care if he teased her so.
She loved that song and another one,
about a deep well. She loved to sing
about the young girl who stood by the well
waiting for her lover, a young soldier,
to come back from the wars far away.
She had never had a boy friend, and her mom
said she was too young to think of boys,
but Tekla didn’t care. She loved the song
and imagined she was the girl waiting
for the soldier to come back from the war.