Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Great-Aunt Turns 100!

I’m hitting the road, heading to the Detroit area for a special reason:  My great-aunt Doris is celebrating her 100th birthday! 

She’s very special to me for a variety of reasons, including the fact that she is one of the four “Polish ladies” who sat around my grandmother’s table, eating my grandmother’s amazing pierogis (“the best in the family,” I was told), sharing stories and memories of their lives and memories.  While I can’t say that there were any precise word-for-word translations from their stories into my novel Pears on a Willow Tree, there are small details and—for lack of a better word—an “impression” of their remembered lives.  This personal research informed the book in a deep and significant way.  I can’t imagine having written the novel without the insight, wisdom, laughter, and generosity of these wonderful women:

Wanda Pietrzyk
Sylvia Cardinal
Doris Wolak
Cynthia Weldon

I’m so lucky to be related to them!  The publication of one’s first novel is such an exhilarating time, but nothing made me happier than seeing the four of them, arriving early to claim seats in the front row at every single one of my Detroit-area readings. 

Around the kitchen table, two of my sisters flicked through baby names like boys trading baseball cards:  Mary, Catherine, Theresa, Rebecca, Barbara, Cynthia.  Only girls’ names because the first boy was named after his father.  There was no speculation to a boy.  Between them, these sisters had two boys, one girl, and another child on the way.

“What are you craving?” Wanda asked.  She was the oldest, the biggest, married to a baker.  John and I were living in her house until we could buy our own, one bedroom for each of the couples, one crib with Wanda and Henryk, the other in the corner of the dining room.  “With me, I ate farmer’s cheese in spoonfuls.”

“Cravings aren’t until the sixth month, Joane said.  “Something’s wrong if you’re already craving in the fourth, Helen.”  She was pregnant with her second, afraid it would be twins because her husband was a twin.

~from “Cravings,” Pears on a Willow Tree


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.