by Łukasz Radosław

Małgorzata Chołodecka writes about her Grandfather Edmund Chołodecki

Instead of reading Dostoyevsky as a cautionary tale, I gobbled him up, one sunrise at a time. I grieved for a lost world and hoped that maybe I could somehow get teleported there. Russia was a place where cavalier men drank Vodka while teetering off of high ledges. Wow they knew how to party in the 1800’s, I however was stuck in suburban America. Their word play, stolen glances and double meanings would never be mine to imbibe. I lived in a world of clear-cut definitions, rules and all sorts of no trespassing signs. It was hard for me to reconcile that I missed out on a time and place where people would have died for poetry. I was born too late, communism eradicated that sort of life. I knew that those people had gone with the Bolsheviks, their good manners and immense spontaneity lost in some Russian Gulag. His words spoke of them and of a place that no longer was, his books a reflection of a lost landscape. As a teenager Dostoyevsky provided me with a portal, through him I could peer through a closed curtain and sit on a train next to a well-dressed stranger. It was all so bad, dark, and glamorous. My life paled in comparison.

I grew up in a very typical American Suburb. There were homes, green grass and trees in the backyard. I don’t ever remember using our front lawn or our back yard. My parents threw a lot of parties so that is not to say that our backyard patio wasn’t used for anything, to me however it always felt very still, and lifeless no matter how many trees swayed outside my window. The street, the homes felt hollow and empty. I couldn’t have put into words back then, but what was missing was the human factor. No one on our street really knew one another, there was nothing connecting these homes other then their borderless lawns that spilled from one neighbour’s house into the next. It wasn’t a community if lack for a better word but rather a conglomeration of random people that chose to live on that street with nothing else binding them. And then there was us.

Edmund is third from right

We would perpetually get hit up with fines for trying to grow grapevines, tomatoes and dandelions. My dad forbid us to spray our lawn, he looked at me crunched his lips into a little beak and said you know that anything you put in there will end up in our drinking water. I remember my walks of shame every time I got off the bus, immaculate lawns to my left, immaculate lawns to my right and those bright yellow spots in the distance my house. I didn’t need to look up I could have just looked at the grass to find my way home. My dad insisted that he didn’t understand what the fuss was about, they are just nice yellow flowers why is everyone so adamant about destroying them. But at the time this was pretty much sacrilegious. America was in midst of a full-on dandelion inoculation. If there was an agent that would had gotten rid of those resistant little buggers, they would have detonated it. And here we were these garlic smelling Poles that always spoke out of turn and cultivated these things like a crop of sorts.

I remember a police car pulling up to our house one time. The policemen stepped out all uncomfortable like and explained to us that this was not designated farm land and that our neighbours were uncomfortable with our front lawn farming operation. My dad had converted our house into a radio of sorts, but we were not farming. The Policeman pointed to our rows of grape vines, “you see this, this is a crop you can’t grow crops here.” My dad insisted that they were decorative, that we weren’t bottling wine or making grape jam in our basement. He looked at the Police man shoulders slouched “you see” he pointed at the ground most of them fall off. “We just like the look of it, kind of like a little Italy” he finished with his endearing smile. Yes, the Policeman continued but your neighbors think that you are farming, and this is not Italy its America. There are certain codes here that all our citizens must follow. My dad nodded his head that he understood. The policemen stepped back into his vehicle pulled out and that was that. The fines kept on coming in their long white envelopes, and I guess we kept on farming because the grapes stayed, who knows they might be there till this day.

Edmund is third from left

My Grandfather had planted grapes and so grapes ran deep in our psyche, it would have equated to pulling Grandad out of the ground. My dad might have been at odds with his own father, maybe they didn’t see eye to eye on most things, but my Grandad planted a lot of stuff in his life time, even built a greenhouse of sorts to house it all. When I was little Grandad would take me by the hand and walk me over to his plants and tell me to breath in the aroma. Afterwards he’d look down into my face searching for something. I think he wanted an affirmation of sorts. I did smell them, all his plants but it was also very sticky and humid in there, so I probably lost interest rather quickly and wanted to get out. He’d resist my flight with one look of his big brown eyes, that knew how to tear up in a guilt inducing instant. I wouldn’t do that to him I’d stay and water the plants with him. As a token of his appreciation his big lips would burst into the most welcoming of smiles and he would continue on to show off the new shoots poking through the ground. His wide nose inhaling everything around him, he related to his tomatoes as though they were his friends or long lost relatives, it was either all accolades or cuss words if they were not up to par. There was a lot of love in that green house.

Grandad also had bee hives, out in his back yard, I never cared for the bees that much, they got stuck inside the house a lot, or ended up in my little cement pool that he had built me. Regardless whether I appreciate it or not as a child it infused me. The smell of bee’s wax and honey will forever be intertwined with my Grandad. If ever I want to conjure up the past all I have to do is run my fingers over a stem of a tomato plant or light a bee’s wax candle and there he is. Our house in the States was devoid of aromas, there was no ram shamble green house to venture into, nor stores of honey and bees wax lying around. I think we all missed it, my dad must have missed it so much that it propelled him to cultivate his own bees and he now climbs the rooftop of his little hotel to have his own session with Grandad, maybe the honey is his way back home too.


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