My Father, who art in Heaven... or in the Other Place!
I wrote the following piece for the Clayton Creative Writers Group in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where a task was set to write 500 words based on the word Resolution. Closer to the mark is that I wrote it for my mother who has always said I am a "chip off the old block". I have hereby attempted to articulate my mother's assertion - the article is based upon fact.
My father, Jozef, was born in the south eastern flank of Poland in 1927. In 1939 the Soviet Union invaded his fatherland from the east, 16 days after the Germans Nazis did likewise from the west. Jozef was shipped on cattle trucks to Siberia in Russia for assimilation, it was a journey that took seventeen days, where he was surrounded by the dying and deceased. The cattle truck didn't stop during the journey to enable the dead to be taken away. Jozef advised me that cattle, which the truck was intended for, had more dignity in their journey to death. After barely a year in Siberia, Jozef's sister Veronica (she would have been my auntie), died of starvation in barely living accommodation after being separated from her family.
Soviet authorities recorded that Veronica died of malnutrition, Emelia (my grandmother) didn't believe a word of it. Emelia sent Jozef on a ninety mile train journey, where he clung onto the outside of a cattle truck for six hours in bitterly cold conditions - seemingly the optimal travel mode in the Soviet Union. When Jozef arrived at his destination (near to a mortuary) he had partially lost consciousness and his arms were frozen to the cattle truck. Jozef couldn't move at all and needed a bystander to 'snap' him away from the cattle truck. Jozef was a farm labourer, not a doctor, but the sight of his emaciated (she'd starved - not suffered a fatal illness) sister told him everything Emelia had sent him there to determine. I believe this episode demonstrates Jozef's resolution.
In 1941 the German Nazis turned their aggression towards the the Soviet Union. While withering under the onslaught of Operation Barbarossa, the Soviets 'generously' released their Polish captives so they could fight their now common enemy. At the age of fifteen my father forged his age in an application to join the Polish Free Army (PFA) and give Emelia one less mouth to feed - death from starvation would have been the inevitable outcome for one of her children in 1941. Jozef's first posting after joining the PFA was in Palestine, where it might be expected that the most significant changes to his living environment would be the temperature and sand and the sea. Jozef informed me that certainly wasn't the case, he now had the opportunity to see the horizon for the first time in three years and he said it was by far the biggest adjustment to his life after living in the depths of horizon free Siberian forests for nearly three years.
Jozef emigrated with his family to the UK in 1949, they chose it over America as they knew it was closer to their homeland and would make their 'inevitable' return to Poland more convenient. Despite being a gifted oratician, Jozef appeared content to take unskilled labour positions, he used his oratorial gifts in representing other Polish immigrants when they had cause to be challenged by authorities over seemingly trivial matters. Jozef was never more passionate than when defending someone who he felt had been unfairly treated. Jozef displayed contempt for any party which he felt was treating a fellow immigrant unfairly, he was resolute in their defence.
I have attempted to correlate Jozef's resolution to some of my own characteristics. I was determined enough to be successful by many yardstick measures in life, however they DON'T in any way demonstrate my resolution:
I am telling this story in December 2017, aged 48. Two years ago in July 2015, I was injured in a bicycle accident where I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and airlifted to a hospital. The critical care doctors (who were used to having people die while in their care), told my closest family to expect the worst and had relevant paperwork signed for organ donation.
I rather rapidly overcame the 'easy part' of the brain trauma directly related to the accident and was discharged from hospital after learning again to walk and use a toilet. The really hard part began in earnest whereby I attempted to live a 'normal life'. I was still mentally incapacitated in so many ways it is not worth starting to describe them - so I shan't! I used to be a professional 'high-flyer', now it appeared my 'high-flying' was 'book-ended' by a trip in an air ambulance helicopter. My misfortune had all the ingredients to make me a severe depression candidate. However, I refused to allow that to happen - my resolution pricked my conscience into driving me. I knew my loved ones had been prepared to sacrifice their better lives to care for me with no guarantees (or even likelihood) of a positive outcome. There was no question of allowing myself to become depressed and a burden upon them after they had demonstrated their resolution to care for me.
I am content I have evidenced how bloody-minded I am - or I could put it another way, I have demonstrated resolution.
Random Muses about my Father
Whenever my father and I were working together on a task, he wouldn't contemplate putting anything off for even a day. Jozef used to say "There is no tomorrow" - it was his mantra for the way he lived his life. I feel it rubbed off on me becoming a purposeful, results-oriented and 'gainful' person.
Humility Begins at Home
When I was sixteen I was arrested for shoplifting and held in police custody. My father came to collect me from the police station and gently advised me how he'd had to leave my weeping, heartbroken mother at home. My father informed me that my mother wept because she had given all of her love and support to me and the reward was that she had produced a 'common thief'. It was the most perfect way I could ever imagine to deal with the situation - it completely re-orientated me.
My father always felt that Russian citizens, singularly, were as good as those of any other nation, however, he felt that Soviet / Russian authorities and military were pure evil - personified by Joseph Stalin. While with young friends (between 12 and 15) in a Siberian forest, he played hide and seek with a Soviet soldier. The soldier shot dead a friend when he found him, my father stayed hidden under a fallen tree while the soldier walked across the trunk. My father often associated World War 2 aggression to Russia, as that was his first hand experience. He'd seen his sister die due to them, which made it personal. My father recounted how perhaps five million Ukrainians starved to death due to Soviet agricultural policy during World War 2, even greater numbers than the murderous plague of Nazis. My father attributed most major post WW2 conflict to Soviet influence - Korean War, Vietnam, etc. He told me numerous times of how on one night in October 1962 he kissed my mother goodnight and told her how much he loved her - this was during the period of Cuban missile crisis where a nuclear war, and the likelihood of collateral death, was a distinct possibility. My father could never understand why the hammer and sickle, or the term CCCP (equivalent to Soviet Union - USSR), became trendy in the nineteen seventies - my father always associated these emblems with their evil connotations.