In an unusual hand dealt by fate, both my parents were born on the same day, the 27th of November, three years apart. They could not have started life in more different settings though.
My mum’s family had been settled in Central Poland countryside for the previous couple hundred years, her grandfather was a local teacher, her grandmother an energetic housewife and a mother of four, whose home-made produce was famous within 20 miles radius. My mum’s ancestral home was a busy hub of village life, filled with neighbours, visiting relatives, and usual farming life hustle and bustle. My great grandparents kept a serious number of cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken, ducks and geese, plus a few horses to work in the fields.
My dad was born in Krakow, to a family of academics with a distinctive air of self-importance carefully passed on through generations and partially explained by obscure claims to aristocratic connections. My grandad was a professor of chemistry, who spent a year at Cambridge University as a visiting scholar when my father was two years old. He took his wife and toddler son with him. The only remaining trace of their 1938 trip to England is a single postcard depicting Houses of Parliament, which slipped out of an old book a long time ago.
Fast forward twenty years. The ravages of World War and the establishment of Communism in post-war Poland made it possible for my parents to meet as students at Łódź Technical University. Love blossomed despite my posh grandma’s despair that her son was dating a ‘cabbage grower’s daughter’.
I have very few photos of my dad’s childhood. Shortly after the war broke out my grandparents had to flee their Krakow flat in a hurry, on a last minute tip-off that academics were being rounded up and imprisoned or worse by the Germans. They spent the rest of the war in a forester’s lodge. I never found out where exactly that was.
History was kinder to my mum’s family mementos, the war left the cottage unscathed, allowing numerous photographs of a cheeky little country girl to survive.
Every year on my parents’ birthday I shuffle the few scraps of family history still in my possession. I look at familiar lives reduced to a handful of faded black and white photographs with their shy childish smiles and self-conscious poses. Memories of long gone times and places get fainter with each passing year despite my best efforts to preserve them.
My dad would have been 82 today, my mum 79. They would have celebrated at home with my mum’s special cheesecake and several cups of black tea with lemon, two sugars.