It makes me sad not to know if I would have called her Grandmother or Granny or some other name.
It would not be Nana. That name was reserved for my mother’s mother. I never got a chance to call my father‘s mother anything; she died when I was less than a year old.
I have to use my imagination to fill in the gaps of my real life knowledge.
I can only guess that she might have liked to be called Babcia.
Through the years, Dad has revealed tidbits about my other grandmother, his mother Sophie, here and there. When I was a little girl and I had drawn something my father particularly liked or mastered a new song on the piano, Dad would say “your grandmother would be so proud of you.”
She was little more than an abstraction to me, but I liked my father thinking that way.
Sometimes I don’t ask my dad the questions I want to because the stories he has told me are obviously hard for him to talk about. Dad expresses bafflement by some of the things he experienced, like when Sophie made him allow her to curl his straight hair for a church photo. He still can’t understand why someone would do that to a little boy, to embarrass him.
Each time he has brought up this time in his life, I have gently reminded him that it was a long time ago. That Sophie, an immigrant from Poland, loved him and surely didn’t do it to hurt him.
“You’re probably right, Jen,” he will say, but I don’t know if he means it.
I tried to spare Dad the hurt my prying questions might provoke. I turned to Google.
Thanks to the 1940 census, I now know that Dad’s mother was just 17 years old when she bore her first child. I have tried and failed to imagine what that was like for her, particularly with a husband nine years her senior. While Polish like her, Joseph was born in the States and had a very un-Polish sounding name that likely was bestowed upon the family at Ellis Island.
My father was Sophie’s last child, born when his older brothers were thirteen and nine years old and his sister was eleven. He was unplanned. Dad’s father was not around much during his childhood and I know that money was tight.
But one thing keeps this story from being too sad to bear.
You see, Sophie was a painter. Somehow, some way, in a life that was sometimes cruel, Sophie became an artist. One proud enough of her work to sign every last painting with her name.
My grandmother found beauty, as well as the time and means to share it. I’m glad, Babcia. Thank you.