If It Weren’t For Anna’s Mom, I Wouldn’t Exist

A few weekends ago I was at the Easthampton Book Fest, in Easthampton, Massachusetts.  This is the area I call home.  Though I grew up in north central Connecticut, much of my extended family is around Springfield, Massachusetts.  There is a decent sized Polish community in the city of Chicopee, Massachusetts—where my Dad still goes to church every Sunday morning to a mass said entirely in Polish.

When I was getting ready for the Book Fest I let my cousins and aunts and uncles know I’d be there.  Living in RI, I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like.  My cousin Anna and her daughter Joanna came to visit me at the Book Fest.  Anna, I think, is my second cousin.  I’ve seen her at family events growing up.  But it didn’t realize that if it wasn’t for Anna’s mother, I would not exist.

My Mom came to the US in October 1961.  She spoke very little English when she stepped off the boat in Montreal, Canada, then took the train from there to Bristol, Pennsylvania.  Wait.  I just said that my people are from Massachusetts.  What the heck was my Mom doing in Pennsylvania?  Well, when she first arrived here, her cousin sponsored her so she could come to the US.  That cousin, Lorraine, lived in the suburb of Philadelphia.  

But it was Anna’s Mom who convinced mine to move to Massachusetts.  There were a great many factories and mills at the time where immigrants could easily find work.  My Mom told me stories about factory floors on which she worked where just about everyone spoke Polish.  She told me of the car dealer where you could slip them a few extra bucks and they’d “buy” you a driver’s license without you having to take the driver’s test in English.  My Mom worked in injection mold factories making things like board game pieces.  She worked on the line at Smith and Wesson making guns.  There was more work like that available for immigrants in Massachusetts than there was in Pennsylvania. 

My mom moved to Massachusetts, got into the Polish community, found work.  She befriended a woman named Wanda.  She befriended a man named Casimir.  She hung out with a group of people that included Wanda and Cas.  Then one day Cas went to my Mom’s place to ask her if she could hook him up with Wanda.  My mom was game to play matchmaker, so she introduced them.

Sparks did not fly between Wanda and Casimir.  But they did fly between my Mom and Casimir.  He was an aspiring machinist who dreamed of owning his own shop.  He worked long days and saved.  She bent her back over assembly lines.  She saved too.  He got a car, and they went on drives on Sundays.  They drove to wonders like Howe Caverns in upstate New York.  They went on picnics with their friends.  Mom and Casimir got married January 1965.  I have never actually called him Casimir, I call him Dad.  My Dad had emigrated to his Uncle Matthew’s house in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  If Anna’s Mom hadn’t convinced my Mom to move to Massachusetts, I literally would not exist.  I would not be the amalgamation of Jane and Casimir.  I wouldn’t have his nose.  I wouldn’t have his eyes.  I wouldn’t have her smile and determination.  I’d be Jane and some other guy.  

Who the hell knows who I’d be?

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

added on 04.17.17

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