To sit awhile at a sidewalk café and chat with bright wildflowers as our backdrop. To wander into old town squares and marvel at the architecture, the stained glass in the cathedrals. To traipse down cobblestone streets and over bridges that date back a thousand years. To get to know the local shop owners where I buy my daily bread, veggies, and meat—and ask for recipes.
The sense of rich history and tradition infuses everything, everyone. Like a great flood, history has both rushed over and raised up the people of Poland. It has carved out hiding places, smoothed rough stones, taught the people to dig deep and hold fast, and carried in new ideas.
When I first arrived in Poland, the drab gray of the sky and the solemn white blanket of winter covered everything. I stared out my window and felt a great sadness, not for what I’d left in America, but for the people who had struggled so long under the occupation of the Soviet Union. But bursts of vibrant color began to catch my eye. Graffiti on the trains and boundary walls, a bright spiral painted on the façade of a new building, a red façade, a green tiled roof, bright scarves at bus stops.
To me, one of their greatest strengths is the emphasis their culture places on friendships and family.
Above all, Poles value people. Hot tea, hearty meals, and loveliness around a table. We felt like a king and queen when we visited neighbors and new friends. Once, we took a train from Częstachowa to Kraków, and then hopped on a bus up into the mountains. In Zakopane, we rented a room from a local family and stayed in their farmhouse. Each morning, we woke to the sound of their rooster, and they brought us breakfast before we went out hiking and exploring. Even with these strangers, we were made to feel welcome and cared for.
But real relationships—as they do everywhere in the world—took work. It took months to get from warm, polite dialogue to deep, honest conversation, but we knew we’d earned trust then, and that was worth the wait. Our new friends became extended family.
And I poured my love for them out on the pages of my novel. Strains of Silence releases on July 21st (August 1st for the paperback), and the main character comes from a family of Polish-American immigrants. I hope you’ll love Kasia [KOSH-A] and her family as much as I do.
Bethany writes about places where grit meets Grace. Find out more about her at www.bethanykaczmarek.com
Thanks to Kris Duda and Craig Wyzik for the images. I didn’t change them.