A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Honorata Bania

immigration document

This is the record preserved at Ellis Island for my maternal grandmother, Honorata Bania. She arrived 107 years ago yesterday with her sister Apolonia, aged 17, destination Ludlow, Massachusetts. Their father was already in Ludlow and had paid their passage. It's recorded that neither girl arrived with any money.

Kozubow, from which they emigrated, was at that time part of Austrian-ruled Western Galicia. Western Galicia was Polish-speaking; Kozubow had been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the First Partition in 1772, when it became part of the Hapsburg Empire. In 1918, Western Galicia became part of the restored Republic of Poland. I tell people that I'm of Polish ancestry, but for most of history, "Polish" was a concept and not a political reality.

Beginning in the 1880's there was widespread emigration of the peasantry from that region to Germany and thence to the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Most Polish immigrants to the United States settled in New England. Western Massachusetts absorbed many of these Poles, as well as Irish, Italians, Jews, and others. Ludlow, Chicopee and Indian Orchard were popular destinations because the mills located on the Chicopee River provided jobs for those with few skills and little or no English.

Honorata certainly spoke no English when she arrived; when she died in the 1960's, I could still not have a conversation with her. Too bad, because most of her history is now lost. She raised nine children, had a way with roses, and was a fabulous cook; that's about all I know.

On Monday I meet with Stas Radosz of the Polish Center at Elms College. The Center is expanding and needs the services of a writer to draft grant applications, newsletters, and appeals for donations. I have a feeling I'm going to be learning a lot more about my own past as I help the Polish Center map its future.


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