Sunday, January 21, 2007

My Granny Irena

I wanted to tell you about my Grandmother (my father's mother) so I reached for some old photo albums.

My Granny's name was Irena Zelazko, maiden name Kujawa.

I don't know where her family came from, anything about her childhood and adolescence, because when I was a kid I wasn't much interested in it, and then it was too late to ask... All I have is this very old photo of my Great Grandmother Anna with my Granny as a little girl - it must be 1915 or 1916, an I don't know whether Great Granny was a severe mother, but she definitely looks so in the picture (or maybe it was just the picture pose they tended to take while making such portraits?). My Grandmother had two older brothers and I believe she had a rather happy childhood (the three of them survived both World Wars and died in old age).

My Grandmother married my Grandfather and they hired a small 1st floor flat in a picturesque town close to Warsaw (just one room, bathroom and kitchen). He was a clerk, she was a housewife - she had her flat to take care of, a small garden in front of their windows and her crafts. Yes, that's what I'm aiming at - she was a very crafty person.

She had an old Singer sewing machine, the one with a huge pedal to keep it going (I used it several times and it really worked comfortably, once you've mastered how to keep a steady rythm... ^^) and was making a lot of her clothing. Later, when I arrived to this world, she was sewing for me - in the dull times when I was a child and there was absolutely nothing nice in the shops, I remember wearing colourful dresses and skirts made by my Granny out of the cotton fabrics she collected over the years!

I loved digging into her big three-door wardrobe, where I found real treasures: what we would call now 'vintage' shoes, dresses, hats (oh, she had many hats for different occasions!), bags, gloves, ect, ect. I often played dressing up and posed in front of a big mirror, and imagined where my Granny would wear this or that.

When I was older, she taught me different types of embroidery (it was her second favourite craft). She taught me the patience of long hours of playing with the needle and thread, the surprise of the pattern appearing in front of my eyes bit by bit, the pride of the finished work, the happiness and the value of the fact that I made something with my own hands.

Then I became a teenager and didn't spend so much time with my Grandmother - I started to have my own very important teenage stuff to do and I imagine it must have been heartbreaking for her, especially because she was alone, my Grandfather died of a heart attack when I was five, when they both were quite young, and she never found another partner (never even tried).

Okay, stop reading here if you don't want to cry...

My Grandmother was a heavy smoker for about 40 years but then she stopped, and it seemed her health was okay. But at the age of about 73 she developed a severe lung cancer, that was slowly spreading on other organs. Moreover, she had a small heart attack in her sixties and they implanted her a special device onto her heart to keep it going. So, the situation was more tragic, because she was dying of a spreading cancer, but she couldn't die because that battery on her heart kept sustaining her life and prolonging her suffering... At the final stages of her illness she was living with me and my parents, and I remember that she never said a bad word, never complained on anything (although my mother hated her and treated her like an unwanted stranger in the house, which was breaking my heart). She was just laying in bed all day, listening to the radio, trying to read something, she ate when it was time to eat, asked me to help her with her bath, she was coming to my room to watch tv because she knew that she wasn't invited to the living-room when my mother watched tv.

Then things went really bad and she went to the hospital, where I visited her once or twice, but she didn't want me to come and see her in that state. And one day the battery on her heart stopped and she died.

They said that just a few minutes before she passed away she asked them to call me because she wanted to see me for the last time. But then it was too late...

About 10 people came to her funeral. Most of her side of the family and neighbours were either already dead or lived too far away from Warsaw, and I think she wasn't a very sociable person to develop a net of friends. She lived for her husband and her son, then for her granddaughter.

She was the warmest person I've ever known, the best Grandmother I could imagine, a very crafty and imaginative woman. I miss her a lot in my life now, although I believe she watches over me somehow and helps me a bit. I think I inherited some of her genes, her talents and I'm trying to use them wisely.

After my Granny died I took a few things from her flat - the wooden box (she used to keep medicine there, and I put in it all my sewing threads), a fox collar (very stylish piece of accessory), Grandfather's bowtie, and the last treasure - two big envelopes full of embroidery patterns. My mother took a beautiful huge mirror and an art nouveau vase (yes, she grabbed what she could...), father took some photo albums and documents, the rest was given to some distant family living in the countryside (furniture, clothes, kitchen utensils, ect) before I was even aware of that.

I wish I spent more time with her when I didn't.
I wish I gave her more help, attention and support in her illness and in her everyday struggle with my mother when she had to live under her roof and be treated like a stray dog, instead of being a stupid teenager occupied with my stuff.
I wish I showed her more love and gratitude for what she did for me all those years.
I wish I was at her bed in the last moments when she was dying, because we didn't say 'goodbye' and 'see you there', and maybe my sight would make it easier for her to leave.

All those wishes cannot be fulfilled now because I don't know how to turn back time. Nobody knows. I will always live with the feeling of unfulfilment and guilt, and unfinished business.


  1. That such a sad story. I really did cry. Your Grandmother looks beautiful and it sounds like she was a lovely person too. It's good that she has got you to remember her.

  2. To bardzo smutna historia.Najwazniejsze,ze masz Ja w sercu.

  3. I think at the time the first picture was taken no one smiled for pictures -

    We have a Kajawa family here who own an insurance company wouldn't it be a hoot if they were related to you ;)

    I understand the regrets you feel but I think that no matter what you always feel regrets of some kind when someone we love dies --

    I love love love the first picture of your grandmother as an adult.. all the pictures are great but that first one is fabulous.