Monday, June 2, 2014

My Polish Grandmother

Last night I was the fourth to last passenger to get on the plane and it turns out my seat partner had been anticipating my arrival. From her happy smile and broken English, it appeared that she had been extremely worried I might be overweight and thus gush into her elbow room. She congratulated me on my size with a few expressive hand gestures and before I could explain it probably has more to do with genetics than self control she patted the seat next to her and introduced the cushion to me.
“My—” She thought about it. “—husband! We live Chicago. Twelve years! But no—” She flapped one hand like it was covered with a sock puppet. “—no conversation.”
My Polish seatmate did not let that stop her. Her husband arrived not much later and he spoke to me in Polish a little bit. I nodded along even though everyone present knew I didn’t understand a word of what he was saying.
I yawned. She yawned. She smiled. I swear I could feel the earnest goodwill coming out of the wrinkles on her face.
“So tired?” I asked, reverting to my own version of broken English for simplicity’s sake.
“Yes. We have—work too much. Have tomatoes and onions and . . .” She conferred with husband about the third vegetable they grow; neither could think of the English word; I shrugged. “. . . Yes. Tired.”
I was already nodding off, so she had to point out the drink cart going by. I ordered a small apple juice. She and her husband each received two Bloody Marys.
“We” chatted a bit more. She asked me about my trip and I asked her where she was going, but before long I was completely unconscious again. That is, until the dinner cart went by and my elbow was jostled by my seatmate. Insistently.
“Food!” she announced, joyful.
I checked my watch—it was 10:30 p.m. Chicago time; 3:30 a.m. Warsaw time—and declined her invitation to join her in picking through airplane food as politely as I could.
“You hungry, you eat!”
“I’m really okay.”
She didn’t believe me, but she let me sleep. I wrote once about my Mountain Parents in Korea who, like my Polish seat partner, were convinced I would kill myself by sheet stupidity without them. The best part about that they helped me become unlost, showed me the temple I was looking for, and even drove me all the way back to the subway. The worst part was when they thought I might need assistance in learning how to use the toilet.
Toilet issues were, bizarrely, where my Polish seat partner shone. It was the middle of the flight and I—curled against my window—knew I had to get to the bathroom as soon as possible. I rummaged around in my backpack first, stalling because I abhor inconveniencing people and there may be nothing more inconveniencing than climbing over two senior citizens trying to doze off their Bloody Marys in economy class. I looked up and my Polish seat partner—although at this very moment I promoted her to adopted grandmother—was already looking at me.
“Um,” I said. “Can I . . .?”
“Toilet.” She knew. She poked her husband. He stood up and gallantly helped his wife out of the cramped row of seats. She pointed me to the toilet and then followed behind: Female bathroom solidarity on a plane with a tottering Polish woman. For all I knew she’d been waiting to go to the bathroom when I was ready.
In the morning she bullied the flight attendant into giving me a second drink, gave me her husband’s extra muffin (“He’s diabetic. Not me!”), and, of course, shepherded me to the bathroom again. The downside to my new Polish grandmother was that she took up all the elbow room on our shared armrest. Forgivable.

And some bonus pics:

Wurst puns ever!

Creepy/awesome eye graffiti


  1. Dzień dobry wnuczką! It is good to hear the smiles in your words and see them in your photos. Έχετε μια μεγάλη εμπειρία στην Ελλάδα. ;)

  2. Always good to experience new places and people through your writing, Elaine. I wasn't sure whether this was a typo, or the bedding in Poland is particularly threatening: "...convinced I would kill myself by sheet stupidity without them."