Family House

Accommodating 20-30 people for a week leaves an impressive mountain of washing in it’s wake and as grandmother and I methodically worked our way through the pile of dirty laundry, we tried not to think too much about the gap which we both felt after waving goodbye to so many friends and family. The past week’s events had left a faint residue of resentment between us. I had begun to feel like the peace ambassador for a war criminal by the end of the family holiday, trying to comfort those who grandmother had offended or upset and persuade them that she didn’t really mean it and actually she was a very lovely person under it all. I grew tired of trying to find possible explanations for grandmothers irrational behaviours and begun to think I had dreamt up the lovely, kind, funny grandmother I thought I’d been living with for the past months. Grandmother, for her part, told me bluntly after the guests left that she had been ‘disappointed’ with how I’d behaved during the week, saying she had assumed that I would have been more help. Our silent resentments came to a head one morning as I emerged from the bath to find grandmother demanding a meeting. I jokily asked what she looked so serious about and stood in the doorway in my towel feeling bemused until she sat down and told me sourly “it is not a laughing matter, I do not think it is funny that you should be having a bath so late in the day (it was 9am) when there is work to be done, do you think you’re on holiday”. I was caught off guard, I wasn’t sure what work I was supposed to be doing and we ended up in an argument which we both stormed out of without resolving.

Later as I emerged, dry and clean from my room to hang up the washing (the only job I was aware of at that time) she barked at me to “hurry up, Justyna is waiting to move the sofa bed with you”. Assuming this was the memo I’d somehow missed that had made her shout at me, I quickly hurried to help Justyna, then went to hang up the washing in the hope that my display of goodnatured helpfulness would absolve me of my languorous bath. Once I assumed my work was done, I got ready to go into town, feeling that I needed some time away from the house to clear the air and an opportunity to wear something other than the leggings and oversized t-shirt that had become a second skin to me. When I reached the bottom of the stairs though, grandmother greeted me with a dry, clean sponge, which she pressed into my hand, as if giving me a present, and cheerily told me “this is for you to use to clean the compost bucket now”. “Here”, she handed me a small cleaning brush, “you can use this to brush the stairs once you’ve finished giving the bathrooms a proper clean too”. One of the things I have enjoyed most about moving to Poland is the sense of independence and freedom that comes with exploring a new and unfamiliar route through the world, so I sometimes have to fight the urge to react like a spoilt teenager when I am given such on the spot orders, however this time I remembered some words mum had said to me as she left a couple of days before, “smile and do it with good grace”, so instead I went upstairs, changed back into my leggings and T-shirt twinset and began sponging the soar scented compost bucket. Cinderella would be proud.

My first proper wave of homesickness took me by surprise the next day. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was homesick for, I just suddenly felt very alone, missing friends and familiarity. I decided I needed to get out of the house and organized a meet up with my cousin’s cousin Dominika who lived on a neighbouring farm. My relief was instant at the sight of her smiling face, laughing as she bundled me and my bike into their van (I been attempting to cycle to their house), telling me they were kidnapping me and taking me for fish and chips, along with her mum, sisters and a couple of villagers from Newton Dee Camphill community in Scotland, who were there on holiday. (For those not familiar with the term, Camphill villages are communities for adults with special needs). The holiday makers from Newton Dee were two quiet yet characterful older ladies. J (thought it better not to use real names on the internet) was a smartly dressed woman who stuck her neck out and blinked a lot when she spoke and was fantastically positive and polite about everything she encountered that day. Even a trip to the local supermarket was met with an ethusiastic “oh this is just marvelous”. The other woman, G-M, wore a pale pink lipstick that seemed to sit unnaturally on and around the uneven surface of her lips and looked at me with a serious and unsmiling gaze that was somehow still friendly. She politely interrogated me, asking my name, the name of my siblings, what number in the family I was, where I came from and how I knew Dominika, then repeated my answers to herself as a form of revision whilst looking at the ground intently. They were both very charming and I was relieved to be able to chat away in English with them. When I left, G-M, with her characteristic dead pan expression, handed me a couple of sheets of her colouring in work I’d been admiring, followed by the presentation of a dead flower, “for you Jessica”,  I think this means we are now firm friends.

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After we’d dropped the ladies back at the farm house, Dominika and I took a trip to a bar in Ladek in an optimistic attempt at feeling like normal young people. The event’s poster (above) listed a confusing collection of genres and we were mainly there to find out what ‘romantic step’ or ‘family house’ music was, and whether these new genres bore any tangible resemblance to dub step or house music. We arrived to find the cafe style room a little too brightly lit, with two young looking girls surrounded by keyboards, synths and drum machines on a small platform in the corner. An audience of about 15 people sat watching them in reverent silence from a selection of red and black, faux leather tub chairs. There was no talking and definitely no dancing and the super polite audience even applauded between each song. In the silence I became transfixed by the idea of pinning back the keyboard players long blonde, emo fringe that seemed to be constantly in her eyes, needing to be flicked away by a violent head toss, just for it to return to the same place seconds later. Despite being in bed by 9pm and not even managing to finish the single pint I’d bought at the bar, I still enjoyed my wild night on the town and the day alleviated a lot of tension, leaving me feeling like myself again. Homesickness cured.

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The next week grandmother and I made up over cake in her ‘Laube’ and I discovered the real reason I’d been resented for my 9am bath the week before. “Let’s be honest here” grandmother said and cut to the chase. She told me how she’d been expecting me to take the dog for a walk that morning. I was completely confused and apologized for not remembering her asking me. “oh my dear, I shouldn’t need to ask you, why were you trying to make friends with the dog if you were not going to take her for a walk the next day?”. I apologized for the confusion but tried to explain that I still didn’t really see how me trying to pat the dog was the same as me agreeing to walk the dog. I would have been happy to but I just didn’t know that’s what she wanted me to do. “Ahh, I shouldn’t have to tell you my dear, it’s called social intuition”, I was then treated to a lengthy explanation of social intuition, which given grandmother’s behaviour over the past couple of weeks seemed a little ironic, but we moved on.

The next day we had a bonfire, a kind of symbolic ceremony for us moving forward, clearing away some of the gloom that had hung about us both but equally a way of burning up all the waste paper we had in the house. We had come to the end of the laundry mountain and both were in need of cheering up, so despite not really feeling that enthused, I focused on making the bonfire a good evening. I managed to construct a surprisingly good bonfire (beginner’s luck) and we toasted Polish sausages on sticks over it  which we ate as hot dogs with a second course of baked potatoes in foil, buried somewhere in the bottom of the fire and eventually discovered again like hidden treasure. We read a chapter of Heidi then sang songs until it got too dark for me to read the guitar chords.  The heaviness that had descended on the farm since the departure of its summer guests had started to lift and we were friends again. We even managed a selfie.

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