Friday, July 25, 2008

The beginning of the end

Throughout my childhood today marked an important turnover point. This is my grandmother's birthday. Every year on this day as much of the extended family as could manage would head over to her house for a party. She would make a cake for everyone, a two-layer version of her Marigold Glory cake with vanilla-coconut icing, and we would all sing "Happy Birthday to You" and "Sto lat" and then sit in the kitchen - around the kitchen table, in chairs scattered along the walls, on the piano bench pressed into service as seating for a group of kids, my grandfather enthroned in his rocker with his pipe - and have cake and ice cream and coffee. Then someone would start playing the piano, or my uncle would break out his accordion, and all the older folks would drink coffee and beer and sing Polish songs while the kids gathered around the TV in the next room to watch reruns of Star Trek or the John Pertwee-era Doctor Who.

A week later our Parish would have its annual Church Bazaar in the church parking lot just up the hill, but by then Summer would be well along its downward slide to the beginning of school. My grandmother's birthday was that turnover point where Summer began to end. It always snuck up on us unexpectedly; the days had been getting shorter for over a month, but at the same time they had been getting hotter. Suddenly we noticed the ripening grapes, the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and the profusion of Back-to-School sales. September was on its way.

My grandmother died ten years ago this December. She fell a dozen years short of the hundred wished for in "Sto lat", but the parties had become more subdued events well before that. My grandfather, with his deep but raspy laugh, had passed on decades before her, and I'm not sure what happened to his original rocker. The piano has not been played as part of a gathering in many long years. I last heard my uncle play the accordion at his 25th wedding anniversary in 1997, eight years before he died. My aunt, his wife, now has the old kitchen table and chairs.

I have the house. And the piano, and the piano bench. And my grandfather's rocker, if it's still in the house. I put one of my own in the vacant spot it had once occupied several years ago, and I replaced the kitchen table and chairs and even the "extra" chairs.

The grapes are having a bad year. Partly that's my fault - I wasn't aggressive enough about pruning them, or weeding below them, or spraying them with fungicide early enough in the season. Partly it's due to the hot, wet summer we've had, which has produced ideal conditions for black rot on grapes. Still, a few may make it through to Labor Day this year, just like they did last.

Purple grapes, rear arbor, August 31, 2007

Our Parish will have its Church Bazaar next weekend, though not in the usual location. Someone sold off all of our heavy-duty cooking gear some years ago, or relocated it to some location where it is shared with other Parishes in the city. The 2008 St. Mary's Church Bazaar will be held on the grounds of the Holy Family center August 1-3. This may be the last year for this Church Bazaar, as this may be the last year that St. Mary's exists as a Parish.

The days will continue to get shorter, and the nights will get cooler, and school will begin before Summer has a chance to truly end. And we will be able to look back on this day and say, "There. That was where it all started to go wrong. That is where Summer began to end!"

Happy Birthday, Babki.

Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje, żyje nam,
Niech żyje nam!

No comments: