I close my eyes and worry the beads between my fingers. They’re made of wood, worn smooth by someone else’s wishes. When I scoop them up and twirl them between my fingers, strange black writing on cream paper flashes before my eyes: 'œwiêty ogród ró¿any'?
They’d been stuffed in a box that I’d found tucked away in the back of my mother’s bedroom closet. It was one of the last things I’d cleared out after Mom died last September. I wish she’d put a note or something here. What was so important about a piece of jagged grey rock, a 6’ length of black chain and seven blue head scarves?
My grandmother -- Babcia -- was a farmer’s girl. Or so I’ve been told. All I can remember is that she sat for a few months in front of Mom’s bedroom mirror. She rocked back and forth, played with something in her hands, and mumbled sounds that frightened me. And then she disappeared. Mom said she’d gone back to live with her ‘rodzenstwo’, that I should be grateful Babcia had lived for a while in our house and that I should go back to school with a smile on my face.
They all called me a Polack at school. I never found the right way to explain that my mom had been born in Poland but was just as Canadian as everyone else. She warmed up cans of Beefaroni for my lunch just like all the other moms did. We watched CBC News at night on television and hung a red & white flag with a maple leaf on it from our front porch every July. It wasn’t enough, though. My name was enough to brand me: Rozaniec.
The taunts were endless: “What the hell kinda name is that? Rozanie is a pain in the neck?” “Your parents some kind of dumb Polacks or somethin’?” “What’s wrong with just plain Rosie? Or somethin’ normal like Roseanne?”
I play with the beads, think about how selfish those kids were and I wince when I feel my husband, Ralph, touch my shoulder. He bends down and kisses the top of my head.
“Rosie? What’s up?”
“This … I think it belonged to Babcia.”
“It’s a rosary.”
“Prayer beads. You touch each one and say a prayer.”
“Whatever you want. My mother had one. Said it made me.”
Ralph sits on the floor in front of me and explains how his mother had worked her beads, praying fairly steadily for six months after she’d married his dad. Prayed for a child. And it came to pass.
“Some people believe, Rosie. I’m off to bed, sweetie. Big meeting in the morning. You coming?”
“In a bit.”
I drape the beads over the edge of my computer screen. Spend some time with Google. And I find myself:
Rozaniec = wooden rosary
Rozaniec = a town in Poland, a country that, following an invasion by the Nazis, ceased to exist in October 1939
Rozaniec = in retaliation for the murder by townspeople of the new owner of a large farm – a German – the Nazis set the entire village of Rozaniec on fire on March 15, 1943
Rozaniec = more than 800 people from the town who were arrested and taken to the barracks in Zwierzyniec, mostly women and children … never to be seen again
I take my Babcia’s beads to bed. Ralph mutters and rolls away from the pressure of me sliding against him. I sink back into feather pillows, hold the beads above my face in the darkness. Dangle them, invisible in black air, wave them in an arc and then stop. I slowly lower the strand down into my mouth and lick five decades of wooden beads, one by one. They taste of salt and angry heat. I rest the old rosary carefully on the night table, turn into Ralph and let my tears of stupid ignorance soak into his back as he dreams about tomorrow’s big meeting.