By Karolina Skupien
Portland, OR, USA, 2016
If an average person was asked their opinion on Mszana, a small village in southern Poland, they would most likely give you a puzzled look or say they ate a pierogi at a Costco sample stand once. I don’t blame them, Mszana barely covers 11 square miles and has a population of barely 4,000 people. To give you some context, Forest Heights has a population of about 70,000 people.
It’s miniscule size aside, Mszana is the place I call my humble abode for the majority of my summers. It’s where I ride bikes along old, skinny roads with one of my cousins to our great aunt and uncle’s house to climb their fruit trees to snack on the most delicious cherries, where I dance the polka with all my family members to the most awful yet infectious disco polo music, where I play pickup soccer games with what feels like the whole town, but most importantly where I feel safe and the most at home. When I use the word “safe”, I don’t mean safe from danger, considering the worst thing that could happen to you in Mszana is going into a food coma due to the immense amount of food Polish grandmothers tend to make. I use the word in the sense that everything just feels right, even the way the gate connecting my grandparent’s house to my aunt and uncle’s house squeaks every time someone opens it.
My grandparent’s house acts as a gathering place for my extended family that lives in Mszana or towns nearby, so often nights we have a full house that consists of a lot of laughing and the aroma of homemade Polish desserts. On one of these full house nights, while everyone was sitting around the kitchen table discussing Poland’s progress in the Eurocup, my best friend, my cousin, and I sat on the porch to watch a massive thunderstorm that was taking place. We were sipping on our warm raspberry tea watching lightning crack atop miles and mile of rolling hills with tiny village houses plopped on them. As we were observing the captivating sky that the storm created, the background rumble of my family talking and laughing was always present. In what otherwise would have been a fairly daunting storm, my family presence made it peaceful.
I try to not take the moments of being surrounded by so much family for granted since living in the U.S. means having not much family around. Despite being so far from Poland and growing up in Georgia, USA I was raised in the most European household possible in the deep South. From determining my first language, going to a Polish preschool and Polish Sunday school, having a tight knit group of Polish friends I’ve known my whole life, and eating potatoes 24/7, being Polish has and forever will be a big part of my life. I have been surrounded and immersed in Polish culture my whole life, which is why I think I feel most myself when I’m in Poland.