War Diaries, August 7, 2022

‘Look up to the sky.  Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower?  And you will see how everything changes…And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance.’ The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery




My nephew is going back to Houston tomorrow because his best friend is riddled with cancer.  His best friend is also his priest and mentor, a Daoist priest.  Dear Patrick. 


Jordan has been with us since March.  His absence will be acutely noticed.  Our time together has been refreshing, joyful, complicated, difficult at times in knowing how to pilot circumstances, but overall rich and memorable.  When an adult child returns and blesses you with this gift of their presence, nothing can compare to its wealth because all the years of birthday parties, baseball games, summer holidays, bedtime stories and the suspense of adolescence are within reach, and yet all the potential and possibility of their autonomy are manifesting right before your eyes.  It’s as if you get to see the bud bloom twice and before you know it, they are teaching you about life.  I will miss him.


It has been an unforgettable week.  It has been life-ing, as Jordan would say.  When pain and suffering and joy and fear blend with peals of uncontrollable laughter and anger and confusion, discomfort and hope all in motion at the same time: that’s what life does, that’s what life is.  Life is life-ing itself. 


The highlight of the week has been our American visitors. 


Melanie and Betsy arrived at Sichów on Tuesday bearing five full suitcases of art supplies, toiletries, material for our seamstresses and clothes.  The two girl powerhouses reminded me of my home and America and the side of our culture that I most admire and appreciate.  The irrepressible positive nature in each, their ‘can-do’ attitude, their willingness to roll up their sleeves and work alongside any task regardless of its demand, was refreshing to say the least.  More than this, it was a boost of energy we didn’t even know we needed until we got it.  For weeks ahead of their visit, they organised groups of other friends who worked with them in assembling individual kits of art supplies for the children and toiletry bags that looked like they came from Bergdorf Goodman.  The material and textiles lovingly hand-picked, the cash donations, the time spent by each person who contributed illustrates the generosity of the American spirit.


Stefan and Ania hosted our American guests so thoughtfully with delicious dinners, fantastic wines and conversations against a backdrop of gardens and vineyards.  They will take back some lovely memories of their trip to Poland.


(But I can’t end it here, no ‘Not yet, not yet! the White Rabbit hastily interrupted, “There’s a great deal to come before that!” There are cookies and pizza to talk about.)


We co-host a Mud Day event every summer and one of the food booths is a cafe selling homemade cookies, cake and coffee. 


Melanie and Betsy, in unison said: ‘Oh.  We’ll make cookies ahead of time and put them in the freezer.  Then all you have to do is pull them out and bake them that morning.’


I was thrilled.  Two American women coming to Poland to make chocolate chip cookies for a Mud Day event; it doesn’t get any better than that, so off to the store I went before anyone had time to reconsider.


I returned around 11:00, when the kitchen was in full frenzy.  Food supplies were being delivered and unloaded, cooks were preparing for the afternoon meal while the children hovered around the bowl set aside for the cookies, attentively guarding their square footage so as not to be overlooked when it came time to have a turn at the electric mixer, and the four or five dogs indiscriminately circling the ankles of those whom might accidentally drop a spare sausage — it was in this atmosphere that I left the bags on the counter for Melanie and Betsy to get started. 


It was a second-class miracle, I thought, when not only did the marinade get made for the sliced chicken burgers but also the homemade mayonnaise and the cookies all at the same time with dogs and children alike under foot. 


Betsy invited me to taste the cookie dough before the chocolate went in, to which I eagerly accepted.  I lifted the spoon to my mouth and said, ‘Hmmm…I like them, they’re not too sweet.’  ‘No,’ she agreed, both of us looking somewhat puzzled but it tasted like chocolate chip cookie dough I thought to myself.   


It wasn’t long before we realized that perhaps we should make another batch to make it even easier for our Mud Day event. 


As Betsy was starting on the second one, she picked up a bag of ‘Bulka Tarta’ and asked, ‘What is this?’  That’s breadcrumbs.  It suddenly dawned on both of us that she had used breadcrumbs instead of brown sugar for the cookie dough.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I was laughing uncontrollably.  It was one of those moments when literally all is lost in translation, including your cookie dough.


This did not stop of us from baking a few.  We unanimously agreed that we had to taste this variation on one of America’s national treasures.   Perhaps we were onto something.


As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised.  The breadcrumbs were not seasoned and so finely ground that it was like adding additional flour and the chocolate so strong that it made up for the absence of the sugar.  But you do have to cook it a bit longer and it needs to cool completely before consuming. 


No one will be the wiser.  They were yummy, if for no other reason than energetically they were full of so much love and laughter. 


After an afternoon rest, here they come again to make individual pizzas with the children.  And not just any pizza but boutique pizzas.  Each child had their square of parchment paper laid in front of them alongside all the bowls of toppings from which to choose.  Tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella, sliced salami, onions and peppers. 


Thank you Melanie.  Thank you Betsy.  It’s been a long time since I have felt as sentimental about America as I did during the few days you were here. 


You were a hit with everyone, especially the seamstresses who made you each a Doll Motanka.  The doll is an amulet that protects the family.  It represents female power.  Inner power. 


The climate of the house was pensive and quiet after you left.  I wouldn’t know for certain if this is what people were feeling, but it seemed to me like everyone here knew you were going home again; a place where, for the time being, that isn’t safe for them to go. 


To believe in fairy tales and monsters and angels and teddy bears that talk seem to me a good way to be in the world.  Nobody has to know.  Why must adults be so dull?  They start wars with all of their knowledge and boredom.


“It seems to me that everything is a waste of time’, he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. ‘I can’t see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February.’  And since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of all time.”  The Phantom Toll Booth, Norman Juster.