I have not taken a trip with my parents in a long, long time. They’ve come to visit me in the Pacific NW as recently as last year but since they are in their 80’s their major travel days are past. The last European trip they took was a tour to Italy over ten years ago.
However. For some time my mother has been voicing a desire to go to Poland to see where her family was from. Her parents both emigrated from southern Poland. My dad’s parent’s too were from Poland but he’s never expressed a desire to go. More on that later.
As a result of my mom’s interest, about six months ago I found myself planning a trip. Ostensibly with my mother but including my father since he has become less and less happy about being by himself. His aversion to the home alone scenario was stronger than his aversion to going. So I find myself with the two of them, on a plane headed to Frankfurt and then on to Krakow where we will spend ten days exploring.
My two sisters and two nephews are part of the trip as well. My sisters are flight attendants and were traveling “space available.” Up until a few hours ago they weren’t sure they would be getting on the earlier flight. Thankfully they did, our combined forces of support and planning will stand us all in better stead.
My dad’s reluctance plays into all of this. He was a few months shy of 18 when he enlisted in the army. The war had been over for about six months and I’ve never gotten a straight answer as to why he enlisted. Perhaps it still felt like a man/boy’s patriotic duty. Maybe he didn’t have any other plans — college was not in his immediate future. However it happened, about eight or nine months later he was sent to Germany, first as part of an Intelligence Unit to suss out whether the folks in the displaced person camps belonged there (including looking for possible Nazis among the thousands of released victims of concentration camps and prison camps, and slave laborers freed at the war’s end). Then as a driver to a colonel I think. It was in this capacity that he traveled to Poland and came to face the wreckage that was left of that county. I understand that most of Germany was relatively untouched by the war — except perhaps some cities like Dresden — while Poland and much of Eastern Europe (and other places) were flattened by the ceaseless battles.
I believe this is what was stuck in the memory of a young man A young man with limited experience with horror and hate. I think this imprinted itself in such a way that even seventy years later my father’s response is “Why go there. What is there to see.” His stories are about his exploits in Germany, with never a word really about what he saw in Poland.
However. Here we are. Traveling. I don’t really know what to expect but we’ll be in it together. We’ll be traveling in the world. And some of us will also be traveling in our minds.