Stawiski -The Town My Mother Came From

The town square,Stawiski Poland

She had no great love for Stawiski…and why should she? She was just a little girl stuck in a small town that suffered between the Germans and the Russians. She waited for the day when she could leave.

Her father, Chaim, was gone, emigrated to America in hopes of securing their future. She, her sisters and her mother were stuck behind, trapped by the first world war. They lived with her grandparents while they waited for the time when they could leave. She was only about six years old, old enough to remember what a child remembers.

They lived in a place like this, my mother, her mother and her grandparents

He must have had little love for Stawiski too or maybe he just wanted more. Either way he left, making his way to Chicago where he worked as a carpenter while he waited for the war to end so he could reclaim his wife and children.

One thing I know is that to my grandfather being Jewish was important. All his life he was a regular at shul, davening every morning and afternoon and acting as Baal Tefilah. He must have had this practice long before he left home although we never spoke of it.

Where the great synagogue once stood
What the great synagogue looked like around 1910. Look carefully at the house on the left

In Stawiski during the time my grandfather lived there, there was a great synagogue. Our guide took us to the place where it had once been. Where the synagogue had stood there was now a small park, quiet and green.

Our guide showed us this picture of the town as it was a hundred years ago, the synagogue towering over the houses.

I looked back and forth between the picture and the park trying to imagine the synagogue. Then I noticed a house across the way.

The house in the old picture is still standing. The windows in the picture are plastered in now but you can still see the outlines of where they were.

I moved a few feet to the left and the resemblance to the house in the picture became unmistakable. That house, standing across the park from us, was the house on the left side of the old picture. It had stood there a hundred years ago when my family lived in the town. It had been there when my grandfather went to daven …perhaps before he began his journey…perhaps…

A little house, a window looking out at a field

A story my mother loved to tell was about the long cold winters of Poland. The family lived in a tiny house, three generations all together. In one of the windows stood a small porcelain lamb, the kind of thing a child would love. Her grandmother had put it there and placed a piece of green paper under it to make a meadow. My mother told stories of standing near the window, looking out at the winter landscape and then gazing at the lamb and the meadow, the promise of springtime.

For many years I thought this was all there was to the story…but then I was never very good at listening. In fact my mother had kept that little porcelain lamb, had brought it to America and had kept it with her throughout her life. When she died my wife rescued it from the million things left behind and told me that this, this tiny white thing was the lamb of the stories. How did I not know?

The lamb at home on our window sill in California

We have it now, this little hundred year old trinket. You can see it up on the mantle in the living room where it lives quietly after its adventures. Loved by a little girl, brought to America, then to Chicago, then to Miami, kept by a woman all her life, saved by a woman who listens, brought to California, treasured again and now the subject of this story.

Authors note — In October 2014 my wife and I drove to Stawiski, a small town in Northeastern Poland to see where my mother and the rest of the Brozozowska/Barron family had come from. Located between Lomza and Bialystock, Stawiski is about three hours from Warsaw. We traveled to Stawiski with Hubert Pawlik, a Polish guide from Warsaw who was familiar with the area and a great help in finding our way.

Like this story? You can find more stories about about Stawiski on my page at Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.

And if you like the pictures there are thousands more on my photo website here


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