Best Picture Goes To…
Wild Card Creative Project
Since some of the most important values in my family’s life are family and tradition, I have decided to connect the pieces among the generations through seven different “films” based around my own family tradition today. Every year, my family and I, without fail, have an Oscar party. The Oscars are basically like the Superbowl of the film industry. Watching the Oscars and filling out a ballot has always been such a big deal in my family. It is just one of the times that we come together amidst our busy lives. Leading up to the show, we make sure we have seen every film on the Best Picture list. Typically, it turns into an eight hour affair if you combine the pre-show, red carpet, and the actual show. Ever since I was little, I remember my mom planning the annual party. Some years she would invite neighbors to add more competition to the ballot contest, and other years it would just be us. Regardless of the party, this tradition has been a consistent part of my family, so I thought it would be cool to present stories from my Polish family in a unique way that connects to my life today. This wild card is essentially an Oscar Ballot, specifically the section for Best Picture. The films that get nominated every year have a substantial impact on the viewers for a combination of the acting, story, and overall presentation style of the film. Each of the “films” that I have chosen to include had an impact on the family in some way. Story after story, time pushes forward, and the stories of multiple generations of my family are told. As you read through the selection of stories, you will notice the challenges and events that played a role in shaping my family. From 1800’s in Poland to 2010 in Georgia, one story led to another, each playing a role in the eventual formation of my family today. It all comes down to action. The action and decisions made throughout the line of my family was in someway like a domino effect. Although hardships existed, it made us stronger and ultimately who we are today. A strong Polish family that loves some Academy Awards ballot competition! That shiny, gold figurine is symbolic of the story of my family — the challenges, the victories, and everything in between. Every family has their own story, and this is mine.
The Second Sunset
It had been a tough year for young Joseph whose family seemed to be slowly unraveling right before his very eyes. His older sister had hung herself from the roof of their barn, leaving his family distraught. He had to be the glue that held the family together. He could sense his mom slipping into a depression, so he did whatever he could to help her out. With their father constantly working, Joseph had to be the man of the house tasked with great responsibility. Longing for a break from his hectic life, he started to plan a trip to Poland. It seemed nice, even if it was just a weekend break where he could clear his mind and refocus. Once he finally had the chance, he packed his bag, grabbed his hat, kissed his mother on the head, and headed straight for the train station. As the train made its way from the station, he watched as the rich orange colors from the sun blended with the sky as night began to fall. He marveled in God’s creation. After his first night at the house he had found to stay in, he began to explore the small village in Southern Poland called Slaskie. The atmosphere seemed very warm and friendly with plenty of villagers and passersby’s. He spent the afternoon browsing through the various shops and following the aroma from bakery to bakery. Joseph felt that it was nice to have a day completely to himself without a schedule or anything he had been tasked with. He continued throughout the town until he came to a long pasture filled with wildflowers and children playing with one another. The scene was picturesque as the orange colors began to reappear in the sky as the clock began to strike five. He came across a young woman in a pastel blouse paired with a long skirt. Her hair was in braids, out of the way of her face so she could concentrate on the scene. She was painting the fields filled with children as the sun was setting. Joseph complimented her work saying, “That’s a marvelous picture, Miss.” She turned around with her braids flinging across her blouse and made eye contact with Joseph. They locked gazes, and Joseph was stunned by how beautiful her hazel eyes were. She replied, “Thank you, would you like to sit in front?” She proceeds to stand up and position Joseph ahead of the painting. She continued to paint her sunset scene adding Joseph into the work. The woman told Joseph that this was her second evening working on the painting, and that it was a nice escape from the house. Joseph spent the rest of his evening in that field making genuine conversation with this young woman who seemed to know more about the world than anyone he had ever met. Her name was Regina, and something told him deep down that their souls were connected to one another. They had found one another among the vastness of the world. Coincidence or not, they had found one another on the second sunset. The second sunset that provided each of them a temporary pause from the stress of life and an opportunity to find a love that would defy all odds.
Nothing But A Pile Of Coal
Joseph was enjoying breakfast at the long kitchen table with his sons, daughters, and his beautiful wife Regina. Regina had prepared the usual morning feast as she knew that Joseph had a long day ahead of him in the mines. Every morning, he would load his plate with eggs, toast, sausage, and potato pancakes. Some days he would stick around for seconds. It was his favorite meal and some of the only time he had available to catch up with his family. He was able to spend quality time while enjoying the present moment. Christmas was three weeks away, and the discussion at the table was centered on Christmas wish lists. The girls wanted new dolls, while the boys wanted the same train set that their friends had. Joseph reminded them that they must behave, do what they are supposed to, and be good for Mama in order for jolly old Saint Nick to grant their requests. He tells the children with a stern voice, “If you are not good, the only thing that you will be seeing underneath the tree is a pile of coal.” One of the boys proceeds to ask if Santa got the coal from the mine where he worked. One of his daughters asks him if he ever saw Santa come to the mine to gather the coal. Joseph responds saying, “He comes to collect from the mines when no one is looking.” He leaves the conversation at that as he must rush to get to work so that his shift leader does not get onto him. Arriving at the mine, he begins the usual work of shoveling the medium sized dark rocks out of the tight space. No matter how hard he tried to stay clean, the black dust inevitably gathered on his face every time. He thought about how his children knew about his work, but he always held back from sharing the horror stories and incidents that occurred daily on the job. In a way, he knew it was for the best, because he would hate for his children to be overwhelmed with worry. The day before had been one of the hardest days for him in a while. He witnessed his best friend get crushed by a giant rock in the mine. Right before his very eyes, he saw his best friend’s life taken away from him in a split second. He was still trying to mourn, and he did so through memories and stories of his friend while shoveling those endless piles of coal. It made the day go by faster than usual as his mind was distracted from the tasks at hand. The work was scary, but it had its moments where he felt a sense of accomplishment from a task assigned to him. Ultimately, just receiving his paycheck and knowing he would be able to provide for his children this Christmas with the gifts they wanted made him content. That feeling made every second of the job worth it knowing he could put a smile on his children’s faces. Even though Joseph’s life revolved around coal, his children would have a different life, a life without ever having to touch a piece of coal or receive coal under the tree. They would receive the dolls and trains they so badly wanted just like they would eventually receive the opportunity of getting an education that would set them up for success. They would never have to shovel coal in order to get by. Joseph would make sure of that for his children. He would suffer the challenges instead to ensure that his children would have a better life than himself.
After a long honeymoon in celebration of their newly joined lives, Raymond and Irene return to Arizona, their new home. Raymond had requested time off for the wedding and honeymoon from his military training. Although he wished he could stay with Irene, he had a duty to the country. The bombing at Pearl Harbor had been one of the reasons he joined the military. He could not stand to see innocent lives lost in the disastrous World Wars. He could have hidden away with fear but instead decided to step up and play a part in stopping the injustices. Once they arrived home, Raymond received a letter correspondence requesting for him to report to a military base in Louisiana for training. Shocked by the location, he shows the letter to Irene. Irene understands the situation more than he thought she would. She kissed him on the cheek and spoke only a few words: “Just please be safe!” The next morning Raymond departed for the train to take him to his next stop. He was prepared to do whatever it took to protect the country he so loved. He wanted himself and his wife to have a great future in America and continued opportunities for freedom. Above all, he hoped one day to start a family that he could provide for. All his time and work were just helping him get to this point. He always did what he was told by his officers and trained to the max. After weeks and weeks of training, he was finally assigned a position on the front line in Europe. Excited and nervous for the chance to finally put his work to use, he proceeds to call his wife, Irene, before heading across the globe. Irene tells him, “Please be safe honey, our little one will need you in their life!” Raymond responds with intense joy and happiness by this news. He was going to be a father, and it was the greatest blessing he could ever ask for. Irene, who had come from a strong independent Polish family, was holding up really well on her own even though she often missed Raymond. She had invited her sister to stay with her for some time while Raymond was on duty. Her voice sounded strong and jubilant over the phone as Raymond begins to get reprimanded by his chief officer. It was time for him to go for now, but he vowed to make a safe return to his family. He was fighting for what he believed in, the future of his family and all Americans. As he takes his seat aboard the massive plane, he prays silently to himself and prepares for his mission.
It had been a completely normal day. Wendy had walked to school with her sister, Lynne, in the wee hours of the morning as the sun was rising for the day. She sat through her classes often daydreaming as she always would while doodling beside her notes in the margin. At lunch, she would grab her food from the cafeteria and take it outside, so she could enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and the simplicity of the natural world. 3pm arrives somewhat in the blink of an eye, and the bells chime for school to be dismissed for the day. Wendy walks home and stops at the front entrance of the door. Suddenly, her mood shifted from carefree to worrisome as she heard the loud uproar coming from inside her home through the thick walls. She began to wonder if her sister had arrived home yet. Slowly clenching the door handle, she twists it trying not to make to much noise so that she would go unnoticed. As she attempts to make it to her bedroom, she stops in her place. The sight is something that she would never forget. She sees her father practically choking her mother while shoving her up against the bare wall. He screams at her telling her how worthless she is. Wendy could tell by his slurred voice and the strong smell that he had once again been drinking, and at this point he was completely drunk. Wendy rushes to her father and begins to try and pull him away from her mother, while begging for him to stop. Her mother who appeared to have several bruises and a black eye tries to reassure Wendy, but Wendy knew better. She had seen her father drunk before but never this bad. He trips over the rug trying to shove Wendy off of him. Her mother falls alongside the wall, exhausted and in agonizing pain. Wendy rushes to embrace her mother clinging to her for her life. Her father who was clearly disoriented began to rise and points his finger at her mother. “That’s it!” he angrily screams. He then proceeds to walk away towards the end of the hallway. Only a few minutes later he returns with a duffel bag and his keys. He yells across the living room, “I’m leaving for good this time.” Wendy tries to run after him as he makes his way to the door while trying to remember all the good memories she has had with him and the family. Tears began streaming down her face as she began to realize that nothing she said or did could stop him from leaving. He gets in his truck and speeds away from the now quiet house, swerving from each side of the road as he begins to exit the neighborhood. It had been a completely normal day that had been turned upside down. It was the last day Wendy would ever see her father again, and little did she know at the moment that her life would change for good. She returns to the floor to embrace her mother, while the tears continue to roll down her cheeks uncontrollably. Her mother, trying to be brave for Wendy, holds back her tears while comforting her daughter. Change would soon be coming for the family, change that would require hard work and perseverance to survive.
Will Work For Pancakes
It’s 1976 — It is a dry and hot morning in the California Valley. Wendy and her sister, Lynne, are walking to their school that is a few blocks down the road from their house. The pace was seemingly quicker than yesterday as they were both eager to get to school so they could work in the cafeteria. That work meant that they would get a free meal in the cafeteria, and they were both starving. On their walk, it was as if their stomachs were having their own conversation, grumbling wildly, and longing for sustenance. Dinner the night before consisted of a can of SpaghettiOs split among herself, her mother, and her brother and sister. Canned foods were all her mother could really afford. Their mother finally gave into her pride and was in the process of filling out an application for the food stamps program. Meals like this never left them satisfied, and they longed for their school breakfast the next morning. They weren’t even bothered by the fact that they had to get to school an hour earlier every day to help in the cafeteria because it meant they would be less hungry. On this particular day, they knew that breakfast would consist of warm pancakes with rich maple syrup, hashbrowns, and sausage. The thought of these foods motivated them even more to get to school. Little Wendy began to race her sister the rest of the way. Arriving at the door to the cafeteria, the duo places their backpacks aside, covers their hands with plastic gloves, and places a hairnet over their hair. Obediently, they get to work and envision the breakfast they would soon get to enjoy. As time passed by, and they got older, they made sure to get part time work at restaurants in order to get free food during their high school years. They did whatever they could to help alleviate the financial burden placed on their mother who worked odd jobs to provide for four children without any help. Whenever they needed someone to talk to or just an escape, they would visit their Aunt Josephine’s house to enjoy some home cooked Polish food. It was hard for them to talk to their mother since she was always busy with work. Wendy first met Josephine at a young age and over the years had grown very fond of her. She went to her for advice and loved hearing the stories she would tell. If she was lucky, on the days she would visit, Josephine would have some freshly baked cookies still resting on the cookie sheet to be enjoyed by the two. Growing up hungry, they learned to be grateful for any food that they received. Every night, Wendy and Lynne would kneel by their bed and say an additional prayer for the woman they had grown to love.
The Last Rose Petal
Josephine had been diagnosed with cancer, and Wendy did not believe it to be true. She was the healthiest person on the planet. How could it have been possible of all people that she would end up with cancer? Wendy asked herself this question on a daily basis during this rough time. Josephine had become her best friend, someone she went to for advice and just to talk. Josephine often assured Wendy that everything will work out the way that God intended. It was a great reminder for Wendy to keep her faith in perspective. Towards the end of that summer, Wendy began to prepare to gather her stuff to be ready to move to college. She was beginning to take the next step in her life. All her life, she had heard of the stories of adventure from her Polish family. She was ready for an adventure of her own. Her mother did not have enough money to send her to the college of her choice, so Josephine stepped in. With her help, Wendy would be on a plane in a few weeks headed to The Sorbonne in Paris. It had been a dream of Wendy’s to go to college in Europe, and she had fallen in love with the French language in high school. There was a part of Wendy that wanted to stay close to the family for Josephine’s sake as the news of her cancer had come at the worst possible time. As the countdown was on, Wendy felt conflicted on what to do and often discussed her future with her mother and Josephine. Family meant everything to her, and she didn’t want to abandon Josephine when she needed the family most. One day at Josephine’s house, Wendy tells Josephine that she has decided to stay in California and get a part time job. Josephine firmly tells Wendy, “No, you are going to Paris. This is your dream, and you are going to live it.” With Josephine’s blessing, Wendy was off to Paris to study international law in only French spoken classes. The city of love was everything she could have imagined it to be. It didn’t take long for her to make friends and begin immersing herself in the culture. Family was still a priority on her list, so she always made time to write letters to her mother, sister, brother, and Josephine. Josephine would update Wendy on life in California and her current health status, and Wendy would vividly describe her experiences and atmosphere living in Paris. Josephine had never been, so the description often took her to a different place in her imagination, a distraction from her declining health. About a year into her studies, Wendy receives a letter from Josephine saying that her father had moved back into the house to help care for her. The doctors had told her that she only had a few months left to live. Josephine said that it would be probably more like a year because her blood was strong Polish blood. She would continue to fight. Wendy was taken aback by the news of her father, who had left them, moving back in with Josephine. She put the pieces together, and it all made sense. He was using her. His values had shifted from family oriented to just selfish. He was going to make sure he got the massive inheritance when she passed. Josephine being such an innocent minded individual probably didn’t even think twice about his motives. She was probably just happy to have company. Four months passed in the blink of an eye. Wendy caught the first flight home to attend Josephine’s funeral with the rest of her family. Her father did not bother to show up, but he did make sure to make sure he changed the will before she died. Although, Wendy and her family would not receive any of the inheritance, they would receive continual guidance through her everlasting spirit. Josephine was a symbol of strength and guidance. That would never change.
The Stovall House
Sophia packed her bag, eager to get on the road to Helen, GA for her tenth birthday surprise with her mother, Wendy. It had been a tradition in the family for a tenth birthday trip to spend the weekend somewhere in Georgia. Sophia had chosen to go to Helen, GA to experience Cabbage Patch Land and escape the heat for some crisp mountain air. On the car ride to Helen, Wendy proceeds to tell Sophia about her dolls that she had as a kid and how much dolls have changed today. “My grandma, Irene, gave me her Polish doll that she had throughout her childhood when I was younger before she died, ” Wendy stated. Dolls had such significance in the family, and they were often given and passed down the line. After spending the afternoon in Cabbage Patch Land, choosing a doll, and getting dinner, it was time to settle down for the night. It was already dark early since the daylight hours had increasingly become shorter and shorter in October. They pulled up the gravel driveway and thought it was a little strange that they were the only car at the bed and breakfast. The sign had been hardly visible in the dark that encompassed the atmosphere. It read, “The Stovall House,” They both stepped out of the car and heard only the sound of crickets in the grass fields nearby. Wendy opened the unlocked front door of the house, and called out, “Hello?” A few lights were on in the hallway, but there was no noise in the house. She proceeds to call out again, and finally someone appears to help check them in. It was the innkeeper, and he asked them if they needed anything else for the night before he left. He proceeds to tell them that he lives in a house nearby and returns to the bed and breakfast every morning and leaves every night. Sophia cuddled up in the bed with her new cabbage patch kid, while her mother was changing into her nightgown. The night proved to be anything but restful. There were only four other rooms in the house, but it sounded like someone was throwing a huge party. Wendy was confused as to when these people even showed up because it had seemed like no one was there when they arrived. Wendy heard someone from the room next to us say, “Let’s go out on the porch.” She was quick to jump out of bed by this statement because she realized it was a shared porch with the people next door, and the door had refused to lock. She put up a chair against the door to prevent anyone from the “party” from trying to get into their room during the rest of the night. The night came to an abrupt end when Sophia and Wendy were awoken by the alarm clock that they had not set right at 6AM. It was a crazy night, and they both were feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. At breakfast, Wendy shares with the innkeeper how loud the other guests had been and details of the obvious party that had taken place. The innkeeper explains, “You two were the only guests in the house last night.” Immediately, both Wendy and Sophia looked at each other in utter shock and disbelief. They didn’t really believe in ghosts, until the innkeeper continued to explain that the house was haunted by its original owners, and the daughter loved to throw parties when people were visiting with some sort of celebration. The two had to channel the supernatural and spiritual beliefs held by their Polish ancestors to fully grasp the situation. Wendy and Sophia had been there in celebration of Sophia’s birthday. It all began to make sense…. The crazy night that would go down in history for the family.