Sioux City today for grandparents and other family meeting, cousin, aunt, uncle, mom, grandpa, grandma, me. To Sneakies Chicken - really the best. Little. Little place.
Sokolowski. Sokolowski. I asked my mom : tell me mom how do YOU pronounce it, Sokolowski, do you say "soh-koh-louw-ski" or "sah-kah-kahs-ski" like grandma and grandpa say?
Sah-kah-lah-ski she said, it's not -soh-koh-louw-ski, she pronounced very dramatically like rich turn-of-the-century Old Money.
But mom. Why like that. That's how grandma and grandpa say it, but I say soh-koh-louw-ski, why mom? Why do you say it like that? Do you really say it like that?
She thought. You know, I say it soh-koh-louw-ski.
Mom. Why did you tell me you pronounced it the other way? Why do you pronounce it that way? I don't understand. Why would grandma and grandpa pronounce it sah-kah-lah-ski and you would the other way?!
There was no answer.
We had learned together earlier today, that my grandfather had changed his name at my grandma's behest, as when they were to get married my grandma told a nun of some acquaintance of hers there in Sioux City the name of Vincent Sokolovske. You're marrying a Jewish boy? She asked. My grandma said no . . .
They decided his name must be Sokolowski. The confusion:
Ellis Island. The name transformations of immigration. I take you back to this earlier afternoon with my mom and her family. . .
We looked at birth certificates, baptism certificate. Vincent Sokolovske.
Dad, said my mom. You're Jewish!
We both stalled and looked at each other and in glee laughed.
Likely he is not, though I would have much enjoyed the change of perspective, but he was given a Jewish name as his parents when they sailed over from near-Russian Poland to America were given a Jewish name in the phonetic translation onto their immigrant papers. From his family there are Sokolowskis and Sokolovskes. They may all have started here though as Sokolovskes though and some changed and some didn't.
This I never knew. I also didn't know the Russianness of his parents, who he told me would speak Polish with Russian words, as they came from an area near Russia.
I told them that as I'm abroad I want to go to Poland. My grandma called her near-deaf sister to find me the names of the towns, the memories. My grandpa doesn't want me to go to Poland because he told me I would get lost forever. He thought I would get dropped off there left to wander around and get stolen. He didn't understand the network of trains and buses. You stay in France, he told me, though I could feel a flickering in him. I had opened something up. The foreignness of the past to me, that I have to explore. And opened it up for them again. They otherwise wouldn't have spoken of it again, forgotten.