A year before she died, at my mother’s prompting, my maternal grandmother wrote out a brief memoir, particularly of the war years. My mother made a copy for me, squeezing four sheets of cramped handwriting onto each sheet of copy paper. She asked me to help her translate. My copy has lain in a file on my desk for the past ten years, maybe because I found my grandmother’s Polish cursive impossible to decipher. Today, because there is space in both our lives right now for such endeavours, my mother and I set to transcribing: she reading out loud; me typing, wrestling with Polish accents, breaking long lines into readable sentences. My grandmother was in fifth grade when the war started, and only completed the equivalent of primary school after it ended. Her phrases are brief, laconic, sometimes ungrammatical, often unpunctuated. But in the five pages we transcribed today, I already feel the seeds of a story. Setting, atmosphere, characters, tension, suspense, even an ear for sound. “Ciepło słońce swieciło śicznie. Tak pięknie nigdy teraz słońce nie świeci,” she writes. The first line is in Polish melodically alliterative. The second made my mother laugh when she read it, and yet its melancholy haunts me. My rough translation: “The warm sun shone beautifully. The sun no longer shines like that now.”
From my daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: laconic. From earlier in the week. Since then, we’ve transcribed another twenty pages. There’s a lot there that I am taking in, a lot that I had never known. “It was so long ago,” my grandmother complained to my mother. “Who would want to hear about it now?” She didn’t understand what a gift it would be. I will slowly set to translating on my own at home.