Photo of the Week – Sto Lat!

At Polish parties a special song is often sung called Sto Lat, meaning may you live a hundred years. This family scene of Joseph Mirota (1882-1961) with the ladies in his life, was taken on his birthday around 1960. The party was at his farmhouse in Readington Township, Hunterdon County, NJ. I love the old-fashioned wallpaper and the holy picture of the Sacred Heart, and I know this is the old oak table that came from Cherry Valley, PA by horse and wagon when the family moved in 1920. I now have this table in my kitchen and put in the extra leaves for company. The spent flash bulbs on the table bring back memories too, of how that burst of light would blind me for a minute or two afterwards. Grandpa looks so happy to have his family gathered around him. He left most of his family behind in Pławna, Poland, when he came to the United States as a young man searching for a better life.

I have only vague memories of this day, but I do have very happy memories of my grandfather. Some of my cousins used the Polish word for grandpa, dziadek, but my siblings and I usually simply called him grandpa.  My sister noticed that all of the ladies standing behind Grandpa have now passed on, and sadly none of them came close to living to that magical number – sto lat.  From the left standing are: Joy, his daughter-in-laws Jean and Stefania, his daughter Genevieve, Bettyann, and his other daughter, Mary. Sitting in the front are Rose, Maryann (sitting on my Grandpa’s lap), Veronica, and Louise.

I remember some of the Polish words, and I have tried to learn more by using study guides with cassette tapes. A few years back I was listening to one, and as the words wnuk and wnuczka (the w sounds like the English v) were spoken I simply cried. I had no idea why, until the translation came up in English, and the words were grandson and granddaughter. I was stunned at the emotional impact of the words. I must have heard them all the time as a child, but had forgotten them. My mind hadn’t though, and that is the way it is with the spoken word. Language summons up memories instantly. Last year I was in Krakow, Poland for a few days, and I loved hearing the Polish language spoken all day long. I remembered just enough Polish words to get by, but I also used a pocket-size Polish phrasebook given to me beforehand by a childhood friend.

The Polish songs and polkas bring back happy memories, too. One song that I especially enjoy is called Pije Kuba, and I can count on the fact that my dear sweet sister will start singing the words as soon as she reads this! This was a favorite of ours, but my sister is the one that always remembers all of the words. The version I picked from You Tube (click on the title above) shows all the lyrics. Our grandfather especially loved this song with the first line,  Pije Kuba do Jakuba (Kuba drinks to his friend Jacob), because Jacob was his father’s name. We always heard this song at weddings.

Here below is one more photo from Grandpa’s birthday celebration that day, showing his son, Stephen, lighting the candles on the homemade cake. On the left side is his son-in-law, James. Another strong memory that I have of my grandfather is the smell of his pipe with the cherry scented tobacco, and the ritual of being able to hold the match to light it. My memories of my Polish grandfather are sweet and happy ones. I understand that he was a very strict parent, but luckily he softened up for his grandchildren. Spoczywaj w pokoju (May he rest in peace).

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