There is no master’s degree in motherhood. It’s a basic instinct called unconditional love. I know a mother whom everyone calls Mama. She was born in Poland in 1925. During World War II, she and her entire family were deported by cattle cars to Siberian gulags in 1941. She lost her father when he jumped off the train to get water for the family. No gravestone, no marker; just a lost soul – only memories remain. In the gulag, she worked 12 hours a day in a forest. Food, housing and health were always a problem.
Having survived this ordeal for two years, her mother, sister and brothers found their way to a Polish resettlement camp in Afghanistan and then made their way to Persia and finally Tanzania. When she heard that Britain was looking for recruits to help in the war effort, she joined the Polish Air Force. She left her mother in Africa and, with one of her brothers who had joined the Polish Army, traveled to Britain and was posted with the 300 Division of the Polish Air Force in Faldingworth, England. There she met her future husband, Zbigniew, who flew 37 bomber missions with the Royal Air Force.
After the war, she had two children in England and two more when she moved to Buffalo. Her heart was broken when her son, Zbigniew Jr., died at age 56.
Times were hard, and she worked a full-time job while raising her children. But there was enough food, shelter and, yes, money for suits and dresses for our Holy Communion celebrations. She still has and uses her mother’s prayer book from the 1920s, and thanks the Lord for her trials, tribulations, family and faith.
After a few hard years in her adopted country, she brought most of her family to the United States. She sponsored them all. Now this woman is an American citizen, no longer a displaced person. Her citizenship certificate is on the wall; she earned it.
This remarkable 90-year-old woman, as you might already know, is my mother, Jozefa. I saw how she cared for her children, husband and her own mother. Now when I visit Mama I sit with her, listen to her stories, encourage her to eat more and take her pills each day.
I see her refrigerator covered with photos of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with postcards from Poland and England. Every wall has a photo – some from her years of service, others of family. I asked once: Why all the photos? She told me it’s history and family.
I have one daughter, Heather, who lives out of town. She does have her master’s degree, but not in motherhood. She, too, is a perfect mother to two beautiful children. Thus making my wife, Marge, a perfect mother by raising a good daughter.
All of these women traveled different roads under different circumstances, but they are perfect mothers nonetheless. I do not know how much longer I will have Mama. Every day I cherish the visit to her home. I adore this woman who gave of herself in war, deportation, gulags and to her family. At age 90, one does not need much, except health, a call or two from her children to say, “I love you” and a brief visit to highlight her day.
There is no more special gift I can receive or give other than to say: Thank you, Mother, for giving me birth and the opportunity to call you Mama. Happy Mother’s Day 2015. Sto lat!