Tuesday, September 20, 2005

malutka*, malusienka** Ninka, welcome home, you old peasant, you

It is so in vogue in academia these days to say you come from humble origins, but me, I cannot say anything but this: I do come from humble origins.

Not humble like people in the States mean it (working class poor, crappy urban ghettos, farm isolationism, border towns, single parent resource-deprived), but Polish post-war humble.

We did not own land, us humble-origins Poles (that would be 99% of the men and women I knew and read about). We sometimes had chickens and other food-producing animals, but land? Forget it. Poland was the only Communist country that did not turn practically all private property into collectives after the war, but still, people, especially urban types, for the most part, did not own land. At least not anyone I hung with.

So then I came to America. Wow. Everyone who is not totally destitute (admittedly, there are a lot of those) seemed to own property. Moreover, the further you moved from the city, the more property appeared to define you in every way imaginable. You own land in a neighborhood – the neighborhood set the tone and style for you. It become your world, your life.

I came to first own land in America in 1984 (ergo: I was 31). It was in this partnership thing called a mortgage plus spouse, but still, I owned land. I would walk out in the morning, look at the soil and almost want to do the Gone with the Wind thing of running the dirt through my fingers.

This land is my land, this land is my land…

I felt American.

Today, tonight, is my last moment of land ownership. I spent the better part of nonteaching hours cleaning my house and getting it ready for its new owners, who take possession of my little piece of suburbia tomorrow.

I will return to my peasant stock. I will let go of the land. I will be one of the people. I will disposes myself of holding onto property as if it defined me.

Tonight, though, I am still the fat bastard who orders her peons to jump through hoops. I am a landowner. For twelve more hours I am a landowner. And then? You heard it here: never again.

* & ** = "little" & "very little," used in a folksy way here

warm and gooey

When you are up in the air, some thirty plus thousand feet above TV screens and magazines telling you how you should look on this day, any day, you become a free bird, suspended in your own chirpy little songs, lulled by the engines, bounced around by finicky air currents.

What a feeling! Zipping through dark skies with lights below and stars above, moving ahead to obligations and habits, but indulging none of them just yet. Think of it – you are there along with a handful of others, trapped - yet free, seemingly still - yet moving forward at terrific speeds.

It is perhaps for this reason that you do not say no to the warm chocolate chip cookies that are offered to you by the Midwest Airlines flight attendants. No one says no to the cookies (a signature Midwest Airlines treat). No one. I watched the flight attendant roll her cart down the aisle. Hands reached out, passengers sighed with contentment. The cookies. When all is said and done, at the end of the day, you can find comfort in two large cookies, warm and gooey, wrapped up in a napkin.