My Grandma Stella was a great collector of Polish humor -- from every tasteless Polack joke to novelty items such as her "Polish coffee mug" (the handle was on the inside) to tales of survival that hinge solely upon the ending line "if it weren't for my thick Polish skull, I would be dead and none of you would be here today!"
(My favorite of those stories is from when she was a flapper: once, on a double date, she and her girl friend found their dates to be such desperate bores that they jumped out of the rumble seat of a moving car...At this time, my great grandmother was still pretending not to understand a word of English so that she could eavesdrop on her teenagers, which pissed off my grandmother enough that little Polish was spoken thereafter.)
My family isn't the type to sit around discussing Milosz, Chopin, Szymborska, Herbert, Lem or anybody else. We have kluski dinners and Polka weddings and work...and laugh... a lot... mainly at ourselves and our luck -- with a very respectable dark humor. Or, like many families, we just let the distance between us increase over a series of long winters.
Last week I was called a Polack by someone. Can you imagine? And it didn't really offend me; as I've said, I was raised with the world's largest Polack joke compendium at my disposal. It just made me sad that the little ignoramus had no idea what he was saying. And, in that moment, what I was surprised to feel was no personal offense, but a solidarity with and a violently protective instinct toward my "clan."
So! This evening I am heading to the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand to see the Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, and the Magic Numbers, and in honor of my family, (especially my father who brought me to see them for the first time with no explanation but, "oh, Paula, didn't you know there were Polish chickens?" and so I expected he was taking me to see pigs with wings tied on or birds that had been trained to walk backwards or anything else that would end in a punch line) I am going to make a stop in the poultry barn to see these
fine specimins first!