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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Keeping the values

page 231

Keeping the values

Church life was an important part of our family life when I was a child. Though we were members of our own local parish, we attended Polish Mass at St Mary of the Angels in Wellington or the Berhampore church St Joachim's (across the road from where the Polish priest resided) on major feast days, such as Easter and Christmas. This gave us an opportunity to catch-up with our extended family, which was often followed by a meal at a relative's or family friends' house for a leisurely afternoon.

As a child, I recall frequent visits to family and friends or their visits to our house. These visits may have been in connection with a birthday party, baby's christening or First Holy Communion. In my younger days, this included contact with older members of the Polish community who gladly took on the role as grandparents. Though not related, it would be difficult to know who was or wasn't in this close-knit environment. And the older members would sometimes be our caregivers, involving us in activities, such as fishing.

Holidays provided a great opportunity for extended family trips. Places such as motor camps in Taupo and Waitarere provided summer holidays by the water. On one occasion, we toured the South Island in tandem with my aunt and uncle, and their children. The rain and snow (over what was summer) provided its challenges, but we enjoyed the adventure together.

The Polish House in Newtown, Wellington, provided a focal point for Polish culture in my youth. Visits included meals on Mother's Day, and the occasional film and bookstall. The Polish Youth Club committee organised dances and events. Contact with other members of the Polish community of my own age was limited in my late teens and opportunities weren't pursued. Study and work took increasing amounts of time.

Family influences stressed the importance of education, religion, and the necessity for work and employment in general. There was also a factor of self reliance and the commitment to take up the challenge. The challenge may have been as simple as a bike ride, a walk through the surrounding hills or the building of a fort in the backyard. More technical challenges came and included electronics or photography, for which a darkroom was established in the basement.

I have continued to influence my own children in similar ways to my own upbringing. We attend Mass on Sundays, followed by a visit to my parents for page 232breakfast. As my children become older and more independent, they become less inclined or would prefer such attendances if they coincided with meeting their own peers, such as children's worship at church.

Education has become an important part of their lives, and extra tuition in speech, drama, keyboards, drums or sometimes school subjects (such as maths and English) is valued. They also enjoy a range of activities, such as sport, horse riding, skiing and Scouting. We also purchased a boat so we could fish and water ski together in the holidays, and join with our friends in such activities.

Life with my Polish background was similar to that of my friends who also had good family lives, but it added an interesting dimension. I was able to extend on this by two trips to Poland and meet with relatives in Sopot in the mid-1980s. I took great joy in seeing the Patea Maori Group in action on Polish TV, particularly as Patea had also been a town where I'd spent time visiting older friends of my parents – our de facto grandparents.

My trips to Poland were in part to satisfy my curiosity about the country my parents left all those years ago. In some rural areas, time had fairly much stood still (in the mid-1980s) and I could compare the life of a Polish citizen to that which I knew. I also witnessed the remains of the destruction and the efforts that the Polish people were making to rebuild their country. It will be interesting to compare this on my next trip in years to come.