Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Regina Powazek 1919-2008

Regina Powazek is my father’s mother. She was born in Dobre, Poland, in 1919. When she was 20, the nazis invaded, and she fled to Russia. The border was closed behind her. Most of the rest of the Polish Powazeks were murdered. She escaped along with my grandpa Ben, her sister Hanka, and her brother Charlie.

Regina was taken into a Russian work camp, where she sewed uniforms for the army. Ben was taken away to a labor camp. She had her first son, Sam, alone in the cold of Siberia. When she was released from the camp, she found her sister and they lived together for a time. Somehow, amazingly, Ben found them.

My dad, Morris, was born while they were living in a displaced person’s camp in Wels, Austria, waiting for permission to immigrate to the US. Finally, in 1950, the family boarded a boat to Ellis Island, and settled in Buffalo, New York. Years later, after my dad married my mom, Ben and Regina got their first grandson. Me. The first of the new generation of American Powazeks.

We prospered, us American Powazeks. Our grandparents got to see us grow up with liberty, free to go to the schools we wanted, marry the people we loved, and live lives they’d never dreamt of.

Ben died in 1997. Charlie followed. Then Hanka. Sometime last night or early this morning, Regina joined them. And with her, the last of the old country Powazeks are gone.

Regina Powazek

It wasn’t a surprise. She’d been ailing, in and out of hospitals, for a few years. Our last visit, she seemed to be barely there, our conversation a script repeating. “Where do you live now?” “San Francisco.” “It’s expensive there.” “Yes.” “You got a job?” “Yes, I work on computers.” “Where do you live now?”

Still, when the call came, I went numb. With grandma gone, all of those old family stories are now one step removed. Something someone heard from someone else. A story repeated. A copy of a copy. There are names we’ll never know, stories no one will ever tell again.

In spite of the scars of war, grandma Regina was not a bitter person. She was relentlessly positive. Unconditionally loving. When she was younger, she devoured newspapers and magazines. She rode her bicycle around the cull-de-sacs of Phoenix, chatting with the neighbors. She was a tiny woman, but she could go toe-to-toe with grandpa Ben, a giant intimidating man, arguing in four different languages.

Above all, she loved her boys. My dad and his three brothers. When she hugged them, her eyes welled and she squeezed until it hurt. “Nobody gots boys like I gots,” she’d say. “I am a rich woman.”

Without Regina, we all shift a notch. My dad and his brothers are now the family elders. My sister and I and our cousins are the adults. There’s even a new generation of children beginning.

“Enjoy your life while you’re young,” Regina always told me. The second half of the sentence she never said, but here it is: because it sucks to get old and die.

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There’s an old net tradition (as old as anything is on the net) for moments like this. If you don’t know what to say, just post a period (“.”). It means, “all words fail me, but I’m thinking of you.” It’s like leaving a stone on a grave. Feel free to do that here if you like.


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Hi, I’m Derek. I make awesome community-centric web stuff. I sometimes post things to Flickr and Twitter. I’m mostly harmless. More.





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