“Music Grandpa” by Victoria Ann Granacki

My Polish-immigrant grandfather played a curious-looking concertina accordion every evening in his third-floor flat. It had a floral pattern in the squeeze-box folds, an incomprehensible series of round silver buttons in the right hand, and just five base notes in the left. But could he make that instrument sing with polka-tunes! As a little girl I wandered upstairs to sit at his feet while that lively three-step dance beat its way forever into my soul. A few years later when I began piano lessons, player and audience were reversed. I practiced relentlessly on a tinny old castaway upright that my father had dragged into our basement. But no matter — my grandfather sat in rapture, assuring me I played like Paderewski. Perhaps he heard the Polish rock-star pianist in 1939 in his last concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, overflowing with his fans. Of course at that time I had no idea. I only knew my grandpa listened to me tirelessly and admiringly.

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In those days there were Polish weddings in our family every season. The traditional Catholic morning wedding mass had brimming bridal parties but afterwards families just scurried home to do afternoon chores. Guests came back at night in their finest suits and cocktail dresses for a copious banquet – always family-style – with Polish Sausage/sauerkraut the signature dish. And then as the local polka band soared, the dancers began to fly! Women predominated on the dance floor – moms, and aunts and girl cousins — and I bobbed with them all. But my father was the special dance partner I coveted more than any other. An excellent ballroom dancer who courted my mother at Chicago’s Aragon and Trianon ballrooms, he began my tutorials as soon as I was old enough to stay awake. Guiding me with firm hand and twirling me around so my dress billowed, we circled the dance floor endlessly until the chandeliers were spinning and faces a blur. Wedding after wedding we danced, with our last dance at my own wedding. He’s been gone for many years now but there’s still no one who can ever replace him as my polka partner.

Music Grandpa Image 3

The women in my Polish-American family were singers. Choir singers, soloists, accompanists. The church choir at St. Fidelis was their faith and their social scene wrapped together. And they brought song to every Christmas celebration. The Granackis’ life in Chicago started as an extended family in a crowded 6-flat in Humboldt Park, each flat filled with family. So by the time my own family had moved to our 3-flat on a wide, tree-lined street in Old Irving Park it seemed like an estate. One year Christmas was at our house, the next, upstairs at my Aunt and Uncle’s. But each flat had a piano and after the last Wigilia plate was cleared and the men begun the kitchen clean-up, the women launched the caroling. English songs at first, but then the Polish ones – Dzisiaj w Betlejem, Gdy sie Chrystus Rodzi, and Auntie Joy’s special favorite, Lulajze Jesuniu. We had sopranos, we had altos, and soon the men wandered back in to provide the baritones. After my accompanist aunt could no longer play, I was an inadequate replacement, but I hoped if I loudly led the song, the piano errors would go unnoticed. Age eventually diminished the sound of the song but not the enthusiasm of the singers. These days I sing alto in a thoroughly American Catholic Church choir but my aunts’ voices on their favorite Polish carols continue to haunt me every Christmas Eve. Music of all kinds has been woven into my life, but it was the Polish-Catholic flavor in Chicago’s old parishes that gave me the base.

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Victoria Ann Granacki, Chicago, 2015

CCIC: The Poles “Call for Papers” Is Now Open!

Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference: The Poles
November 13-14, 2015
Loyola University Chicago

CALL FOR PAPERS

The Loyola University Chicago Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage (CCIH) in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary Polish Studies Program will host the third conference in a series of conferences that focus on the historical, cultural, and religious roles that Roman Catholicism played in sustaining ethnic identity for many immigrant communities of people who came to Chicago in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each year the conference is devoted to an ethnic community in which Catholic faith and devotional life bolstered cultural and national identity at the same time that the Church’s institutions helped that ethnic community to assimilate into a new city and nation. The conferences explore many waves of 20th century immigrants to Chicago whose Catholic faith helped to shape their cultural narrative.

The 2015 Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference (CCIC) will focus on the Polish immigrant community here in Chicago. We would like to invite scholars from the fields of ethnic studies, urban and cultural history, literature and language, theology, and sociology of religion. This conference will also highlight the Polish heritage and traditions with the participation of Chicago artists, students, and Catholic religious leaders.

Future conferences of the Joan and Bill Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage will focus on the following immigrant communities: Lithuanian, Vietnamese, and African. The two previous conferences have looked at the Italian and Mexican immigrant communities.

Deadline for Paper Submissions: Friday, July 31th, 2015

We invite you to participate as a speaker, a moderator of a panel and/or an organizer of a panel. Each speaker will participate in a panel addressing a topic suggested in our agenda. We are open to proposals given that you will organize the whole panel. Presentations should be limited to 20 minutes, which will be follow with a brief discussion led by a panel moderator.

Please submit your papers including 200-word abstract, 60-word biography, contact and affiliation information to Bozena Nowicka McLees, Director of the Interdisciplinary Polish Studies Program, at bmclees@luc.edu. If you have any questions please call 773-508-286


 

The Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference: The Poles
Proposed Program

DAY 1 – Friday, November 13th, 2015
9:00 – 9:30 Opening Session and Welcome
9:30 – 10:00 KEYNOTE ADDRESS Followed by Q&A
10:00 – 11:15 PANEL 1: Poles Coming to Chicago, A Historical and Social Perspective
11:15 – 11:30 Coffee break
11:30 – 1:15 PANEL 2: First Parishes and Catholic Organizations
1:15 – 2:00 Buffet Lunch
2:00 – 3:15 PANEL 3: Polish Catholic Education and Assimilation
3:15 – 3:30 Coffee Break
3:30 – 4:45 PANEL 4: Parish Histories and Religious Orders
4:45 – 5:00 Coffee Break
5:00 – 6:30 PANEL 5: Pope John Paul II and Other Catholic Role Models (St. Kolbe,          Jan Karski)

DAY 2 – Saturday, November 14th, 2015
9:00 – 9:45 Keynote Speaker
9:45 – 10:00 Coffee Break
10:00 – 11:15 PANEL 5: Immigration, Transnationalism, and Cultural Identity
11:15 – 11:3 Coffee break
11:30 – 1:00 PANEL 6: Polish Catholic Culture in Literature
1:00 – 2:00 Buffet Lunch
2:00 – 3:30 PANEL 7: Polish-American Writers in Chicago
3:30 – 3:45 Coffee break
3:45 – 4:30 PANEL 8: Chicago Polish Catholicism for the 21st Century: Perspectives        from Loyola Students
4:30 – 4:45 Coffee Break
4:45 – 5:30 VISUAL PRESENTATION on the Architecture of Polish Churches in                Chicago
5:30 – 6:00 CLOSING REMARKS
6:00 Sacred Liturgy in celebration of Polish-American Heritage; music performed by the      LIRA Ensemble, Madonna della Strada Chapel

Pre-Conference Events:

Wednesday, November 11th
An adaptation of a play: The Jeweler’s Shop written by John Paul II

Thursday, November 12th
A screening of a film: The Fourth Partition and discussion with the filmmakers

We encourage scholars to expand this program by submitting any other suggestions exploring the Polish-Catholic experience in Chicago.

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