|By Juliusz Kossak, Karol's grandfather.|
I've spent a large part of lockdown prevaricating. Mind you, I've been doing a lot of writing, struggling with an ongoing short project that I must - and will - finish, editing a ridiculously long novel into something more manageable, killing a few darlings along the way.
But I realised the other day that I've been indulging in all kinds of distractions to avoid the thing that life, the universe and everything is telling me that I really have to write - the story of my grandfather, my great uncle, and my dad's Polish family. A hundred little nudges and reminders seem to have come my way.
This, they whisper. This is what you need to do.
The other day, I posted this little sketch on Facebook, and lots of people responded. That's me, very young, in a droshky. My famous great uncle, Polish artist Karol Kossak, sketched it when I was visiting him and my great aunt, back in the early 70s. And come to think of it, that's a story all by itself, of a time when I went travelling across Europe by train, through the GDR with its terrifying borders, its guards with their big guns and bigger dogs. Karol was in his eighties by that time and his sight was failing, but you can still see the artist he once was - a fine watercolourist, specialising in equine studies, the last of a line of distinguished painters who worked on a grand scale, like his grandfather Juliusz, above.
Some time last year, I wrote myself a note. It said, when you are looking for the box with all the Polish historical paperwork in it, it's under the bed, you fool. Now, I've lost the note, but because I wrote it, I remembered where the box was. I got it out the other day. Two boxes to be precise. One contains an old green folder with a sheaf of Kossak sketches, many of them dedicated to me, some of them funny little caricatures of wealthy 'party members' who were visiting the spa town where he and Aunt Wanda lived. He would draw them for me on paper napkins, in the cafes where we went for coffee and cognac in the afternoons.
The other is a box full of words. At least some of them were written down for me by my dad, before he died, descriptions of his childhood in a place called Dziedzilow, now Didyliv in the Ukraine. There are maps and a few photographs as well, although now - incredibly to me - I can put Didyliv into Google maps, look at street view, and take myself along the road through the village, passing the service bus that has stopped to pick up a few people, passing the tantalisingly impassable side roads that I may not go down. I always find myself wondering if dad would have been able to bring himself to do it. Maybe, maybe not.
I dragged them out the other day, both boxes. I dusted them. And there they sit, accusingly, enticingly. Go on, they say. You know you want to do it.
Almost four months of lockdown and I might finally be sure of what I'm going to write next.
|Great Uncle Karol|