I am lucky to still have my mother, Annette Anderson, sharing the earth with me. I am also fortunate to have had bunch of very special pseudo and surrogate mothers, grandmothers and mothers in law. Grandmothers Borghild Olsen and Marian Anderson. Stepmother Sandy Schroeder, pseudo mothers Mary Jane Metaxas, Dottie Schweitzer, Arline Wakeham. Mothers in law, Martha Cunningham, Lynn Spawn, Sondra Spawn and particularly Maria Borysewicz.
I have unending respect and admiration for Maria Jesionka Borysewicz. She defined strength and perseverance in the face of adversity. Sent with her family in a cattle car to Siberia by Stalin in 1938, where she watched a sister die, she lived through hard labor, little food and scant medical care. Grit and faith in the Catholic Church kept her going.
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union she and many of her fellow Poles were freed and permitted to trek to Palestine and join the British Army. Maria travelled across North Africa and Italy with the Polish brigades under command of the Brits.
It was along this journey she met and married Walter Borysewicz, a Polish Army officer and engineer who miraculously escaped Stalin’s mass murder of the Polish Officer Corps and had also hooked up with the British Army. Walter was in the Polish brigade that assaulted Monte Casino on the main road north of Rome that had held the Allies in check for months.
The war’s end found Maria in Italy, where she had her eldest child. The family then migrated to England and their second was born there. Ultimately, they made their way to Manville, NJ. Despite being college educated and an engineer, the best job Walter could find was in the factory at Johns-Manville, making products from asbestos. In that time, a factory worker could support his family.
Maria had five more children in New Jersey. Her large extended family and rich Polish community throughout Manville and Hillsborough permitted the family to live the American Dream – with Polish flavorings. She raised her children in the Catholic Church and while they rebelled (it was a rebellious time) her faith was solid in her core.
All of her boys went to college; all of her children were successful. Walter died of asbestosis before his 60th birthday. When I met Maria, she had been a widow for over 10 years. Her kids, Henry, Richard and Krys were grown but still (or back) living at home for various reasons. Maria worked full time in production at RCA in Branchburg.
Even so, whenever you visited that house you could not get out without eating a meal. One of my first dates with Krys, we were going to dinner and a movie. I went to pick her up and Maria sat me down and made me eat a meal before we were allowed to go out. Saved me a dinner check, though.
She made the most remarkable Polish jelly donuts. They were called Paczki (punch-key). Ahhhhhhhh. The only thing better were the Pierogi. Some filled with potato, others with sauerkraut. At Christmas, she made tiny pierogi and filled them with mushrooms.
After she finally retired, she would start cooking dinner at 2 in the afternoon. Bigos, Golabki, Pierogi, Klopski (meatloaf with tomato sauce) and Kielbasa of course (we pronounce it Kabasy), Ryba smażona – breaded and fried fish filets. One time she forgot I was allergic to peanuts and cooked the fish in peanut oil. When she discovered her mistake, she got so excited she could hardly speak.
Speaking with Maria was a wondrous thing in itself. She spoke a mix of English, Polish, Anglicized Polish, Polish-ized English and made up Polish-sounding English words. She called me Bruce-ova. She was wonderful and full of love. She always talked about the weather. Her mother once allegedly told her, “If you can’t think of anything to say, you can always talk about the weather.” Many of her conversations began with a discussion of the current weather.
Maria was always proper and formal, kind and generous. Her manners were impeccable. Her home was blessed by the parish priest at least once each year -- he left a mysterious chalk mark at the top of the kitchen door frame which remained untouched all year. On the wall in her kitchen were portraits of Jesus Christ and Karol Józef Wojtyła, Pope Jan Pavel II.
I am grateful to have known Maria Borysewicz. She introduced me to the magic of eastern European culture and made my life so much richer by setting an example in her unique, kind and utterly guileless way. I am grateful to have seen her one last time before she went to meet Walter and Karol Wojtyła in September 2007.