October 10, 2012

My Saturday Night in Pole Town

My second-cousin’s first wedding’s second reception
Way down in downtown Hamtramck, a.k.a. “Pole Town”
Up two flights of creaky brown stairs to the banquet room
Which sits atop Polonia restaurant with its red neon sign
(The restaurant which, I found out later, also catered the event)

At the top of the stairs and to the left
I see the bride in a unusual white dress
Untraditional, to say the least, but obviously bridal
“Welcome to My Big Fat Polish Wedding” she jokes, smiling

I remember her as a child, about twenty years ago
She had a habit of calling people “Bumble Bee”
And so that was always my nick-name for her

She introduces me to her groom, who shakes my hand, smiling
A curly-haired fellow, merry-eyed behind round spectacles
I like him instantly, somehow knowing him to be a good guy
(Perhaps because I know she’d never pick otherwise)
Then I’m off to find myself a seat

I walk by table after table of people, mostly strangers
But a few seem semi-familiar, though all are busy chatting
And way back in the corner I spy my Uncle Tom and his son
Uncle Tom was always a favorite of mine
Always has a story to tell, and always ready to tell them
(Which makes my half of the conversation considerably lighter)

One by one, other relatives notice me and stop by to see me
Cousins and uncles I’d not seen for quite awhile
My face-mapping memory bank updates with new data
I feel the personal paradigm shift
As years passed are logged into my mental files

There’s a polka band, of course, as there always is
And soon conversations grow louder
The bride and groom do a ‘first dance’ polka
And soon others join in, as they always do
Tradition can be a wonderful thing

After a short set, the band takes a break
And it’s time for my favorite part: Dinner
One by one, tables are sent to the buffet line
And, of course, my table is always last

But that’s okay, I’m just hungrier when I finally get in line
I grab a plate and slowly drift through the queue
Eyeballing steaming trays of kielbasa and sauerkraut
And stuffed cabbage, called “Golumpki” (but spelled Golabki)
And steamed vegetables (not on MY plate!)
And breaded chicken cutlets
And dumplings and spiced potato wedges

I take my heavy plate back to my table

Afterwards, I’m wonderfully stuffed and palate-pleased
So I slip back to the open bar to find
Two Polish bottled beers I had spied
And both of which I’d never tried

The first, whose name unfortunately eludes me, was rich and smooth
The second was an easy-drinking beer called Okocim (abbreviated “O.K”)

While I’m sipping my beers the talking continues
Stories from the past, often with a bit of humor
Shared memories that make my heart smile
This is the part I miss most when it’s too long between visits

Too soon I have to leave, for I can’t stay too late
I work my way to the door through a sea of goodbyes
Each one heart-felt and true from both sides
Hugs are given and received here and there

Then it’s back down two flights of creaky brown stairs
Back out into the cool night, past the red neon sign
And back into the cold car for the long drive home

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