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The old Christmas card

It’s a cheery old-fashioned Christmas Card, probably from the late 1950s. My cousin in Poland, Kris Żebrowski, found it among other family cards and letters. It was from his great-uncle in Canada, who happened to be the birth father I never really knew.


Kris and I didn’t know each other until recently. I was writing and researching my memoirs based on 55 letters my mother left me when she died. I knew little about my birth father, Stanislaw Zebrowski. My mother rarely spoke about him, and I was brought up by a stepfather. My mother left Stanislaw shortly after we emigrated to Canada, taking me with her. I was four years old.


All I knew was that my father had been a Polish soldier, a prisoner of war of the Germans, and he worked in Timmins, Ontario after the war. I began searching for him, and the Zebrowski family. I found my father’s grave in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.

Eager to find more about my father's family, I found Kris in Poland. Once Kris and I sorted out the family connections, he remembered the card.


Through Kris and other family members in Poland, I found out my father came from a respected Polish family who were once nobility. They were prosperous landowners and civic-minded individuals. My grandfather was mayor of the community. It was a big family. Judging by old family photographs, they enjoyed spending time together.


In Canada, my father had a hard life as a logger in the Canadian wilderness. But I discovered that he sent money back to Poland, along with gifts; a bicycle on one occasion, a dress on another. His family told him to stop sending money, perhaps because they understood he was having a hard time himself. But he was a proud man. He stopped writing to them entirely. Was he offended that his three brothers and one sister back in Poland told him to keep him money for himself?


My father spent the entire war in a Stalag, struggling to survive as his fellow inmates succumbed to typhus, starvation and bullets. He came to Canada only to face more hardships - a country that treated immigrants with disrespect, and a wife and child who left him.


The cheery little card my father sent to Poland could have been his last communication with the family. The card makes me sad. My father wishes his family a Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. Then he signs it formally, S. Zebrowski. No other signatures, and no mention of Mama or me.


What was that Christmas like for him? He was in a big country. I’m sure he didn’t speak much English. Did he spend that Christmas with anyone? 


I don’t know the real story behind the card. But I am happy to think that, 50 or 60 years ago, someone in the Zebrowski family in Poland was so happy to receive the card that they stored it away with other family treasures.


And I am so happy that my wonderful cousin (and amateur detective) Kris found the card and shared it with me. 


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