It’s interesting that Easter follows so hard upon St. Patrick’s Day this year, especially for me, because on my mother’s side I am a quarter Irish and a quarter Polish. (I am the result of an aggressive West Side breeding program.) And Easter in Polish-American households is (or used to be) a very big deal. I think only the Greeks, Ukrainians and Italians do it up bigger. So in many ways for me Easter is a firmly secular holiday, if only because so much was going on in the house that day that didn’t remind anyone of the resurrection of Jesus. My Polish grandmother lived with us for a time when I was a kid, so Eastertime was a very busy period that involved dyeing eggs, polishing them with butter, loading up a big old fashioned basket to take to Sacred Heart to be blessed; making sure all the goodies were gotten from Harrison’s, including of course the babka; and then tons of her friends, neighbors and relatives to the nth degree stopping by for coffee, cold cuts and boring pani talk as endless polka played in the background from WHEN. Although my grandmother is now gone, Easter is still an important family occasion.
And this really has nothing to do with Easter, but now might be a good time to put out a call… years later, I still cannot figure out what some of the words these ladies used meant in Polish. (Or indeed, if they were Polish at all; my only exposure to real Polish came from an old schoolbook.) It was a sort of “Polglish” they used, really. Now some of these West Side words (like hodgiepodgie) have been fairly well documented. And some of them I’ve been able to guess at (like kotuni, which apparently means “tangles in the hair” or something like that). But I’d love to know the exact meaning of svaanyaach (that’s a phonetic spelling) which was always yelled in association with me going through my grandmother’s jewelry box, and then the biggest mystery of all: the horrible, dreaded paklaaklaai. This was some kind of unmentionable disease or infestation. Someday I’d really like to know what the heck these ladies were talking about.