- January 3, 2014
Seas, ancestors of the insurgents and Neman River
In its latest issue, “Kurier Wileński” wrote about Aleksander Wascicki who was born in Vilnius, of the same age as the January Uprising and about his son. In the letter sent to the paper, his great-granddaughter, Rachel Naylor from Canada apologizes for her delayed reaction caused by medical reasons:
“I am moved and grateful to »Kurier Wileński« for honoring the memory of my great-grandfather just on his anniversary and on his native soil which he had never forgotten… I am not speaking your languages but I would like to send my regards to the Polish-Lithuanian land, where I have never been, but which part is definitely inside me”.
When he was young, Aleksander Wascicki emigrated and soon became a British and then Canadian naval officer. A considerable book of his diaries is called “I love great spaces” „Kocham wielkie przestrzenie”. The style and the atmosphere are captivating. Texts are written both in Polish and in English. I recalled Joseph Conrad.
A road towards the sea had begun with the work of a sailor on an American schooner called “Santa Ana” which were sailing around the Gulf of Mexico. That was a story told by the first article. The life of Aleksander Wascicki is suitable for a novel, though. A vista in a forest by the Neman River within the Grodno areas, oxbows overgrown by canes, a chapel in the filed, ducal’s demesne, a granger showing the cordiality of Lithuanian heart to an orphaned only son of the insurgent of the January Uprising. The journey to those lands, in my case, begun in Newfoundland. A shadow line of Polish uprisings over Atlantic storm.
March 1882, the west Atlantic Ocean, a sailing vessel “Governor Milton” is moving form Jacksonville, Florida to Halifax, Canada. 19-years-old Aleksander Wascicki being on his first cruise has already become a quartermaster. A former governor of Florida, John Milton, during civil war shot himself because of north army coming. After 17 years, a boiler,on the ship named after him, exploding pierces across the stormy sky and crashes. Aleksander saves a burned passenger in the uniform of British naval officer and his daughter. As the only living member of the crew, he hauls her to the seashore. Trials of fate and powers of elements bind the descendants of two Polish uprisings. The saved officer turns out to be Alfred Gorsky, the son of Józef Gorsky, the insurgent of the November Uprising, and the French woman whom he met in exile and took to Canada.
Destiny, destiny. After healing him, Commander Gorsky, settles his compatriot in Canada, makes him start navy college. Blessed be the stormy Atlantic Ocean. Just after the Aleksander’s promotion on the fist rank of the Royal Navy, the only daughter of the commander, Miss Mary Gorsky becomes Mrs Wascicki. It is almost unpronounceable for French and English speaking people in Canada.
Mary inherited exaltation from her French grandmother. She is reading chivalry novels till the small hours, therefore she named his son Cedric, in honor to the hero from Walter Scott’s novels. Following his father’s steps, he became a navy officer, too. Mrs Rachel has granted me permission to write about the next episode.
As a young officer just before the first World War, he was hopelessly in love with a person who has not deserved it. Him falling into despair made her colleagues took his duty. During the war, the aforementioned person gives birth to a child and dies in childbirth. Having no father, the infant is taken to the orphanage. Cedric takes a role of a legal guardian of the boy who soon becomes, not another navy officer, but Cedric’s son-in-law. He is also a father of Rachel, now a retired worker of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada. Cedric Wascicki has survived two world wars, in a rank of commander. He was first sailing on the HMS Niobe of the Royal Canadian Navy formed in 1910, the protected cruiser which is cherished in Canada till this day. A street is even named after the ship. During the first World War it was Cedric’s father, Aleksander, who served on the HMS Niobe.
In the summer, 2013, I set off to take a walk along Neman River, near Grodno. “For me those journeys and those visits resemble a fairytale for children.” – Aleksander Wascicki writes in his memories. Journeys were long. It began in Olkiennik, where Aleksander grew up, in the neighborhood of the properties of Mr Franciszek Kieżun, a granger of a demesne of Czerlon of Drucki-Lubecki dukes. The duke himself had respect for the son of the insurgent. It was possible to walk from the properties through the forest and reach Nemen River, running north to meet Neris. Aleksander came from those territories. “Neris despises flowers from the valley due to its quest for Nemen River, her bridegroom” – Franciszek was the first one to tell Aleksander those famous words of the Prophet. There were a lot of portraits as well as horns hanging in the house about which stories were told. There were a church in the town, sometimes the mass was performed in the great, beautiful chapel of dukes Jablonowski. Girls dressed in bright gowns and wearing garlands were signing wonderfully at the entrance.
The train form Minsk to Grodno calls at the Czerlon station.
August, the yellow shade of the harvest, green forests and meadows. Bicycle, rucksack and maps. Cobblestones of the old road leading to the main house and a piece of rebulit stone fence are the only remnants of the demesne. I am talking with the son of coachmen, he is in his late 80, and he drove the last duchess of Czerlon before the war. The palace had suffered a lot, especially during the war, when it was blown and then razed by bulldozers. Today, there are brand-new warehouses, workshops, an office, combine harvesters for potatoes. The owner of this huge building, Mr Henryk Myśliwiec, rises his eyebrows and hands saying: “Oh God! You’re from Moscow!… Come in! Can we speak in Belorussian, Polish is difficult for me.” He leads me to the workers’ canteen. “We have not had dinner prepared but there are chops, would you also like tea?” After the downfall of kolkhoz, it was all in ruins, but Henryk had come and stayed and it is what it is right now.
The bicycle – packed to a minivan, and we are heading the Jablonowki chapel. Henryk has not known about it so far, I found it comparing maps. It turned out to a magnificent XVIII building. In the war times it was used as an artillery observation post – it was smashed by an opponent artillery. Nowadays, there are trees growing in the middle of it. Wheeling my bicycle, I am walking alone through the forest by Nemen River, I am bathing. Commander Aleksander, you are here again. I am admiring larges spaces of your childhood.
The St. Anne’s church in nearby town Łunna is renewed and well-kept. This is the lane where Miss Martha and Miss Justine Orzelska were coming back and where our immortal classics originates from. Even its author, Eliza Orzeszkowa, has pulled up here in her carriage. I was there taking photos of this path, I talked to the last living person called Bohatyrowicz, together, we lit a candle to the insurgents. This is a thread of another plot, though.
Tłumaczenie by Ewa Żakowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Ewa Żakowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.