On December 4, 1921 my grandfather, Greshin Doovital (George David) Kuncman was born in the small town of Gostynin. Located in central Poland, it was a town of families and forests, mountains and markets, fields of fresh fruits, and pine tree lined promenades. Son of the local butcher, the life and death cycle was carved into the fabric of my grandfather’s being. In the summer, he would help his father in the shop, then run to the fields to play soccer with friends. As August drew near, the peaches grew ripe, and the children plucked the ripe fruit from the trees. They sat in the shade of branches, savoring the soft flesh after a sweaty game. “Ah baby they were the sweetest, the juiciest peaches in the world. The juice went drip, drip, drip, from my chin. So much juice it made puddles at my feet! Fish could swim in the puddles, so deep!”. You may gather from the previous statement that my grandfather had a knack for elaboration. With age, I have come to recognize the flexibility in his narratives, but as a child I took every word for what I learned to be true. If he said Polish peaches were so juicy they made puddles, by God I believed he went swimming in peach juice pools. While I marveled in the stories he created when I was younger, as I grow I marvel at the charisma that carried his words. His perspective, and that is all that it was he would claim, made the mundane things in this world come alive. A peach was no longer merely a fruit, but a fleshy ball of juice capable of forming ponds filled with life. His words sent a vibration to the things he perceived, and this transfer of energy pulsed the object to life.
I imagine my grandpa would love the story of The Songlines, as they too pulsated their world into being. Nothing, for the Aboriginals, is merely mundane. They tie their being to the land, thus giving the land their life. “So the land”, Chatwin writes, “must first exist as a concept in the mind? Then it must be sung? Only then can it exist?”. Reading this, I realize we do this every day of our life. We see the land, the objects, the world that surrounds us, and we sing, or define, what to believe to be true. In our culture we see a peach and sing the song of it dietary value. My grandfather sang of the juicy nectar that bred marine life at his feet. Aboriginals sing of everything, from honey-ants to chickenpox, emerging from earth’s depths and ancestors dreaming. It seems the depression of our culture is not the lack of objects to perceive, but the unwillingness to sing past the verses we deem “true”.
In 1939, my grandpa celebrated his 18th year of life. At the same age he mourned the loss of the place he called home. His evolution into manhood held an eerie parallel to the progression of World War II. When the war broke out and inched its way closer to home, he knew his choice was either to leave or to die. Always one to value the sacred nature of life, he left his beloved Gostynin with a backpack of family photos and his older brother by his side. The two boys were now men, by law and way of life. Soccer games, peaches, and pine tree promenades became a memory of their youthful fairytale. Their picture perfect childhood that seemed like the dream world of cinema soon turned to the nightmare of a twisted horror film. As Jews, the only safe way they saw out of Poland was to enlist as Catholics and join the Polish army. I pondered this uprootment while enjoying the contentment of familiarity, sitting on my beach back at home.
The soft doughy sand kneaded below my bum, molding to make a comfortable seat. Before me the Atlantic Ocean reached to hold me then set me free, and behind me the sea foam box I call home stood still. I was left wondering the same thing Chatwin does. Are we meant to grab the hand of the sea, or embrace comfort in stillness? I’ve grappled with this question quite frequently as of late. I see the benefit in both, but my cultures duality begs I choose.
I have lived in the same town, in the same house my whole life. Repainting our home from weathered peach to sea foam green was a big deal. My grandma lives steps away, and my cousins down the block. I refuse to let my mom replace our 23-year-old emerald couch, despite its obvious age spots from years of love. While home for break my friends and I went to the first annual “Jakesgiving” bowl. It was a flag football tournament honoring the life our friend, a member of our Long Beach family, who recently passed away. As I sat on the track of my local middle school, I observed the love prancing all around me. People strolled—my parents friends, my friends parents, my third cousin (twice removed), and my grade school classmates. Four games went on, and I knew every player. My third grade basketball coach was quarterback, and passed to my kindergarten crush. He was blocked my best friends boyfriend, who deflected the ball. On the next play the twerp that told me Santa clause wasn’t real leaped in the air catching the first touch down. I looked around at every single familiar face and felt embraced by the warmth of immense belonging.
I live in a community, my very own Gostynin. I am tied to these people and the land that holds the memories we’ve made. Every home holds a face of a person I know and every footstep presses upon a memory of my youth. As I bury my toes in the sandy earth I’ve touched before, I feel all the walks, laughs, dances, yells, and energies that have encompassed my feet in this place prior. I feel the memories, the person I was in those moments, celebrate as they reconnect with the person I’ve become. I sit on my beach, thinking about the Jakesgiving bowl, Gostynin, and this community I call home. I asked myself what it is I am looking for. What do I want to find “out there”, that I don’t already have right here? In that moment, a wave of contentment washed over me. I realized, in this place I call home, I have everything I need.
My grandfather never let the pain of his past tarnish his present. He discovered joy in the simplicity of everyday life. He never found a stationary place of his own that compared to Gostynin, but his life was an endless, joy filled quest to find it. He found it rather, in the motion of existence, recognizing that nothing, not even Gostynin is guaranteed to stand still. He found it in family parties, in reconnecting with childhood friends, in dancing, Hawaiian shirts, and Carvel ice cream cones. He found it in sun bathing, in bagels with lox, in housing stray dogs, and sewing tiny rose patches onto every shirt he owned.
I have a vivid memory of him sitting on my deck back at home. He wore a white short sleeve button down, matching his white mustache and Einstein hair. In his tanned, steady hand, he held a warm coffee cup, the warmth flowing up to his face as he stared at the sea. He sat there in silence, an inner grin flushing his cheeks. His crystal blue eyes marveled at the vibrant sea from which they came. He turned to me and I swear in that moment his eyes sparkled. “I’m so happy baby. You have it. Your very own Gostynin”.