Before You Were Here



It may come as a surprise to some of my readers to learn that as of this writing, a full 95% of the all the world’s Poles now live in Ireland[1], with the remaining five percent living, of course, far to the east in places with hard to pronounce, multiple consonant bearing names like “Manchester” and “Birmingham”. [2] It wasn’t always this way, of course. Prior to the Great Migration, most Poles actually lived in Poland, and in the early 90’s a family moved from there into the neighborhood that I lived in at the time. They had no family there, and no friends save for co-workers of the parents and a few contacts in the church. The parents themselves didn’t speak a great deal of English. They had two children, both boys. The older one, Tomasz, was about three years my junior at fifteen. I called him “Dood”, because he started (or ended) every sentence with “dude”. One of the first things he said to me was “Dood, I am worried about school. I am worried about the Polish jokes, dood.”

“You needn’t be,” I told him. “The Polish jokes will take care of themselves.”

He didn’t get it.

The younger boy, Stosh, was five and spoke English fairly well. He was an almost criminally adorable and completely guileless child who was always asking questions like “Why is the sky blue?” and expecting a real answer. He quickly became a sort of mascot for our street.

One day I was sitting outside watching some of the younger boys play football. Stosh wandered by and decided he wanted to get in on the action, even though he was far too small. The other boys tried to shoo him away, but he just kept smiling and trying to get into the thick of it. At one point the play became very intense. Another boy tripped over Stosh and they both went crashing to the ground. The older boy swore at Stosh, jerked him to his feet by his shirt, and slammed him to the ground. I stood up and gave a verbal warning that included a threat of ultraviolence. I was ready for Stosh to burst into tears, but he just stood up and walked over, and we sat down together.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“Jesus Christ yes I am,” he replied. “That boy had bad temper. He should get time out.”

I laughed. “Do they have ‘time out’ in Poland?”

“All the time my mom put me in time out. For no reason.”

“Well, that’s what mums do now, I guess.”  I went back to pretending to watch the match, but I was really waiting for Stosh to ask me one of his profound questions, which he did.

“Where were you when you were a little guy?” he said.

“Another town. I only moved here a few months before you.”

He ignored my statement. “I see you in there,” he said, pointing to our front door. “When you come out, you are already a big guy. But where were you when you were little? I am thinking you were a little guy in there and you just stayed inside until you were a big guy and say, ‘Okay, I am big. I can come out now.'”

There is something very touching about the way children try to make sense of the world, especially as it concerns the origins of people other than themselves. As far as they are concerned, they are the centre of the universe. Nothing could have possible existed before they did, therefore all things came into existence along with them, and some just evolve at different rates, or even in secret. It’s not a bad philosophy, as far as those things go. However, not being one to lie to children, as they already have people to do that for them, I tried to explain to Stosh that I had been first a baby, then a little boy like himself and was now, technically, an adult. He was ready with his counter-argument by the time I finished speaking.

“You are way too tall,” he explained patiently, “and your mom is not tall. You couldn’t have come from her.”

“But I was a baby,” I insisted. “A long time ago.”

“But I didn’t get to see you then!” He was getting flustered, and so was I as I was failing to explain a relatively simple concept to a kindergartener.

“This was before you were born, Stosh. Before you were here.

That was when it happened. I could see it in the depths of his eyes, which were brimming with tears. The realisation. The horror. Because of there was such a thing as “before you were here,” that must mean that there is also…

After you’re gone.

The reason that this incident comes to mind, many years later, is that not too long I ago I heard from a friend that Stosh, having long ago become a citizen of his adopted country, is now also a dentist and a husband and a father. (And of course, an adult, although the last time I saw him he was just a little guy. How did it happen?) This happy news got me thinking about the possible advantages he may have had. It’s not easy to be an immigrant anywhere. It’s not easy to be a child, either, although you have the distinct advantage of not knowing that, at least for a while. But being an immigrant and being a child may have an upside. I’ve been both myself, but I don’t think I took full advantage the first go round, so I wrote this to remind myself.

You can ask questions about things that seem obvious to everyone else, instead of pretending to already know the answer. You’ll learn new things everyday if you pay attention. Sometimes you can even go back and look at the same thing twice and learn something new. The same thing goes with people, as they’re constantly changing. Growing up and all. Someone you knew twenty or thirty years ago, who you’ve immortalized in your mind as “this sort of person” or “that sort of person” may have evolved in secret, without your knowledge, into a different sort of person altogether.


[1] According to the old lady down at the Spar.

[2] Ibid.


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39 Responses to Before You Were Here

  1. incarceratedshadows says:

    An excellent post Oglach and a joy to read.
    I was born in Dublin in 1960 and we moved to
    England when I was 6 months old. West London.
    I spent all my summer holidays in Dublin and Kildare
    as a child. Such wonderful times. I had an English accent
    but that didn’t mean shit. I was surrounded by family
    and friends. Have you ever been to Kildare?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a heartwarming anecdote. Did you try to look up Stosh and contact him?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ivors20 says:

    Your story is soulful and touching, and Stosh’s conversation with you was cute and also enlightening. Thank you for sharing this wondrous snippet from your childhood.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Profoundly poignant story well told. When on of my grandsons was the same age as Stosh, he gazed skywards and reflected: “If Grannie in the sky hadn’t died, we wouldn’t have Uncle Sam”. He had fully absorbed

    Liked by 2 people

  5. tripleclicka says:

    This puts some things in perspective for me, and an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. skat says:

    Sometimes I have a great desire to find people from my past, and on occasion, I have done so. Initially, it’s interesting to reconnect, but once the reminiscing is over, we fall back into being who we have evolved into and often find we no longer have any common ground. I tend to remind myself of that now before I go looking for the past.

    You have captured this so well with this piece. I thought you were going all “Paddy Clarke” on me for a minute there at the beginning.😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A very nice post, and I love your sourcing. Old ladies down by the spar, just like young men at hunting camps, are noted for being circumspect in their methodology and lack of bias.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I can only add a small observation to this wise and touching post.  Asking «questions about things that seem obvious to everyone else» is also a habit of some adults, like research scientists and political reformers.  It’s a habit that can also benefit everyone else.  Sometimes a persistent questioner discovers that what is obvious is also false.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. K E Garland says:

    I do love this, especially this part, “Someone you knew twenty or thirty years ago, who you’ve immortalized in your mind as “this sort of person” or “that sort of person” may have evolved in secret, without your knowledge, into a different sort of person altogether.” I’ve been trying to explain this to people for years now to no avail.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I had no idea that that many Poles live in Ireland! Thanks for that bit of trivia.

    Your superb writing flows effortlessly. I love the conversations, as well.

    Stosh sounded so wise and cute. I like his name. Hopefully, the kid who slammed Stosh to the ground became his patient. There are many painful things dentists can do. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • oglach says:

      That bit about 95% of Poles living in Ireland was a joke. 🙂 We do have the largest Polish population outside Poland, and a lot of people don’t like that and cry about it a lot. That’s why I quoted “the old lady down at Spar” as my reference.
      My, what big eyes you have. 🙂 Your new gravatar is adorable. You look so sweet in the pic but there is also a glimmer of light in your eyes that says, “Look out, world. Crazy on board!”. Portrait of the artist.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Rose.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. merrildsmith says:

    What a beautiful post. I hope Stosh has had a happy life. Young children may not always understand the concept of life before they existed, but sometimes they come out with such pieces of wisdom. All of my grandparents arrived as immigrants from Russia/Belarus/Ukraine–some as adults and some as children.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wonderful childhood story, Oglach! I work with children and often wonder how perceptive and wise they can be. Adults too often think they could hide things from them but they couldn’t be more wrong.


    • oglach says:

      I agree. Children should be allowed and encouraged to trust their own intuition, and adults can help them with that by being truthful, even though it is sometimes difficult. Thanks for reading, Sarah.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. michnavs says:

    I am happy to be back…i got the chance to learn about your culture and your childhood…add to that, the comments from your readers are very broadens my persperctive and understanding of culture…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a touching anecdote, Oglach. I liked the cute questions of Stosh, children often say wise things in the guise of innocence. The pain of an immigrant, of leaving the motherland….it’s touching. I can feel it as my ancestors had to leave their country, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after India was divided by the British Raj as she gained independence. The division was based mainly on religion and the stories I’ve heard are heart-touching.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. So beautiful I envy other followers for actually GETTING notice of your posts (hint, hint, fair WP)…

    I loved this as both the former “small child” attached to a military family and my many “lives” in Okinawa, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and five American states…as well as in being the wife of an immigrant. Even now (during a painful time in this country in which a lot of embarrassing dirty laundry is spilling from governmental places), immigrants continue to be the ones who see the GOOD in us, despite our obvious flaws. I am grateful every day for the observations of these bright and hopeful people…often their insights render ME a child again!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ibid. Hahahaha.
    Damn fine writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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