Friday, July 11, 2014





Students embrace their Polish roots


February 17. 2013 12:45AM


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In the best Polish they could muster, the students duly recited the words for common bedroom furnishings.


"Don't forget to roll your tongue," instructor Irene Seegar prompted after the chorus of voices fell a little flat with "obrazy," the Polish word for pictures.


Yet no one seemed to stumble with "pierzyna," as childhood memories soon came bursting forth about the indispensable feather beds that Polish families passed down the generations and dared not leave behind when they departed for America.


For Wanda Lettieri's immigrant grandmother, the valuable bedcovering served to protect something even more valuable while crossing the seas more than a century ago: her cherished portrait of Our Lady of Czestochowa, a beloved Polish icon of the Virgin Mary.


"I think it was such a dear story," Lettieri said in relating her grandmother's tale to Seegar and other students in the weekly Thursday afternoon Polish class at the Taylor Community Library, sponsored by the Polish National Alliance.


"They couldn't take much," Lettieri added.


And so it was that a simple vocabulary lesson spawned so many family memories among those gathered for the weekly lessons – including Seegar, 83, a West Scranton native who has lived in Taylor for more than half a century. Born to Polish immigrant parents, Seegar spoke only Polish until she entered school as a young girl.


Dawne Griffith, a local commissioner for the PNA, knew Seegar from PNA activities and immediately thought the retired nurse would be a perfect candidate to teach the new class.


"Dawne came to me and asked, ‘how would you like to be a teacher,'" Seegar chuckled.


"She's really sweet," Griffith said.


Both women have been surprised and thrilled at the local response. Seegar said the class already has more than a dozen students, ranging from school age to 87. While the current session is full, Griffith said two sections will be offered in the spring, one for beginners and an advanced class. Already there is a waiting list, but Griffith said those interested in the free classes should call her at 562.1000.


Griffith is a bit of an anomaly among the group. She married into Polish heritage and did not know the language. Impressed by her in-laws' affinity for PNA and Polish community activities in years past, she became inspired to get involved and revive some lost traditions.


"We needed to do something to reach out to the community," Griffith said of the classes, adding that she hopes her three children will be able to join a future session.


Many of the students bring at least some knowledge of Polish, even if only a few words remembered from childhood.


"Things are coming back to me from 50 years ago," said Taylor resident Paul Salony, recalling his Polish grandparents. He also noted the similarities between Polish and the Slovak language spoken by other ancestors.


Elaine Sporko, of Scranton, also came to learn about the language of her grandparents – a language she said immigrants' U.S.-born children often shunned as they embraced American culture and the English language.


Many in that generation "didn't want anything to do with the traditional ways," Sporko, 58, said.


Indeed, hard-working immigrants might retain their mother tongue, but the old country became a distant memory. Seegar said her parents never returned to Poland. She only visited for the first time last year, to discover a country that is rapidly growing and much changed from the land her parents knew.


"Everybody in Poland speaks English … Everybody smokes," Seegar recalled. "And right now, the whole country is under construction."


"I thought I was in New York," she laughed.




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