Bill Cirignani, Partner
2nd Generation Polish descendant
“Nie jesteś sam.”
You Are Not Alone.
“Hey, ma,” I said, “who’s that sleeping downstairs?” I was eight years old, it was the start of summer, and I’d gone to the basement to retrieve my baseball mitt. But I paused when I heard a light snoring, more like heavy breathing, coming from the couch near the far window. The shades were drawn, and on the floor was a tattered brown leather suitcase, kept together by rope and old belts.
“It’s my cousin, Tadeusz,” she said, glancing at my father with smiling eyes.
“Yeah, just one of your mom’s five hundred Polish cousins,” my dad said, grinning and shaking his head. My mom slapped his arm but spoke to me.
“He just flew in from Poland and he’s tired. So, you and your brothers leave him alone.”
I did. We all did, my four older brothers and I. Truth was, Tadeusz wasn’t the first unfamiliar guest to occupy our basement that summer, or in previous summers, or during the summers that followed. Some of them were cousins, or at least nearly so. But most were just Polish immigrants who knew someone who knew someone who knew my mother and found their way into our home because they needed a place to live for a few days until they could settle more permanently near the Polish Triangle in Chicago’s West Town. There they would find work in the trades, usually carpentry, sending most of their earnings to family back in Poland.
I lost track of how many Polish immigrants my mother helped throughout the years I lived at home, though I gained an appreciation for my father’s hyperbole. What I do know, though, is that every one of these men, and they were mostly men, came to the United States in order to help better themselves and their families. And they did. But I also learned that they couldn’t do it without some help. Not just my mom’s help, but the help of family or friends, or friends of friends, all willing to feed, clothe, or house them. Or teach them some English. Or just share the oplatek at Christmas.
At CHH we help people who are injured by their medical care providers. We genuinely hope you never need our services. But if you do, we want you to know that we speak your language (my sister Cecylia interprets Polish for us, which is another story for another day). We also want you to know that we have at least an inkling about who you are, and how you got here.