When I was a little girl, I was playing with my mother’s sewing box looking for something pretty. I found this little button or piece of a pendant or something in the shape of a small five pointed red star. At the time I loved the colour red, and I loved star shapes, so I took some thread and turned it into a necklace.
When my father saw it he froze solid. For a few moments he just stared at me, then told me with excessive calm to take it off. Shocked at seeing my father like that, the way his face paled, the way his eyes looked like someone had just stuck their hands directly into his chest and squeezed his heart, made me take it off and put the thing back in the box.
Later my mom told me that the star was a symbol of bad things that had happened to them in Poland before they came to Canada. That it brought back bad memories for them.
It was innocence only, and my father knew that. He didn’t scream, he didn’t curse or yell or threaten. He didn’t even explain. But that star disappeared.
Years later, I learned about Stalin and Soviet Russia and the Communist takeover of Poland. Over the years I learned about solidarity and bit by bit my father’s involvement with it. I learned that my father was blacklisted. I learned that my parents as newlyweds, were separated for 6 months while my father got out of the country and they worked to bring my mother down as well.
I learned about how my parents had to leave their entire family behind and come to a country where they didn’t fully speak the language. How my mother, having just finished law school, was forced to do it all over again from the very beginning. This in a new country, in a new language, with a new baby, and with little social support other than what they created for themselves in this new community.
Just recently I learned that the reason my maternal grandfather didn’t finish Law School, a longtime dream of his as well as a family tradition, was because he was banned from studies after participating in the Hungarian Revolution.
Just recently my father shared with me more detailed information about what it looked like to be part of a revolutionary group that would eventually bring down the Communist government.
Over the years, I listened to the stories about standing in line for hours to get toilet paper. About squeezing a whole family, including dogs, into an apartment we would consider single-sized and counting yourself lucky that you were able to find lodging so close to downtown. I would hear the stories about going without, and how excited they were to see an orange at Christmas time.
My family and I don’t agree a lot about politics, but we share important values: socialized medicine, socialized education. I wasn’t discouraged from being a socialist, in fact by American standards I was practically encouraged to be one, since socialism is closer in line with what Catholics (at least in my family) claim to be Christian values: care for the poor, the sick, the needy.
There are some scars that remain permanent. I can see them when my father rereads the Hunger Games for the hundredth time, with tears in his eyes. Talking to him about the book, about his interpretation was a transformative experience as I realized that to my father, this book was more than a warning of a possible future but a retelling of his own past. In his own way, my father was Katniss, and this life was his epilogue. We, his children, are his epilogue. I like to think that even though he might find me too radical, in his own way my father looks on what I do with some sort of familial pride. I don’t know.
But that look in my father’s eyes. I will never forget it. I see it again every time someone who grew up in an at least nominally democratic country shares the Soviet Symbol as a symbol of justice. Who even in jest praises the towering villains of my father’s childhood as having the right idea. I wonder how they can be so blasé about a regime that was in no way about justice, in no way about protecting the proletariat, but was really just a fascist propaganda campaign, similar to what the corrupt politicians of our own time do when they take 90% of the wealth and tell the rest of the population to look out for those beneath them who are out to take what’s theirs. Laughing at the dogs fighting over the breadcrumbs left over from the dinners that were rightfully theirs to begin with.
But then, they never got to see the little sewing box star reflected in the tears of my father’s eyes.