“You can’t kill a willow!”
Polonia’s Resilience Symbol
Exactly a year ago we harvested the best batch of pussy willows ever. Ron and Dave trimmed and cut so hard the neighbor ran out of her house, yelling, “You killed my tree!” I responded, “Your husband knows. Ask him.” I added, “You can’t kill a pussy willow.” Steaming, she stomped back inside. Lech Solecki, the resident-immigrant who planted the tree, knew this.
2020’s harvest filled an entire car garage bay. Then C-19 hit. Government closed our churches, as ecclesiastics succumbed with a wrestler’s, “Uncle!” The year of the unknown numbed us. We slowly succumbed to bleak announcements of infected percentages and places of worship fined for exceeding half-a-dozen worshippers.
Following restaurant rescue tactics, some considered drive-by palm distributions. Police then blocked church driveways as leadership proclaimed, “Forbidden!” For the first time in 60 years, I did not weave a single palm. No procession, no Holy Week, no Masses, no Sacraments for an unknown number of weeks in the entire Northern Hemisphere. A few Euro bishops protested abusive government control. A socially distancing Poland added Masses. USA contemporaries fell silent, subdued. The masses confused, submitted.
Never before experiencing such control and black-holes, I fell into depression. A desperate clandestine pray-er left a bunch of willows in the pew. On Easter, I solo-sang every memorized verse and Easter hymn. And I solo-ed a hardboiled egg with horseradish from Kaisertown’s legal, drive-by, take-out, blessed Easter Boxes.
The swamp palm delivery and record willow harvest shriveled into a late, brittle, winter disposal. The bay next to my garage space was emptied.
Then tapped onto my head and mind my Dad’s mystagogy (ultimate meaning lesson) on the pussy willow being God’s first announcement of Easter, which inspired me. St Casimir’s Family Faith Seminar dubbed them “resurrection branches.” Participants embraced this spiritual imagination.
March 2021 harvest was very different. Neighborhood kids donned shorts and tees for an early warm spell. Then I saw the willow puffs burst. It was sacramental. Last year’s Summer’s sun transformed the “damned” tree into a taller, new, nobler form. Fresh growth produced early, ruddy, catkins shimmering in unusually warm sunrays.
Dave brought an efficient, miniature chain saw; Ron, the ladder and his “chopper” (see above pic). I caught four huge limbs, not letting them to fall to the ground. Ron lopped these ermine puffs into long, individual, regal scepters. Taking a bunch, I kissed them in profound gratitude, God-given resurrection precursors. This year, I may have the privilege to bless these branches.
I recalled my large crystal vase: a heavy, precious treasure, that my father hand-carried from his first visit to his Mom in Poland since his WWII Siberian exile (see pic). I told Ron he found different branches and flowers for each season. Sometimes they were tall plastic imitations – artificial silk when flowers were not yet available. Each season he changed the presentation, a domestic celebration of earthly transition, wonder, and beauty. His Holy Week pussy willows, however, were most splendid.
Notably, this harvest conjured two teary eyes. Ron told me how he once caught his aging mom crying at the Holy Week table. “I can’t make Easter bread anymore,” she lamented. Her bout with sciatica was getting the best of her.
Pulling some of the ingredients together, Ron witnessed her gather all the energy she could and they made bread together. “As I remembered every year,” Ron attested, “we signed the round loaves with a Cross. Then it was ready to bake and share.” “You see Father,” Ron explained, “I bake only twice a year. A loaf for you for the August Lady of the Harvest celebration and one more for our Easter Święconka.” I finally learned why Ron proudly carried his Mom’s basket blessing bread on a fancy towel for the Assumption procession.
In more than one manner, pussy willows symbolize new life, hope, and pure Polish resilience. Surpassing “masking tape” strips distributed at US parishes, British boxwood, even expressive Spanish palma blanca, because, “You can’t kill a willow.” They’re resurrection branches, Polonia’s blessed, Holy Week symbols.
Rev. Dr Czeslaw M Krysa,
Rector of the Church of St Casimir, Buffalo, NY
Reprint from AmPolEagle Newspaper. Thurs (March 18, 2021) 11.