Wednesday afternoon was a break for us, so we took Neal and June and a couple other friends into the nearby town of Zakopane, a destination much like a mini Whistler. In the summer, this place bustles with horse-drawn carriages pulling tourists on cobblestone streets. Open market vendors sell local wares such as smoked sheep cheese, amber jewelry, and carved wooden toys. One might even see a whole pig roasting on a spit. Today, however, the streets were much quieter. The touristy shops were open, but they don’t carry the same appeal for me as the open markets.
I did, however, experience a special treat. One of our friends had stopped to buy something from a sidewalk booth, and as I waited, a cute Polish granny approached me. She said something to me in Polish, so I answered, “I’m sorry – I speak only English.” A big smile spread across her face and she responded with, “Would you like to buy some cheese?”
She was holding a large plastic mixing bowl in one arm and pulled a small tote bag on wheels behind her. “Sweet cheese,” she said, tipping the bowl my direction. “It’s very good. Try some.” She whipped out a sharp knife and cut a slice from the ball of white cheese that filled the entire bowl. She was right. The delicacy was mild and smooth with a hint of sweetness.
Next, she opened her tote and pulled out a plastic bag containing other cheeses – some smoked, some plain. These local cheeses are formed into shapes such as sheep or flowers or little carved barrels. I remember enjoying these smoked, salty cheeses here last year so I made my choice and paid her about $3 for the treat. She beamed. I couldn’t resist giving her the traditional Polish kiss on each cheek. And she beamed again.
The most amazing thing about this incident was that Granny spoke English beautifully. Finding a senior who speaks English at all is unusual especially in rural regions. “Where did you learn to speak English?” I asked her. “I used to live in Chicago,” she said. That makes perfect sense. Chicago has a huge Polish community. She probably has a son or daughter who moved to the States and took her along.
I wish we’d had more time to visit with her. It would have been fun to have tea with her and hear her stories, but we had to catch a bus back to our conference venue because the marriage conference was scheduled to start in a couple of hours.
As I write this, we’ve now completed three of the marriage sessions and have two left. Gene and I taught two sessions today – Communication and Companionship, and it was a ton of fun to share from our lives with our IM staff. What a precious group of men and women. What a joy to mentor and encourage them! Ministry doesn’t get much more fulfilling than this.