I've always been told I look just like my grandmother Leona Rodak. I've also learned enough about her to know that she made a lot of really bad decisions in her life, decisions that continue to affect my family even though she's been gone for almost 35 years. Though I never met her, she's had the single most influence over me behind the members of my immediate family--influence that hadn't always been for the good. So I've started a journey to make peace with my grandmother.
I've decided to embrace my Polish heritage and learn about immigrant life at the turn of the century. I've been contacting family members who knew Leona and her siblings, and I've done more research on Omaha from 1910-1930 than I ever expected to do. I've spent the past two months trying to piece together the lives of people who are no longer around to tell their story. I've also written page after page of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction about my grandmother's family. And I've learned a lot of unexpected things.
My grandmother was a pretty amazing person. She went through a lot in her life, and my family has left an amazing legacy of women who were independent, powerful, compassionate. Yes, her life was filled with mistakes and horrible tragedies, but it was also filled with incredible stories of survival and love. I've spent so many years resenting my grandmother that I never really took the chance to know her. But maybe looking like my grandmother isn't such a bad thing.