My extended family in Poland really knows how to throw a good party. We were staying with my aunt and uncle in Laka, a small village near the town of Pszczyna in southern Poland. Since we were there, they decided to invite my other aunts and uncles and all of my cousins to a big barbecue party. Many of the cousins didn’t see each other regularly despite living only a few hundred yards from each other. I hadn’t seen some of my cousins in 13 or 27 years.
It was a Saturday in September and one of the last good days of summer. Around 1pm one of my cousins started a wood fire in the grill. After he had some hot embers, he mounted two giant hams on a large spit. He tended the fire the rest of the day. I started calling him the Grillmaster.
Everyone arrived around 3pm. The hugs and kisses seemed endless. Then it was time to party. The first thing on the agenda was to eat dessert. In Poland, the dessert is often served before anything else. Many kinds of home-made cakes were brought out of the secret basement pantry. Tea and coffee were served.
The polka band started playing during dessert. The band consisted of my cousin’s two sons, Martin (17) and Kuba (12). Martin played the accordion and Kuba played the bass drum. The boys played with spirit and energy. Polka songs all sound the same to me. Still, it is happy music and great for getting a party going full steam.
The first wood smoked ham was ready. It was taken off the spit and sliced with a giant carving knife. It tasted delicious. The aunts had prepared potato, rice, and cabbage casserole dishes to go along with tomatoes from the garden. I skipped all of that to concentrate on the ham and fresh bread.
Cases of Zywiec beer appeared. Since I was there, some of them were actually stored in the fridge to be cold for the American guest. The rest were room temperature. Some people mixed beer with a couple of different things. Some people liked their lukewarm beer with a fruity syrup. I tried that and it tasted awful! Others poured half a glass of beer and then dumped Coke into it. I didn’t try that because it just looked bad to me.
After dinner it was time to drink vodka shots and some combustible Greek aperitif that tasted like it should be used to scour the barnacles off of a ship’s hull. During the drinking I noticed that quite a few of the family had disappeared from the table. I thought that’s pretty normal when 40 people are gathered. Some people have to fix more food, make phone calls on their new cell phones, or walk off some of the beer and vodka buzz.
Then the band started up again and a dozen people danced out of the house. They were dressed up in costumes like it was Halloween. We had a Native American chief, Charlie Chaplin, cowboys and cowgirls, women dressed as men, and men dressed like the prostitutes I saw standing by the side of Polish highways.
The costumed people danced with wild abandon. They brought the party to life. They got everyone to leave the food tables and dance like crazy people.
When we were all tired out from dancing, the second ham was ready to eat. We all sat down to a second dinner. This time we also had Polish sausage and some strange substance that was cooked on the grill in tinfoil. I thought I’d try some of that mystery food. It turned out to be blood sausage. I took one bite and that was enough for me. It was nasty stuff.
As the sun set, more beer was consumed, more vodka shots were downed, and the conversations got louder and funnier.
Everyone enjoyed being together again, like in the old days when we were all so much younger. Time passes but the bonds of family remain.
To see a short video of the Polska Polka Party dancing, click here.