A Christmas story of forgotten memories, a tangled paradox of hidden secrets, and a journey of self-discovery in Chicago's Polish neighborhoods.
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Eva Galuska and the Christmas Carp
by Kathleen Clauson
Available from Xlibris Bookstore
Eva Galuska and the Christmas Carp is a magical Christmas story told by Jozef Mieszko as he sets out on a journey of self-discovery. He is a successful young man, the son of first generation Polish immigrants. He has it all--a beautiful wife, two terrific sons, a rewarding career, a home with great equity, a castle-like brownstone on Chicago's trendy Gold Coast. Jozef's parents achieved the American dream with hard work, discipline, tenancity, and sacrifice. They own and operate an Old-World Polish bakery and delicatessen. Their store is located in Bucktown, in the heart of an old Polish neighborhood near St. Mary's of ther Angels Catholic Church, one of Chicago's actual historical landmarks, known for its spectacular golden dome, its glorious rooftop angels, and its mysterious blue light in the cupola.
A few days before Christmas, at his parents' store, Jozef bumps in Eva Galuska, a long-time friend of their family. She is a character full of life, strikingly beautiful, and very sensual. After their brief flirtatious encounter, Jozef finds himself unexpectedly attracted to her and although his thoughts bother him, he cannot get Eva out of his mind. This confusion causes Jozef to question his own spirituality, morality, and family values, taking him back in time to a haunting childhood memory.
Jozef Mieszko shares his memories, perceptions, personal thoughts, secrets, and conflicts candidly with the reader. He questions the blend of old folk customs and superstitions with religion in attempt to discover his own beliefs and to resolve old conflicts, still smoldering in the past. And in spite of his conscious efforts to be different from his father, Jozef finds that they have much in common after all and that perhaps, he also shares a secret with his father. For Jozef this opens a tiny window of opportunity for rebirth and resolution during the Christmas holidays.
This book, praised for its beautiful imagery, historical referenecs, and descriptions of Chicago's magnificant landscape, reveals a realistic plot that could happen in any family, in any country. Eva Galuska and the Carp Carp is a celebration of Chicago's rich history--the ethnic neighborhoods, the languages, culinary delights, and cultural folklore during the Christmas holiday season.
I pushed my way inside the store and shook hands with some of Papa's faithful customers, who came in every day, whether they needed to buy groceries or not. Papa's music blared over the loud speaker. Some people tapped their feet; other swayed, shopping baskets in hand, as they waited in line. At any moment I expected the whole place to break out in dance. I was standing completely still, but the floor seemed to ripple under my feet, as if I too was caught up in the rhythm. Even over the frenzy of clarinets and accordions, I could hear Papa's voice before I could see him.
He was spewing out half Polish, half English to a couple of deliverymen, telling them how to do their jobs. The aroma of freshly baked bread, holidays sweets, spicy kielbasa, and cabbage rolls filled the air. Papa was in the back, probably trying to crank up the volume even more for the evening rush of after-work shoppers. I smelled hot oil from the bakery kitchen and recognized the smell of fried chrusciki. Some people called them "bow ties"--my mother called them "angel wings." Making them this late in the afternoon meant a special order for a party or a wedding. The music was deafening--I never understood why Papa insisted on playing polkas all day long. Whenever I questioned him, his answer was the same.
"Muzyka stirs the blood, my son. The more fast they dance in the aisles, the more they buy." He always winked when he said that, the same way he did whenever he talked about making money. It wasn't arrogance, but with his years of experience, he thought he knew something that everyone else didn't and he expected everyone to follow his lead.
I watched my father at the back of the store--he was a tall dynamic man, a silver fox with a big warm smile, a twinkling in his eye, and enough charm to sell anything. As a young man my father had sandy brown hair, which had gradually changed to the the color of silvery fine sand. His eyes were grayish blue, but if he was upset or angry, his eyes became bright blue. Even still, I monitored the blue of his eyes when I was around him.
From behind me, I heard a familiar voice, immediately claiming my attention. Undeniably Slavic, undeniably seductive. Her voice was soft and mysterious, like the friendly purr of a kitten. After hearing her voice, I felt her gaze, as if a sleek panther was watching me.
"Jozef Mieszko--you look very fine, very fine indeed." As she spoke I noticed her lips were gently curved like the petal of a rose, the color of juicy ripe strawberries.
I reached out to shake her hand. Eva Galuska wrapped the crimson wings of her cape, pulling my face close to hers. Her breath was warm and sweet, a faint trace of peppermint and chocolate. "It is so good again to see you, Jozef."