June 1, 2010— -- Journalist Rita Cosby's father had refused to speak about his past. He grew up in Poland during the period before World War II. But after Cosby found some of her father's old belongings, she convinced him to tell his story and discovered her family's history.
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I first noticed my dad's scars when I was eight years old during our annual family camping trip to Mount Desert Island in Maine. "Noticed" is not quite the right word, as his scars, dashed about his body like cracks in dried mud, are hard to miss. Rather, it was while camping that I first consciously comprehended that a scar was an indication that something bad had happened, something we weren't supposed to talk about.
Camping was my family's vacation tradition and remains one of my happiest and most vivid childhood memories. We made the eight-hour trip from our driveway in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to our regular campsite at Somes Sound View Campground in Maine so many times that every part of it became a ritual. Each summer, shortly after my dad got home for his annual two weeks off, he and my mother would load up our old white Chrysler station wagon and we'd make for the coast for two weeks of adventure. The "American-made" Chrysler was a family fixture — its influence on my life extends far beyond our excursions to the campground. Later on, it would become my first car.
I never remember it being new. My father said it had "character." What it had was a lot of rust, more than a few dents, and an engine that rumbled like a freight train. It seemed like it had always been beaten up, but by the time I inherited it, it was known around town as "The Bomb." My friends gave it the nickname as a tribute to a popular lyric of the time — "You dropped the bomb on me" — and because of the hole it had in the passenger-side floor. It began as aged white, but after I had driven it for a year or so, it had attained its share of war wounds, including a yellow-parking-barrier stripe down one side and a fire-hydrant-red stripe down the other. An excited teenage girl with a wagon full of equally excited teenage friends does not, honestly, make for a very good driver.
Though most of my friends had more expensive cars with German pedigrees, everyone loved to ride in The Bomb. In fact, it became a popular Greenwich fixture. It was so big that half the neighborhood could fit inside, making it a favorite party spot. It was a club no matter where it was, even when its broken gas gauge left us stranded on the side of the road. Several friends still recall that once while we were driving, something large and dark fell out of the engine and began smoldering in the road. But since The Bomb still kept going, so did we. The car eventually got so bad that my mother drove it to the dump and called a cab to take her home.
My family was certainly a little bit unusual living amongst the white picket fences and storied wealth of Greenwich. Everyone knew my folks were from a different country, even if they didn't know which one. You could tell from their heavy accents that the Cosbys, Richard and Adda on Halsey Drive, were from "somewhere else."
There is a distinctive melody to the way the Polish people sound, accenting words Americans typically don't. While my dad spent time actively working to lose his accent, my Danish mother defiantly refused to let go of her. She never got the hang of the English "th" no matter how many times I demonstrated the correct placement of the tongue beneath the front teeth.