By Nicholas Edmund Rolinski, June ’15
My Grandfather, Dr. Edmund Rolinski passed away before I was born. I’ve only heard a few stories about him, and seen just two pictures. With my parents in town this weekend for a baby visit, we decided to search for his childhood home in Brooklyn.
Edmund was the youngest son of Polish Catholic immigrants, Bronislaw and Anna, and our casual research suggested that he had lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. Although I never met him, his childhood neighbor and friend, Lou, kept in touch with us. Edmund and Lou must have been close, because my father called Lou his uncle. Lou was also Polish, and lived above a greeting card shop, sending my brother and I cards for every Hallmark holiday on the calendar until he too passed away, presumably of old age.
Williamsburg is a busy place nowadays, completely gentrified, and known for fresh sailor tattoos and the dive bar revival. Its blend of old and new glistened in the low sun, still wet from a transient downpour an hour earlier. We journeyed down Berry Street, crossing under the Williamsburg Bridge and through a Hasidic enclave, scanning for the Family’s front door, and Lou’s card shop.
To the South, the urban fabric began to disintegrate into an incoherent scattering of warehouses, overgrown lots, a busy thoroughfare, and some high-rises from the mid-century. My dad didn’t recognize the place as his grandparents’ neighborhood, which he faintly recalled from his youth, and the house number didn’t seem to exist. Our feet hurt, and Emaline’s bed time was approaching quickly. Edmund had eluded me again, his biography a vague mystery, still somehow well-protected.
Back in the Subway, a man was performing polka music on an accordion. The wait for the train was long, and I nudged Emie’s stroller close to the man as he played and sang. The instrument, of rich and complex beauty, entranced us on the platform, and I placed a dollar in the man’s case. It was Father’s Day, and a new Rolinski Family was in Brooklyn, feeling a little more at home.