Hedwig is more than an Owl

A picture of my grandmother, Hedwig
Hedwig

My maternal grandmother would have adored the Harry Potter books. She loved tales of magic, after all. And the idea of owls as a method of communication would have tickled her fancy. But her favorite part of the stories, I know, would have been Harry’s owl, Hedwig.

Why?

Because she would have loved the idea of having a namesake in such wonderful stories. In Polish, her first name was Jadwiga. That’s Hedwig in English.

Grandma was the first in her family to be born in the United States. Her parents and siblings came here from Poland, through Germany, in 1913. She was born in Greenville, New York, not far from Port Jervis, New York where she spent most of her life.

Her father was a shoemaker. Grandma tells me that he met his wife when he was apprenticed to her father, also a shoemaker. He had a shop in Port Jervis.

Hedwig taught me a lot of things from how to make noodles from scratch to how to make beautiful Christmas ornaments from old aluminum cans. But the most important thing that she taught me was how to tell a story.

I still remember the late summer nights when she would spend hours telling me stories about herself and her family. For example, the story about her own grandfather who lost several wives in childbirth and became rich from the multiple dowries he received. He invested all of this wealth in Deutsche Marks. When the bottom fell out of the German economy, he was no longer so rich.

These distant ancestors, most of whom I never met, seemed as real to me through her stories as the people in my daily life. It was the little details that made it real. Like the fact that she bought my mother a piano and made sure that she got lessons because she so desperately want to play herself when she was a child. Here she would describe how she used to pretend to play and her hands would dance back and forth as though she were playing a piano.

And that is why, to me, Hedwig is much more than an owl. My grandmother passed away in 1995, but Hedwig lives on in my heart and memories.

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