Saturday, March 10, 2012

What's In A Name & The Grass Only Looks Greener In The Neighbor's Yard

     Today, I will share with you another entry from my father's autobiography and his parents' diary, in which they tracked Little Bartek's progress from his birth in August 1921 through 1927. The first entry explains how he came to be known as "Bartek", and the second describes how his insatiable sense of curiosity led him to the conclusion that in life, the grass only looks greener in the neighbor's yard.
     "The sign on my office door and my business card reads: W.P. Mazur, M.D. Most people who get to know me on a first name basis are puzzled because 'W.P.' apparently has nothing to do with 'Bartek', which is how my family and friends refer to me. Bartek is short for Bartłomiej, pronounced BART WAME YAY, which is the Polish version of Bartholomew. 'W' stands for Władysław , the Anglicized version of which would be Ladislaus, and 'P' stands for Piotr, which is Polish for Peter. These are my first and middle names on my official birth certificate.
     Why then am I known as Bartek? The answer to this question is a story in itself. I was born on August 24, the day of St. Bartholomew, and it was assumed by everybody that, according to traditional Polish custom, my given name would be Bartholomew. Our family's doctor, Dr. Nowak, was the chief promoter of the name Bartholomew. He spread the rumor that I'd receive this saint's namesake among friends and neighbors, who addressed the 'welcome-to-the-world' cards they sent my parents to 'Bartłomiej Mazur.' When Dr. Nowak delivered me, he exclaimed, as soon as it was discernible that I was a boy: 'Here is your little Bartek!' My mother fully expected that this would be my first name. However, she was not present at my baptism. In those days, women were confined to bed for up to two weeks after childbirth, and babies were baptized shortly after birth to ensure that, in the case of neonatal death, they'd go straight to heaven.
     The details of what actually happened on the date of my baptism are unknown to me. According to one version, my mother wanted to name me Władysław, and that is the name I received at my baptism. Another version describes how my god-parents stopped at a tavern on the way to church, and that, possibly influenced by libation, a decision was made to be innovative, to break the old-fashioned tradition of naming children after the saints on whose days they were born. This is how I acquired my first and middle names, being named after my father and my paternal grandfather. The rarity of the name Bartholomew was perhaps one of the reasons my godparents rejected it. Another possible reason was the fact that 'Bartek' had acquired a proverbial meaning, being almost synonymous with an uneducated farmhand. How this personification of a social class developed is unknown to me. Maybe it had something to do with the New Testament story that Bartholomew served as a representative for the shepherds who paid homage to baby Jesus in Bethlehem. However, in my hometown of Stary Sącz, tradition prevailed, aided by Dr. Nowak's active campaigning, and that is how I came to be known as 'Bartek.' Thanks to its rarity, Bartek is a convenient nom de plume which I now use to sign my paintings and sculptures."
     This next entry refers to an excerpt from my grandparent's diary: "The personality of the terrible fours, along with other less desirable traits of my character, was briefly mentioned in 1925: 'At home, there are two Barteks: the well-behaved one, and the naughty one.' There is one very naughty thing I did that year. We did not go anywhere for summer vacation in 1925, but my maternal grandfather did come to visit us. He took me for walks in our neighborhood. In the vicinity of our house, there was an apartment complex, or perhaps more correctly, a couple of tenement houses. You could see the courtyard through the slats of a fence between the two big houses. I had always wanted to go there, to explore the unknown, perhaps to meet new playmates. Somehow, the grown-ups who exercised total control over my comings and goings never allowed me to visit that particular courtyard. By the time my grandfather took me for a walk around that block, my yearning for an excursion beyond the fence reached its peak. I decided to force my grandfather to go there, which I did by tossing my hat over the fence, like a Frisbee. This was not an ordinary hat. It was a Polish highlander's hat, made of black felt, shaped like a British helmet or the huts of Italian priests. It had a red leather band with white sea shells. It was part of the customary garb of the Podhale region, which was where my mother's father came from. I was therefore sure that such a treasured possession, a gift of my grandfather, would undoubtedly be retrieved. It was a form of blackmail extortion, or at the very least, manipulation. I don't remember whether or not I was punished for inconveniencing my grandfather. (It was quite a long walk to the front entrance to the apartment complex). What I do remember is my disappointment. Once we arrived to the other side of the fence and picked up my hat, the mystery of the unreachable place was gone. There was nothing of interest there, just cobble-stone pavement. Perhaps it was my first lesson in finding out that grass only looks greener in the neighbor's yard. Wanting what one does not have is a human failing, and like the above-mentioned incident, I experienced it at other times, though none of this was recorded in the diary, perhaps because it was not observable as overt behavior."
     I love reading through my father's and grandparents' recollections of his early years in life. I think we all enjoy hearing stories from when we were young; it gives us such great insight into the people we are today. Those early life's lessons and experiences shape our personalities, impart us with individuality, and help us in understanding why we are who we are, as well as how we can grow and change. Yesterday, on Facebook, one of my friends posted this picture, which I'm reasonably certain both Little Bartek and Dr. W.P. Mazur, M.D. would have agreed with. In the end, it's all relative, isn't it? :-)

Brad, modeling a Podhale hat, just like the one Little Bartek tossed over the fence


  1. Great name story! But I never heard before that Bartek is associated with uneducated farmhands. To be honest I've known many Bartłomiejs or Bartoszs (as that's another version of that name) and none of them ever mentioned that collocation :) it sounds quite traditional and maybe even rural but doesn't have a pejorative scent to it, in my opinion.
    nice mountaineer's hat!

    1. cześć kasiu!
      i will have to find a Bible and see if i can verify the Bartholomew-farmhand correlation. My older sister and I are thinking of taking Polish lessons at the Atlanta Polish Club...then, you and I could converse in Polish! For now, Google Translator is helpful...Mam nadzieję, że masz ładny weekend, do tej pory!

    2. That's wonderful! if you like, I can always help you with your Polish! I hope my English isn't so terrible that it's the inspiration for your idea, though! I need to work on that as well:)
      As for the weekend, it's unfortunately not Spring yet in Poland, it's been cold and rainy so far, but I'm having high hopes about it getting warm soon :) Have a great Sunday:) Miłej niedzieli :)

    3. no, your English is quite good! my sister and i have tossed this idea around for awhile. :-)