My dear wife Karen and I enjoyed the sights, sounds and tastes of the 60th Polish Festival last night in downtown Syracuse’s Clinton Square.
No, contrary to a rumor circling the square, I have not been to all of them.
Ed, a city firefighter I’ve known for more than two decades, asked me if I used to go to the fest when it was held at the New York State Fairgrounds 40 years ago after we shook hands in the beer tent. I smiled and told him that was before my time attending these parties.
Ed was watching over the proceedings, where volunteers were checking IDs, collecting money and pouring drinks.
One gentleman running the spigots convinced me I had to try the real Polish beer being poured, OKOCIM. I do not recall ever tasting this, or any other brand of Polish brew, in this beer-drinking Polish-American life of mine. It surprised me that I could not remember my father Frank ever drinking a Polish label beer.
My dear wife Karen stuck with Michelob Ultra. And she carefully watched my reaction to that first sampling.
I do not believe I folded my face in half like Bitter Beer Guy, but … it was sort of bitter.
OKOCIM tasted better with each succeeding sip.
I stuck to the one.
All day long my mind had been on the kielbasa-and-kraut sandwich and potato and farmer’s cheese pierogies of Sweet Eva’s Restaurant, a mainstay on Milton Avenue in the Syracuse village of Solvay.
When the banner caught my eye, I recalled that they shortened the name to also fit “Polish Restaurant” for the festival. My eye also spied 20 people also waiting for their Friday dinner. Karen, our friend Kristin and I joined it. It moved fairly quickly.
I got my combo; Karen nabbed her cabbage roll and pierogi; and first-timer Kristin choose the sampler, a tray that allowed her the luxury to trying a little bit of all the stand offered.
Kristin watched us eat ours with a big smile, but was taking her’s home because she had a full evening of packing boxes ahead of her. She’s moving today.
A big Polish dinner was just the thing she needed, I think.
Music and dancing is scheduled at the three-day festival from start to finish.
About a hundred folding chairs carefully lined up for fans to enjoy the entertainment were full at around 7 p.m. Friday, with people swaying to the polka beat.
Three couples were doing the polka to the sounds of the Salt City Brass when a stopped for a moment to shoot video as the Syracuse band played a song I recognized well from my youth, “The Clarinet Polka.”
Here’s just short of a minute:
The dancing pairs look pretty darn smooth.
I remember one family wedding when my cousin Peter’s wife, the lovely Barbara, would not take no for an answer when she insisted that I dance one polka with her.
I do not know how to polka, not one little step. The polka is not a dance you can fake. Not me, anyway.
A step quickly landed on a foot. Dance concluded, Barbara limping. Sorry. Again, for something I hope long forgotten.
Of course, as these things must, the Polish Festival features vendors hawking T-shirts to capture the eyes and hearts of Polish-Americans, and maybe even other folks.
I laughed out loud at this one:
“I don’t need Google. My Polish wife things she knows everything.” But it does not fit my life.
Karen laughed out loud at another, and bought it for me.
I put it on as soon as we got home.
Do you attend any ethnic festivals that represent your heritage? Do you have memories from your upbringing that are triggered from events like these you can tell us? Do you have any terrible dance floor stories you can share?