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And All the While She Slept

Krakow Home

The story I am about to share has no rhyme or reason or resolution. To this day it remains a mystery. I will never know why it happened.

No.18, a concrete house on the hill of Ulica Spadzista was our home. We shared the dwelling with a Polish family. The Krakowski's lived on the ground level, and our living space was on the upper level. This nest was perfect for our family of three to acclimate in our first year - to Poland, its people, its culture, certainly its language, and its Communist government.

This particular fall day seemed ordinary in my routine. It was after lunch, and I had just put our little two year old girl down for an afternoon nap. She had been with me all morning down in the center of the charming ancient medieval city of Kraków. I pushed her in her stroller, and we went from person to person as I practiced my prepared Polish conversational text.

Now back home, it was time for her to sleep. She would nap, and I would do homework. Coordinating mothering and language learning was a delicate balance, and nap times were crucial to utilize, if I was ever going to learn to converse in the Polish language.

No one else was home, and the entire house was quiet. However, my reverie was soon to be interrupted.

Unexpectedly, the doorbell rang. I thought to myself, “How odd. Who could be ringing the doorbell at this time of day?” It was not time for the postman, and any member of the household would use his or her own key. I was puzzled.

Again, the doorbell rang. Someone was at our gate, and the someone was impatient. The blaring persistence of the ring communicated a sense of urgency. Again, the ring.

I moved toward the upstairs kitchen window. One furtive glance made my blood run cold. This was serious. Standing authoritatively at the gate, was a policeman, but not just any policeman. He was not the type of policeman that gave out parking tickets, not the variety that issued traffic violations, not the sort that stood guard in a booth outside an embassy. No. This was the dreaded version of law enforcement know as The  National Security Police

The National Security Police force put fear in the life of the population. They were detested by ordinary citizens, and were avoided at all costs. Using humiliation and intimidation, these officers had authority to exert repression way beyond the others. Their one and only objective was to preserve the Communist state.

My mind just raced. Who was he? Why was he here? What did he want? Did he come to check our identification papers? Had our covert mission been discovered? His presence at our gate could not possibly represent anything good. What should I do? No one would be home for at least another two hours. I was by myself, and my baby was sleeping. 

Under normal circumstances, I would hear the doorbell, look out the window, recognize the person, buzz the gate to open, and grant entrance to the one waiting. We would meet at the front door and discuss the matter at hand. 

Not this time. These were not normal circumstances.

Hastily calculating my options, I determined to wait him out, and hope he would go away. Contact with him must be avoided at all cost. He must never know that I was here in the house. Meeting him face to face meant he would learn this family had foreigners living with them. Consequences would be inevitable. 

Rrrrrriiiiinnnnnngggggg. There it was again. I tiptoed down the stairs and crawled across the living room floor, being careful not raise my head so as to be seen. I crept underneath the thick drapes at the corner of the window and the wall where I positioned myself like a sentry, and began my vigil. With a slight parting of the curtains, I could see him without his being able to see me. 

Rinnnggg. Rrrrinnnnnnnnnggggggg. Oh my. Again, I thought of my sleeping child. If he startled her, and she woke up crying, he would definitely hear her. “Oh God, please keep her asleep.”

From my vantage point I studied every detail of his dark, imposing, menacing presence. He wore tall black leather boots that reached to his knee. The determination in his jaw was evident. Though young, it was obvious that he relished his authority. All the while he just kept ringing…

Never in my American life had I been so afraid. My heart was racing. My throat was constricted. My stomach was in a knot. How was this going to end?


Just like it started. With one final blast of a ring, he gave up. He released his finger, placed his glove back on his hand, looked up and down the structure of the house, and turned and walked away. Just like that. 

In my weakness I crumbled to the floor. What on earth had just happened? 

Eventually, Larry returned from class, and he too was baffled by the story. Later, as the landlady listened, she expressed deep gratitude that I managed to avoid contact with the officer. 

For a number of days, I was uneasy. I battled a fear of the unknown: a cruel, gripping, paralyzing type of fear. Who was he? Why did he appear? What did he know about us? How would this affect our clandestine life? Would he come again? What would I do if, in fact, he did return? Questions with no answers then, and questions with no answers now. 

I can only conclude there must have been horses and chariots of fire on the hill of Ulica Spadzista that day in answer to someone’s prayer for my daughter and me. “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see. Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around.” (2 Kings 6:17)

Like the words in the old hymn, A wall of fire around me, I’ve nothing now to fear…I eased back into life, and eventually looked less and less over my shoulder. 

And all the while she slept. Imagine that.