My dad wasn’t an openly religious man. Like almost everything about him, he was private about his faith.
He enrolled us in Catechism classes in the local Polish school but he rarely guided us in any path of faith. He would rarely ask us to go to church with him – with only one exception.
For Easter Sunday, we all had to go. The entire family and there were no excuses or exceptions. Christmas was different. He didn’t feel the same need as he thought that Easter reflected the importance of faith.
For Christmas, he would share with us the Polish custom of opłatek, which is the unblessed communion wafer.
Easter service for the Polish community was pretty boring for a young boy. Older men would cry at the end while they sang hymns of their beloved Poland that they missed. Most were former WWII veterans that refused to return to a Communist country. And Argentina was so far away from Poland, geographically and culturally.
So, for our family, six boys plus mom, it wasn’t terribly hard to follow my dad’s request. Dad was not much into sports, but mom was a passionate hockey player and felt that sports helped build character. She loved us playing rugby, even if two of my brothers went for field hockey like her. She was very happy about that.
When we were younger, it was easy to accommodate church as most games were not played on Sundays or if they were, it was very early so making it to church on time was not a problem.
But in 1976 things were different. I had been preselected for a junior team representing Buenos Aires the year before. This preselection was a very good sign for selection to the ‘Pumitas’ (Pumas under 18) that would be chosen in 1976. I had also changed clubs to Pueyrredon, where my high school coach and mentor was one of the founding members.
Angel Guastella was also the Pumas coach and the club’s first team. ‘Papuchi’ had a strong word in everything dealing with rugby and being in his club with the possibility of continuing to be coached by him was a fantastic chance.
The last warm up game before the season started was on Easter Sunday at 9:00 AM. That barely gave me time to play, a very quick shower and rush to the Church to catch my dad’s angry expression arriving probably a few minutes late.
Clearly, my dad did not approve of me playing, but my mom talked to him and encouraged me to play and get back as soon as possible. She knew what both things meant to dad and me. The week of Easter rained torrentially almost every day.
We arrived to the club and were told that we couldn’t use the Number 1 playing field as we would ruin it for the season. So we were told to play in the practice pitch, a mud pile under the best of circumstances but now given the copious rain, it was almost impossible.
Surprisingly, Guastella agreed to referee our ‘friendly’ game, under the rain, and wearing long Adidas active pants and top.
The whole game was awful due to the weather and the slippery leather ball made any play an adventure. Everything else was rather predictable. Except, in the last minute of the game, the opposing team kicks a ball behind our replacement left wing. He is supposed to dive on it but panics.
I dive on the ball and the attacking player, attempting to kick the ball has the misfortune of tangling with my arms, breaking my right arm and dislocating my right elbow. This wasn’t good. They took me to the shower to get rid of all the mud covering my body.
Cut the rugby shirt and put my arm in a sling and drove me to the British Hospital, where we had health coverage. The hospital was more than one hour away from the club. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to Church on time.
The orthopedic surgeon didn’t come to the hospital until many hours later, and it was probably around 4 or 5PM when my elbow was back in place and my arm in a cast. My dear friend Rafael, who came with me to the hospital called home from the hospital’s public phone and my dad answered at home:
Rafael: Hi Mr S! This is Rafael. I am at the British Hospital with Charlie. He is OK…
Dad: Click (he hangs up)
Mom at home: What was that?
Dad: Your son is in the hospital.
Rafael dials home again and my mother answers.
Rafael: Hi, this is Rafael…
Mom: Where are you? What is going on?
Rafael explains the situation and my mom agrees to go pick me up at the hospital. Mom arrives around one hour later with dad who wouldn’t say a word to me. He refused to speak with me for close to one month, mumbling once that God had some idea of what happened if you missed Easter Mass.
My dad has left us many years ago. His luck had finally run out. Being born in poverty in Poland, surviving the camps in Siberia, the battles of WWII, but eventually disease got him.
We made peace, of course. But now, every Easter I think even more of him and when I see rugby for that day I take a moment to pause, catch myself shedding a tear and deciding that this is not a day for me for rugby.
I can now watch the game later. I go to Church and think of him.
I never made it to the Pumitas that year. The recovery was slow and I had a lot of issues to deal with as a result of the serious injury. It took me a very long time to recover my confidence.
Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych, tatusz!
[That’s Happy Easter in Polish]