Happiness is Polish coffee cake

We entered the Broadway Market with a list and a mission. There were certain items which needed to be procured for Easter weekend and there was no patience for newcomers to the scene who stopped to look around and awe at the Polish goods. We had a tradition to maintain and my mother came with her serious game-face. No time for dilly-dallying. There were baked goods and horseradish to buy.

A popular stand at The Broadway Market

The Broadway Market is an indoor market with vendors selling everything from meats to breads to trinkets to “Kiss my Dupa I’m Polish” t-shirts. Established in 1888 on the East Side of Buffalo in a traditional Polish neighborhood. Once upon a time, The Market was a bustling place of commerce and social life in Buffalo’s Polonia district. There are occasional reminders of that bygone era, like the sign at the stand where I purchase my Easter Week pierogi which announces that it carries a full line of fresh killed chickens, along with a full like of homemade noodles.

Growing up, my mother, brother and I would drive in from the suburbs to go Broadway with my grandmother, who grew up frequenting The Market at times other than Easter. I felt part of a colorful and vibrant heritage on those days. I saw my grandmother as her best self — confident and capable and giving. At least that’s how she looked to an 8-year-old. She seemed happy.

And then, it hits me. That is why I love Easter and The Broadway Market so much. It is one of the  best memories I have of my grandmother being happy. And, truth be told, I don’t have many memories of my grandmother being happy, or at least projecting an aura of happiness. So much of my memory of her involves seeing a woman who was sensitive, who wanted to be loved, who gave everything she had and always wondered if it was still enough. She put herself down so much that it made me sad. I began to wonder: If this wonderful woman whom I loved thought she was nothing, what does that make me?

But here at The Broadway Market, my grandmother was in her element. Perhaps it was because of her own memories which put her in an easy, happy place. Perhaps it was the overload of carbs in the form of rye bread and the Polish coffee cake known as placek. Really, one can not be sad when eating placek. I wish she kept this level of confidence with her throughout the year.

This Easter, I’ll remember Gram as happy and confident. I’ll hold that image in my mind until it grows so big, it crowds out the image of her mired in self-doubt. Along with the tradition of food and shopping, I come from a line of pretty amazing women. We all have a tinge of the unworthiness gene, but we also all have a legacy of laughter and authenticity and mischief. The later now becomes my tradition of choice to celebrate. Complete with a big old mug of coffee and slab of Polish coffee cake.

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