First Person / An act of faith: It was Easter Sunday, and the Polish engineers were visiting

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This is an Easter story.

First, some background.

Christ's rising from His tomb after dying on the cross three days before fulfilled the prophecies describing the Messiah. It is the foundation of Christianity. You must have faith to believe it. Without this faith, you are not a Christian. Remember this as you read on.

Back in the mid-1970s, when communism was still flourishing behind the Iron Curtain, my father's company, Allegheny Ludlum, began doing business with a number of communist countries -- that is, the ones that our government approved.

My father sold steel mills -- all the equipment, the training, the whole package.

His clients included the governments of Bulgaria, China and Poland. Each time he sold a steel mill, the senior engineers who would eventually run their countries' plants had to come to America and be trained at one of Allegheny Ludlum's mills. Training usually lasted five months.

My father and mother often entertained these visiting engineers. They soon grew homesick and tired of hotel living and eating American fast food. Mom would cook up dishes native to their respective countries, which was a treat for them as well as for us kids.

My father was pure Polish, the son of an immigrant. His first language was Polish. So he could speak and socialize fairly well with the visiting Polish engineers.

Now, remember that religion was banned in all communist countries at that time. People were forbidden from practicing it publicly. In fact, it was a crime, punishable by imprisonment.

Poland has a history of being a Catholic nation. It also has a history of being occupied by other countries most of the time. The occupying power at that time was communist Russia, the Soviet Union. I had read that, despite their communist overlords, the Polish people still practiced their faith quietly, mostly underground.

Mom and Dad invited the Polish engineers to our house one Easter Sunday. She made just about all of the traditional Polish Easter dishes. A neighbor, Casimir Sokolowski, made fresh kielbasa. We had plenty of vodka on hand as well. Mom even flavored some of it with thyme, a Polish favorite.

Each visiting group of engineers had at least one Communist Party member who was not an engineer -- he was a snitch. His job was to make sure the engineers didn't defect or say anything bad about communist society. Everyone could tell who the snitch was, because he was always alone, ignored by all the others.

When we entertained the engineers, I was usually the bartender. One thing these communists knew how to do was drink vodka -- and plenty of it! They didn't bother with mixers or ice; they drank it straight.

On that particular Easter Sunday, the Polish engineers kept me very busy, pouring shots. And you can imagine that it didn't take long before our visitors were in a carefree, vodka-induced party mood. They were singing and dancing. I found it strange and humorous that men were dancing with men, but I soon learned this was a common practice in Poland.

Then it happened -- the most striking act of faith I had ever encountered.

The Communist Party "snitch" was off in a corner at the far side of the room, opposite the bar where I stood. Right in front of me was my father and the chief Polish engineer. They both were in the "spirit" of the day.

At one point, they turned to see where the snitch was. Good. He was way across the room. Suddenly, they gave each other a bear hug.

While they were embraced, I heard my father say to his Polish friend in English, "He has risen."

The Polish man immediately responded in English, "He has truly risen."

They broke their embrace and looked at each other. I swear I saw tears.


Mike Pulaski grew up in Natrona Heights, served two combat tours in Vietnam and returned home to start a career in health care management and consulting. Retired, he now lives in Tam Ky, Vietnam, where he does humanitarian work and teaches English translators at a local university.


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