February 2, 2014 01:00AM
By Jeff Gebeau
WALLINGFORD — Town native and college professor Ted Wojtasik has released his third book, a self-published compilation of six previously published short stories that deal with the Polish-American experience, entitled “Raking Leaves: Stories Set in Connecticut.”
Wojtasik, 58, who teaches English and creative writing at Saint Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C. and resides in the state, has also authored a pair of novels, “No Strange Fire” and “Collage.”
The protagonist in all but one of Wojtasik’s tales in his latest work is Tom Korzeniowski, who is meant to be a stand-in for the author, on whose experiences the stories are partially based. Wojtasik calls them “transformed autobiographies” that are “partly coming-of-age stories.”
The book’s stories, which span from the 1950s to the 1990s, are about Polish immigrants and first- and second-generation Polish Americans. Four of the six tales are based in Wallingford, and a fifth is partially set there.
“Scars and Frost” is about the first weekend Tom, a second-generation Polish American, spends at the Wallingford farm of his immigrant grandparents and the resulting generational and intracultural clash.
“Wallingford was really rural when I was growing up,” said Wojtasik, explaining aspects of his inspiration for the story.
“Blessed Ham” concerns a similar theme, as Tom’s staunchly Roman Catholic grandmother adamantly tries to make sure he embraces the same traditions.
Edward Zavaski, president of Polish National Alliance Lodge 513 on Prince Street, who is also second generation, said the perceived secularization of younger generations is an issue for older Polish Americans, most of whom are fiercely Catholic.
“Show and Tell,” is a story about one of Tom’s Polish schoolmates at Rock Hill School who is a musical prodigy, but whose classmates aren’t very welcoming, as he has difficulty integrating into American culture.
Wojtasik is a product of the Wallingford school system, including Rock Hill Elementary, Dag Hammarskjold Middle School, and Lyman Hall High School.
The compilation’s titular tale, “Raking Leaves,” is about lessons Tom learns while performing the household chore with his father, who has suffered a stroke. Wojtasik’s inspiration for the story were occasions he spent raking leaves with his own father.
“Millers Pond” is a tragic tale about the experience of Tom, while a student at Lyman Hall in the 1970s, and two of his high school friends who experiment with LSD at Millers Pond in Durham while watching a meteor shower. The author said the story is based on someone he knew as a teenager.
“The Patter of Moths” is the one story in Wojtasik’s book that does not feature Wallingford or his fictional alter-ego. Instead, it deals with the experience of a Polish-American woman married to a man of shared ethnicity in New Britain, which, like Wallingford, has a notable Polish presence. Wojtasik said the story was inspired by the experience of one of his relatives.
A theme that runs consistently through Wojtasik’s tales is Polish-Americans’ struggle to navigate between assimilation and preservation of their heritage.
Zavaski said that tension exists not only between the community’s older and younger generations, but also within the older generations themselves, as parents push their children to speak English and become successful, contributing members of American society—without losing their cultural identity.
“We’re a proud people,” he said.
Raking Leaves was released digitally earlier this month for $3.49 and is about 100 pages long in Kindle format. A print release, scheduled for the end of January or the beginning of February, will sell for $8.99 and is expected to be 175 to 180 pages in length. The publication is available for purchase on Amazon.com.