Lands of Promise

Twice an Immigrant – the First 50 Years


This is the story of me: a child of immigrant parents born not that long after they got off the boat. It seems that some formative experiences have to be recycled; I was an immigrant myself 19 years later.

You might call it predestined that I’d be an alien; maybe my parents knew it when they named me Barbara:

Derived from Greek βαρβαρος (barbaros) meaning “foreign”.


I thank my brother for helping me fix gaps and glitches, and for being there through all of it.


Dedicated to our dad, Stanley Ozimek (1921-2001), for raising the bar time after time.

November 1961

Six months after Mom and Dad and big brother traveled by transatlantic liner from Gdansk, Poland to Toronto, Canada, I was born in Doctors Hospital.  

They named me Barbara Elizabeth.  That was Dad’s choice – I think I’m named after one of his ancestors. Moreover, Saint Barbara is the patron saint of lightening and fire; artillerymen and miners, and Dad, who was a cabinet maker while we were growing up, had worked in a coal mine during World War II.

Mom would have preferred the name Grażyna (pronounced gra-ZHI-na), and often told me so over the years.

Means “beautiful” in Lithuanian. This name was created by Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz for his poem ‘Grażyna’ (1823).

All told, “lightening” or “fire,” describes me much better than “beautiful,” or “grace” (that just makes me laugh) as I have a rather quick temper, so Barbara was the more appropriate name.

I’m told I was born with a full head of black hair, which, for some reason, compelled people to rudely ask my mother about her handsome baby son for the first year of my life, until the dresses and dolls made my gender more obvious.

It didn’t help that my mother had the customary pink-is-for-girls and blue-is-for-boys colors backwards – dressing boys in pink and girls in blue.  She always said that’s the way it was done in Poland.

I think it’s because she didn’t get the memo.  Or maybe she got a version that wasn’t translated.  Mom wouldn’t learn English until a few  years later.

Next – Chapter 1