As my mom approaches 100

I must explain the reason for my previous post telling my mom’s stories yesterday: because she was born in 1921.

In other words, she’s approaching her one-hundredth birthday.

Kati (left) is my mom, with her older sister Eva

She has had five children although one of them died very young. If that weren’t sufficiently traumatic she is also a widow. My father died in 1960, the second huge loss in the immediate family within the decade.

My father & mother were in Budapest for the Second World War, and for the arrival of the liberating army of Soviets: who would prove to be just as bad as the Nazis.

The house-wife with her limited grasp of English was forced to learn the language when my father passed away, leaving her with four children between the ages of 4 and 13. In time she would reinvent herself at University of Toronto’s College of Education (and with help from kids with better fluency in English, who proof-read essays). Her life in the teaching profession would last over 20 years, driving to the north-west part of Toronto whether it was sunny, rainy or snowy.

After retirement there was lots more life, indeed she’s had more than a third of her life since she turned 65. There was the year when my own daughter Zoe was in kindergarten in Jesse Ketchum School, which at that time was half a day. Although both of Zoe’s parents (in other words, me & Zoe’s mother Karin) had to work, thank goodness my mom & my brother Peter were able to pick her up from Jesse Ketchum, bringing her to my mom’s where she was fed & educated further.

There were years of line dancing, and exercise classes to keep her body fit. She regularly walked & swam, helping her to look young for her age.

My mom has been a voracious reader, going through the canon of great English novels, often surprising me (the English major – grad student) with her perfect recall of plotlines and character names.

She introduced me to the works of George Faludy, the great Hungarian poet who for a time lived here in Toronto, in a kind of exile.

Speaking of which, she showed me books about the Europeans who came to Hollywood. There was Anthony Heilbut’s Exiled in Paradise (1983) as well as John Russell Taylor’s Strangers in Paradise (1983). They came out the same year which might explain how they could have such similar titles. But the books changed my understanding of Canada, of my mother, and by implication of my own identity.

She used to receive Magyar Hirek, a newspaper from Hungary, and would tell me stories of Hungary in the time before & after the arrival of the Communists. She believes she was one of the very last people to leave before the door was slammed shut, bringing baby Katherine in her arms to join my father in Stockholm in 1948 or ‘49.

She was independent & still licensed to drive her own car until 2019. Even now her mind is as sharp as ever. She can still recite poetry, still writes the occasional verse of her own, as I’ve shared a few times in this blog.

Last week I drove her to get her second COVID shot at the Hangar in Downsview, with my brother taking her inside. I’m hoping that the pandemic is finally going to subside as more & more get their vaccinations. I had my second earlier this week.

I took this picture while waiting for my mom to get her second shot at The Hangar, up in Downsview. As I said on social media: “no it’s not mine”.

She was a sweet young girl in Budapest long ago, living through wars & occupations, migrating once alone with a baby daughter to Sweden, again across the ocean to Canada, not knowing the language in either instance. But both times she would learn. She endured a house-fire (when they lived in Toronto), car accidents, the death of her child, death of her husband, a second marriage that led to divorce, learning new languages and reinventing herself in a career after having been a housewife in suburbia. She now sends email & watches old songs in Hungarian on YouTube. Currently her favorite song is “Dust in the wind”; it seems to get played every day.

More recently she’s coming back from breaking her wrist in 2020, and is a breast cancer survivor. Her humour & positive outlook are contagious. That’s the context for sharing things like her “new” lyrics for “la donna e mobile” (shared yesterday, written back in the 1940s when Budapest was being bombarded).

As aszonj ing alatt ——– The lady, under her shirt,
Fogott egy bogarott —— grabbed a beetle
Hoszu es feketet ———- long & black
Csipte a feneket ———– it bit her on the butt

I’m already practicing it.

I hope everyone loves their mom and wants to tell their stories. But I wanted to add this background info for the tales I told earlier this week. I’m so grateful she’s still here, still totally lucid.

In her 100th year
This entry was posted in Books & Literature, My mother, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, University life. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to As my mom approaches 100

  1. wardjardine says:

    Loved the earlier post with her memories. Such a beautiful post. You are blessed to have her with you and still so active. What an inspiration to all of us. Thank you so much sharing!!

    • barczablog says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I do indeed feel blessed, trying to capture every moment I can. Memory is so precious. I learned this watching my father-in-law fade away (alzheimers), that memory is so precious. I know this too as a student of live theatre, where what we see in the moment slips through our fingers. I’m a youngster in comparison but I see my faculties fade (eyesight, muscular strength). My mom is amazing for someone in her hundredth year, but she’s not nearly as independent as she was. She took care of us when we were babies, it’s only fair that we return the favor. But she’s sharp. Her mind is amazing.

  2. I’m a hungarophile (in spite of the deep antisemitism there that seems integral to Central European culture) – my wife escaped to Toronto in 1969, her father and uncles were forced labourers during the war, and my wife was good friends with George Faludy and his finches when he lived on St Mary’s in the 90s – just a few of the connections to your blog here. Your mother sounds like many of the women I have been fortunate to meet from that generation – intelligent, resilient, diligent, always landing on their feet no matter the circumstances. A lovely photo. Thanks for sharing.

    • barczablog says:

      Good word you used there (i’ll have to steal it!….thanks!). I share your admiration, not just for my mom but those of her generation. It’s a mixed blessing to have longevity, as my mom has outlived some of her best friends, her sisters. For a social butterfly (she was way better doing the intermission schmoozerama at the symphony or opera than I ever could be), the pandemic has been criminal in what she’s missed, but hopefully that’s all ending soon. I feel lucky in multiple ways. I put Faludy & Karel Ančerl in the same mental category brilliant artists who blessed us by choosing Toronto, helping to improve our lives. My mom teaches me how to be positive, how to be grateful for what I have. Thank you for the kind thoughts.

  3. anncoopergay says:

    What a loving, beautiful tribute to your very special mother. I first met her when I moved to Toronto in 1970 & entered Opera School at U of Toronto. I was honoured to know your mother’s love & kindness as your brother Peter & I sang together often & toured with COC. She is a true inspiration & I have so much admiration for her. Happy Birthday to a beautiful lady, Ms. Kati Barcza. With love, Ann

    • barczablog says:

      Thanks Ann! I’m sure it’s mutual. Over the years it was a joy seeing her interact with Peter’s colleagues, as they came to seem almost like extended family. She is unconditional in her love & friendship. Be well & thank you for the lovely message.

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