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.
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.
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.