Tuesday, October 8, 2013


So today I want to go up a generation and write about your amazing grandmother, Nagyi (or mamama, as you call her).  Before any feelings get hurt, I want to emphasize that all of your grandparents are amazing, but this Thursday, your Nagyi is turning 70.  It's a huge milestone, and I wish she had you there to celebrate with her, as I know that would make her really happy.

Your grandmother is an incredibly strong woman who taught me everything I know about how to be a good, considerate person.  She has been through so much--when she was born in 1943, her family had to leave Transylvania because of Russian occupation.  Then, during communist rule in Hungary, her father, who was well educated, had to farm the land and, later, work on the railroads.

When she applied to college (as you will too someday!), she had to downplay her intelligence, and it actually hurt her case that she wasn't a communist.  Nonetheless, she finished college, earned the equivalent of a Masters degree, and taught high school French and Russian until she met my father and moved to the United States.

It wasn't easy for her to be in America, either.  Her teaching credentials didn't mean anything here in the states, and she would have had to re-do her degree.  Being European, she didn't drive, and she had to learn from my father (which, having also learned to drive from him, I can attest to being a somewhat traumatic experience).  She told me stories about being pregnant with me, home alone, and not knowing a single word of English.

Nonetheless, she learned English well and stayed home with us to make sure we had the best education possible.  I remember nights sitting and trying to figure out math homework.  I was always so impatient with math, my least favorite subject, but she always sat with me at that dining room table until I figured it out.  Later, she would quiz me in biology or read my English papers, always putting me, my brother, and our education first.

In the meantime, my father started having health issues, beginning with his lung cancer in 1986.  That was followed by a quintuple bypass and a number of other invasive surgeries.  My mom got a job at Caldor, the retail store where my father worked as a department manager, to pay our bills, and they continued to work long, hard hours (in a job where no one respected their intelligence).  Now, however, my mom also had the job of taking care of my father, which grew more and more taxing as he grew older.

And, of course, she took care of us, making sure that we had what we needed, me at Smith College, my brother, your uncle Julius, at Cornell University (not too shabby).  When my brother was in an accident, her and my dad drove up at night in order to check on him in the hospital.  When I left my violin at home, they came and brought it to me at Smith.  When, later on in life, I had a particularly bad year with my anxiety disorder, they came and stayed with me.  At one point, my mother even slept in my bed, holding my hand so that I could sleep.

My father's death in 2001 was incredibly hard on my mom, but she picked up, moved to an apartment, and then moved to Hungary to take care of her own parents.  Since then, she has traveled to the States, sublet in both Boulder and here in Charleston.  The last time she was here, she stayed on Folly Beach, where we took this picture:

Not only do you look a lot like her (!), but I hope you will be equally strong...and equally kind.  Your challenges might be different, but I know you will, unfortunately, face quite a few.  I hope you can think of her example and face them, as your Dédi would have said, with a smile on your face.  I hope you can fall down and get back up again.  Most of all, I hope that you will not be so overwhelmed with life's challenges that you forget to be kind.  When your grandpa had cancer, your Nagyi went door to door collecting money for the cancer society.  When someone needed food, she was always ready to bring it to them.  And, when I was in school, she would pick beautiful Jasmine flowers from our garden for me to bring to my teachers.

Always, she put other people before herself, so on Thursday, as she turns 70, I would like to put her first.  I would like for you to someday read this and understand the sacrifices she made so that I could have my education, have my job, meet your father, and eventually have you, the best gift anyone could ever ask for.  She is with me in spirit (and sometimes on the phone) when I have a rough day, when I do events for charities, when I try and help out people in need.  I know that I was a Daddy's Girl, but it is mostly my mom who made me the person I am.  Today, and every day, I celebrate that.

**I will be posting soon about the Buddy Walk, but I wanted to get this done before my mom's birthday!

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