My mother, my heroine

My mother, my heroine

My mother grew up in the fashionable Raday Utca district of Budapest. Her family’s apartment was two blocks from the Danube River. She is the eldest of three daughters and had an older half-brother. Her mother was a concert pianist and her father, a historian and headmaster of a Catholic boys school. He was known for his strictness but also his sense of humor, which included pranks.

Her reputation in the family was that of the goof-off. She would much rather skip school and sneak off to the movies than study for her exams. She loved to swim and play basketball and hang out with her friends. Her two younger sisters were far more studious; one become a history professor and the other a medical doctor.

During her teenage years Budapest was bombed daily by the Allies. But she and her sisters, being young and lighthearted, first ran to apply make-up before fleeing to the bomb shelter in their basement or in the subways. Who knew what fun could be had while hiding out?

The Knoll sisters were known throughout Budapest for their vivaciousness and beauty. Their fame spread to America; decades later, my sister and I met some of my mother’s peers who told stories of the Knoll sisters and their beaus.

In her 20s it was my mother who supported her family with her income as a typist. Her father had been fired by the communists who moved in after the Nazi occupation and replaced him with one of their own. Her sisters were both at University. So she brought home the bread, and did so with good cheer, always concerned for her family’s welfare.

My mother met my father, an engineer in the waterworks of Budapest, because she worked for his best friend. My parents married in 1954, I was born in 1955, and in November 1956 my parents walked out of their apartment with me, a small suitcase full of food and a few photos, and nothing else, to head into a new life. And my mother was pregnant with my little sister, Naomi.

The Hungarian revolution arrived that fall of 1956 and my father had to flee because of his political convictions. We spent 10 days on the road….by rail and on foot, hiding in the belly of a milk truck, and finally, traversing a barb-wired field and crossing a cold, swift river into the Austrian town of Deutsckrist. There, the Red Cross was well prepared to receive the waves of Hungarians fleeing from Communism and my parents and I collapsed onto beds of straw at a school that had been turned into a refugee center.

When my mom a walked out of her apartment She knew that it would be a long time, if ever, before she might see her parents, sisters, or friends again.  But she followed my father, who had a dream…that his children grow up in America, the promised land, where he could speak without fear and travel freely.

As you might imagine, times were very difficult as we settled into our new life as Americans. What I remember most about my mother through it all was her laughter and her ability to have fun whatever our circumstances. She was famous in our circle as a charming hostess and fabulous cook. She found joy in the small things and strength in her faith.

There were two tenets she lived by: never look back and never do anything you’d regret. She always did her best and rarely complained, with a smile on her face and joy in her heart. She now faces her ninth decade with the same grace and aplomb of her younger years.

I have tried to emulate all that my mom has modeled for me my entire life. I watch her as she keeps on moving forward  despite obstacles. She continues to focus on what she has and what she can still do rather than what she has lost or can no longer manage.

She never feels she is doing enough for her family. Her beloved grandchildren know her as  “Oma,” who showers them with love, encouragement, and her famous chocolate chip cookies! When she was in her 60s, she drove to Baltimore, a three-hour trip, every week to babysit her grandson, Chris, for three days so he wouldn’t need to be in a daycare. She taught Annie to swim and to love sports and Hannah to bake and cook.

I am so fortunate to have this truly loving and generous woman as my mother and role model. You’re the best! Thank you, mom!

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