Remembering "The Old Country" in a whole new way
By Elizabeth Thompson
You see, on our street, everyone came from somewhere.
Though the accents - especially in my neighborhood -- may have been different, the meaning was still very much the same.
Most of the people close to us -- those who my brother and I grew up with and learned to call family -- were forced to chose and left everything behind, stepping on American soil with nothing more than the clothing they wore, most of which had been donated at the refugee center, before leaving Austria for an opportunity to live in America.
Where everything (from the buildings to the simple basic principles of freedom) suited their desires for something fresh, young and new.
My father and mother adapted fairly quickly as young Americans (they were 19 and 14, respectively) but, in keeping with their “old world” customs and (once they met and, soon after, were married) they raised my brother and I with a deep sense of tradition in cooking, gardening, music and the importance of appreciating one’s family.
Every Sunday, my mother, grandmother and I would have dinner on the table by noon (sometimes, as early as 11:30 in the morning) because it really was the only time we were afforded to sit together, talk and eat, as a family.
My parents worked very long hours and held two, sometimes even three, jobs and made every effort in affording our family a chance to live the American dream of owning our very own house, someday.
Buying a house may seem small - compared to those who dreamed of travel and visiting Europe, one day - but, it is at a price very few people in our family have been able to achieve, back in “the old country.”
My father once told me how his father warned him that, if he wasn’t careful with his choices, my dad would probably be digging in the streets for a living and that if he couldn’t be a master of a trade, then he would sooner see him penniless and dead on the street.
Years later, my parents invited my grandfather to visit the United States and he used to love to walk the city streets with my father. Or, often times, choose to quietly sit and watch people go about their business and eventually they would speak of “the old country.”
“Do you see that man?”
My grandfather couldn’t hear my father over all the noise, so he simply pointed to the man busily working his jackhammer along the other side of the street.
“Yes, we have people who do that, too.”
My father nodded.
“Yes, but...here...he probably makes more money than you do.”
My grandfather sensed his point, but - my dad had no problem with making a living, being the jack of all trades and a master of none - he had a difficult time understanding what my father was trying to prove.
“Nothing that you haven’t, already.”
Though, he’s lived in America all of his adult life - nearly 4 times longer, than in Hungary - it seems that “the old country” draws out the melancholy and memories of his childhood still seem to have a hold on him.
This is the first time that the kids and I will be celebrating 4th of July away from home and without my parents.
Oh, they’ll be fine - they’re visiting with my brother and his wife and the army base puts on a wicked fireworks display - but, I’m not feeling all that great about myself, lately.
My kids are getting older, I’m not getting any younger (dammit) they don’t seem to need me as much and I seem to be sending to their rooms, when they do, and losing my patience, or yelling at them, more often than not.
Oh, they’re fine - my two oldest girls are honor students and my two youngest have plenty going on in their lives to keep them busy - but, I can’t help feel as if I’m constantly seeking someone’s approval, or that I’m always trying to prove a point.
Things just don’t feel, you know, the same and my life seems to be sort of stuck in a rut, actually.
Stillness has a way of overwhelming my senses - a smell, a sound or a simple thought - the smallest disturbance becomes painful.
I can smell them now - as the breeze blows through the dining room window and carries their scent across my face - and I understand why their color was so often referred to in a very mysterious, stimulating and sensual manner, in “the old country.”
I’ve kept quite a few pots, over the years, and grow them on my window sill in memory of my grandmother.
My twin brother and I were her first grandchildren and she proudly told anyone and everyone - within ear shot of her front gate, or clothesline, that her “Unchies” (slang term for “uno-kam” meaning “my grandchildren) would be coming to visit her, soon.
She died, six months after we were born.
Two years later, my grandfather solemnly welcomed his only son and immediately took him out onto the small apartment’s balcony.
“What do you see?”
[following my grandfather’s gaze]
“You know I’m not a superstitious man, don’t you?”
[my grandfather continues]
“Well, what would you say if I told you that each and everyone of those pots of flowers were dead, last week. Have been for quite some time. And the day I got your telegram, telling me that you were bringing me my grandchildren, they started to grow?”
And as my father stood there, staring at the pots thick with blooms, he choked back the tears enough to answer my grandfather.
“I’d say they are very red!”
Yes and - although, I come from a long line of imperfect parents and happen to live in a country that has it’s fair share of faults - so are mine, Papa.
So, what’s my point and what exactly am I trying to prove?
Nothing that my father hasn’t, already.
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