Tag Archives: big family

For My Mom, The Best of Them All

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My Mother has just turned 87 years old, and in honour of that special occasion, I am posting this poem that I read at our family celebration, here on my blog. She is the best German, Hungarian, Schwabian, Austrian, American, Canadian you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Yes, She’s all that! The verses describe the time both before and after she was born:

To Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the land of the USA,
Where the Ohio, the Allegheny, and Monongahela wend their way
Through a place once known as “Iron Town”, for the strength of the people there,
And the industry that drew them, they came with a hope and a prayer.
They came for the chance to “make it”, to pull their own weight and more;
In the year of our Lord, 1906, they knocked on America’s door.
The parents of a daughter (as yet, unborn) Gisella and Louis came,
With their feather ticks, and their pots and pans, and barely a cent to their name.*
Their’s was a people in need of a home, in a country filled with strife;
Like all Schwabians* living in Hungary, they hoped for a better life.
These German speaking Marath’s, were Austrians* in their hearts,
But the borders had changed, and fortunes had changed;
What they needed most was new starts.
New countries, it’s said, are built by those hewing wood and hauling water.
Louis hauled that water as blocks of ice, for the sake of his sons and daughters,
Who all were born, with the passing years, as he tried to put money away,
To return again to his shoe-making trade, before his hair turned grey.
Silver dollars could buy his freedom from ice blocks, and cart and horse,
But the best laid plans of mice and men oft come to naught, of course.
A thief broke in, one fateful night, and stole their nest-egg away.
The shoemaker, bent by the weight of his load, must wait for another day.
Then finally it came, that longed for time, when dollars exceeded their need;
So leather was bought, and shoe-making lasts, and in his hand was a deed.
When Gisella was forty-two years old and Louis was forty-five,
And ten other siblings were already born, the eleventh one did arrive!
Her oldest sister had children by then, who came right over to meet her
And hold their aunt, and kiss her, and whoop round the house, just to greet her!
Her parents called her Regina; in Latin her name means Queen.
She was Queen of their hearts from her very first cry, but most people called her Jean.
Which very soon became Jeannie, of course, to those who loved her best;
That was all that she would answer to; she chose to ignore the rest ―
Be it the priest on Holy Communion day, or the nuns at Catholic School,
So her parents enrolled her in public school, breaking a family rule.
All that whacking of pointers on their desks, and other nun-approved habits,
Had been too much for this sensitive child, friend of pink Easter chicks and rabbits.
So the doctor made her eat brewers’ yeast to clear up her itching skin,
(Which was most likely caused by the nervousness of helping do Easter chicks in,
When they had grown tall and gangly− like the one sister Mary had caught.)
She had tried to kill it with a very dull knife, which proved to be all for naught,
For it still had plenty of stamina to chase Jeannie round their yard,
Wings down, and severed head flapping, with total disregard!)
After fleeing from zombie chickens, she was under adrenaline’s spell;
She would spend her leisurely Saturdays jumping over an open well!
She and her girlfriend would bet one another, about who could make “The Leap”.
If nobody fell in the well, to their death, their allowance they got to keep.
Jeannie also rode tandem down “Suicide Hill”, ’til her cousin knocked out her teeth,
And stole ribbons from the graveyard next door, from every funeral wreath!
The gold foiled “Daughter” plaque, over her bed, sure gave her mother a start!
But the one thing that Jeannie never did, she never broke a heart,
Unless there was a secret admirer on that day that Jeannie left
For a brand new home in Canada, where she arrived, completely bereft,
On the day of her sixteenth birthday, at a house near the township dump,
Where the horse was huge, the cow was crazy, and the rats were well-fed and plump.
The winter they spent there they nearly froze, as the house had no insulation.
They had no car, so she rode her bike to the store by the reservation.
When spring arrived they got to move when the farm-buying terms were complete.
Then Jeannie started going out a bit, with neighbour friends she would meet.
One special night, at a town hall dance, she met a man named Bill.
The stars shone bright on that fateful night; and their very first kiss was a thrill!
Soon wedding bells were ringing, as he took her for his bride,
And she lived happily ever after, with William Peter at her side.
They had a lot of children; she was such a wonderful mother,
That as soon as the crib was empty they filled it with another.
(Well, sometimes not exactly the crib, sometimes the bassinet!)
When Marsha was not quite one years old, she needed her’s longer yet,
So they got themselves a second crib, and later two little beds,
For Vonnie’s, and little Keithie’s, and little Jeannie’s sleepy heads.
And soon enough, they bought bigger beds, as the bigger kids grew and grew,
Then there was one for Kathy, one for Janice, and for Jimmy and Donny too.
(Well, sometimes kids got to share a bed— whatever the room size allowed.)
And they all grew up on a farm so neat that it made every one of them proud.
Mom and Dad worked hard to give us all that any family needed.
They both tried hard to teach us right, and Mom, I’d say you succeeded.
We’ve not leapt over any open wells, or caused any missing teeth;
Nor have we ignored any nuns before, or ripped ribbons from funeral wreaths.
We have tried to make you proud of us, and followed your example,
Except for us having lots of kids. (One or two seemed more than ample.)
But we’re glad that you thought differently, and that you took a gamble.
We’re glad that we’re all here because you and Dad chose to take a leap,
And your parents did too, or they wouldn’t have had you,
And moved near that garbage heap,
Where no one else great would have taken you out, for fear of lurking vermin.
And then you met Dad who would love you so much, Hungarian, Austrian, or German,
Or Schwabian, or American. Well, who could ever determine?
In the end, only one thing matters; this one thing I know is true.
You are a part of the people we loved. And we are a part of you.

 

*The Schwabians are the German people who settled in Hungary, at the urging of the Habsburgh monarchy of Austria, during the eighteenth century, after it was wrested from Turkish occupation.  Although these peasant settlers were from places such as Baden, Bavaria, Alsace, Lorraine, and Schwabia, eventually all of them were being referred to as Schwabians. There were two million of  them in Hungary by 1900, a few years before Louis and Gisella emigrated to the USA. in 1906, seeking, as did many of their countrymen, a place of greater opportunity.

*Louis Marath identified himself as Austrian on his draft registration for the U.S. Army in 1917.

*Our grandmother, Gisella, was a member of a poor peasant family in the early 1900’s. She worked in service as part of the kitchen staff at Apponyi Castle in Lengyel, Hungary, which belonged to  Count Apponyi of the Hungarian royal family. The roof of the castle was destroyed by fire in 1905. This likely led to her loss of employment and subsequent emigration in 1906. The castle roof was  later reconstructed, and the site is a tourist attraction today.

In Service To Our Own “Royal Family”

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My beautiful Aunt Anna Mae Lucarelli

My beautiful Aunt Anna Mae Lucarelli

Delegate! Delegate! Delegate! And then do the other 50% of the work yourself if you have to! This would have been the advice that my mother would have given to anyone who asked her how to get through a heavy workload with far too many duties, tasks, and responsibilities to handle. The kind of work load that comes with having a very large family, in our case eight kids, began at dawn, and ended at 11:00 PM when the National News came on TV.

As well, our mother had a very large extended family, many of whom spent much of the summer having their holidays with us in varying family combinations, because they all lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she was originally from. The number of children who got to go in one direction or the other for cross border reunions always depended on which family and which particular summer we are talking about. The visit I’d like to cover here is that of my Aunt Anna Mae and Uncle Virg and five or six of the eight kids she eventually had. Mom had just received a phone call from her to tell us that they were coming and that they would likely arrive by morning. Pittsburgh was 550 miles away and with a station wagon loaded down on top with luggage, and inside with kids, pillows, and toys it likely wasn’t going to move any faster than the speed limit of 60 mph— more likely a lot slower.

Journeys were often made in the dead of night by our family and theirs. That way the kids slept a lot and didn’t need so many bathroom stops, they didn’t fight so much, and there was much less traffic. Besides that, the border guards didn’t give anyone much of a hassle at the crossings when bringing over gifts from Mom’s siblings that might even be as big as a dryer (and actually was!) Apparently the guards just thought this was the huge volume of luggage a family of our size needed to travelled with as it was all tarped up. Dad may have helped on that one occasion by throwing most of our clothing inside and when asked what was under the tarp saying, “Luggage— Clothes and stuff.” This was, of course, in a far more relaxed era when terrorism was a word that people assumed meant what the carnies were hired to do,when they jumped out at you from the dark recesses, in the Fright House at the fair.

I never slept a wink in a car ever, unless I was an infant, but I had the sense to keep my eyes shut like everyone else when the rest of the kids were asleep. You learned a lot of things that way. Some stuff you didn’t quite get, and some stuff you’d rather not know, especially if it was something disappointing about one of Mom’s relatives. Because we loved them we thought they were all perfect, and that none of them would ever be mean to another of them—that kind of stuff.

Back to that phone call from Aunt Anna Mae, and its repercussions. My mother will not be offended when she reads this or even surprised to have a kind of written re-creation of the events as they transpired. By her own admission, when she was asked once what she thought she would have been good at, or chosen as a career if she had not had all of us, she said that she would have been a good prison warden (just kidding I hope) or an Army Drill Sergeant. That is definitely believable, because Mom kept our house running like a well-oiled machine.

The first thing that happened was that Mom ran to get the box of Spic and Span, the buckets and brushes and rags, and the liquid Glass Wax polish from the Fuller Brush man. Then she would start delegating.

You girls start washing down the walls and cupboards!

Dad, they’ll need the ladder up near the top, if you can go get it! They can start on the lower cupboards while you use the ladder to take down those dining room storm windows to get at the flies in there first!

Then you girls can take turns working off the ladder for the high up stuff.

And Bill, when you are done with the windows can you take the cover off the kitchen light down? I should wash that  too.

You kids have to take all this junk off the archway shelves and put it in your own rooms! These shelves are not for putting your stuff on! You know they’re just for the trinkets and ornaments!

Jeannie! What would Mum (grandma) think if she knew that rosary she gave you was in this donkey’s cart and wrapped around its neck? Put this upstairs by your bed before your Aunt Anna Mae sees it. This is really bad!

Marsha, can you wash the fruit plaques off in the sink in Spic and Span  too? They’re greasy from all those French fries we’ve been making.

Vonnie, stop what you’re doing and run up and strip all the beds! I’ll throw a load into the washer right now. What are Kathy and Janice up to?

Jeannie, you go help them to go pick all the things out of the toy box that they don’t play with and put them in a laundry basket. Anna Mae’s kids don’t have the toys that you kids have. Make sure they aren’t getting into any trouble. I’ll finish scrubbing these things. Then run over and tell Granddad that supper will be an hour late tonight. Here take him these cookies to hold him over. Aunt Flossie made them with molasses, so nobody will like them.

Bill, what are you doing with that paint? The bathroom ceiling can wait, for crying out loud! The smell will give everybody a head ache!

Marsha, I’ll help you with the walls. You can reach higher than I can, so you use the step stool and I’ll use the ladder.

Thanks Dad, these walls need to be cleaned more than the ceiling needs painting.(Mom switched constantly between”Bill” and “Dad” back then, but mainly called him “Dad” in later years)

First Bill, can you go find Keith to help you get those mattresses down and put them in the hallway upstairs? Then tell him that he has to come and gather together all the garbage from the bathroom, the kitchen and the back kitchen and take it out to the burn barrel.

Keith! Where have you been hiding? Take the garbage all out to the barrel and light it, and come back in for the dog food! I’m just going to clean the fridge and get rid of some stuff. Then go tell Granddad that supper is going to be an hour and a half late. When you see Jeannie, tell her to take the little girls with her and sweep the verandah. Then you come back and get the hose and start watering all the zinnias. Don’t drag the hose across them to get to the ones on the other side of the garden! Take the watering can to do that side or you’ll knock them all over!

Vonnie, when you were upstairs was baby Jimmy still asleep in his crib? Go check on him again . I don’t want him climbing out and wrecking all of Keith’s models again. Just go up and bring him down either way. He’s already had too long a nap anyhow. He’ll probably want to stay awake all night.

“Hey! Don’t you girls think the name “Donna” is such a pretty one?” Mom asked out of the blue, and for no apparent reason, as she came down the ladder and gave a little smile.

Sometimes I wondered about the wisdom of all that frantic cleaning, as a sparkling house might have intimidated one or another of Mom’s sisters. They might have asked themselves “Why isn’t my house ever this clean?” But none of them had a husband as particular and fastidious as our Dad, and they likely gave him a lot of the credit. My Aunt Sal was widowed with seven children, Aunt Anna Mae’s husband preferred doing “guy things” to being at home, and the rest of Mom’s sisters, who had either small families or no children at all, were just preoccupied with tidiness, as  was their mother my grandma “Mum”. Aunt Mary, Aunt Wilma, Aunt Catherine, and Aunt Betty were very good homemakers, and their brothers depended on the women in their lives. For Uncle Larry it was his mother or sisters, and for Uncle Joe it was his wife our Aunt Grace, who handled all the household stuff.

I can well imagine that each of  my mother’s siblings was very much acquainted with this type of ritualistic cleaning, done by each of them when they were growing up, whenever they were expecting relatives to come and stay with them. Our grandmother, Mum, had come from a very poor peasant family in the early 1900’s, and had been sent into service as part of the kitchen staff in a castle which belonged to a member of the Hungarian aristocracy. Much like the young girls who are servants in the series Downton Abby, who work practically non-stop when important guests are due to arrive, my grandmother taught her own girls to work in preparation for the arrival of her important visitors— her own family. It was them she chose to treat like royalty. To her, they were far more worthy of the effort than those she had done it for in the earlier years of her life, and they were far more appreciative too. Thank you Mum!