Tag Archives: Pittsburgh 1906

For My Mom, The Best of Them All

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wharf1905

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.