Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Happy 108th Birthday
If my grandmother had lived she'd have been 108 on Nov. 5, 2007. The best thing my mother ever gave me was my faith. She got it from her mother. My grammy emmigrated from Vysnapolanka, Slovakia and landed in the port of New York Sept 6, 1920. The name of the village translates to "high field." She had made the trip alone, and continued on to her sister and brother-in-law in Cleveland, Ohio. I once found the town of her birth on a detailed map. It sits in the Tatra Mountains almost directly north of the town of Presov - it is within a few miles of the present Slovak/Polish border.
Her father visited the US once after she immigrated, but she never saw her mother or most of her siblings again. I had looked up her immigration record at www.ellisisland.org - it's free, and you can do a screen capture, if you have relatives that came through that port. I see that she traveled on the ship Imperator, and had paid for her own passage. The ship was later known as the Berengaria. It's a curiously odd sensation seeing the family history confirmed in official records, and because of this record I know the address to which she went. I am glad to note she had no plans on overthrowing the US government. I do remember asking her years ago if she had any apprehension, or long wait at Ellis Island. She told me "no, I was in and out of there before I knew it."
The picture above is her passport picture. I was told the blouse was white, the vest red and the scarf bright blue. She told me when she was growing up when the had material the girls in the town all got a similar skirt made. She met my grandfather, Andrew Shelak, in Cleveland and they married and later moved to Pennsylvania, where they raised 7 children. My maternal Grandfather was born in what is now Tarnov Krasno, Poland. They were both born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and were of Ukrainian heritage (with some Polish and Slovak thrown in the admixture.)
Below is a picture of her in her early 80s - she'd made a casual afternoon lunch for Easter. Easter was and always has been our favorite holiday. As great a holiday as Christmas is, it was and is a far distant 2nd best to Easter. She made the most wonderful foods - my favorite, being homemade bread, which can be seen in abundance here.
When I was very small, after my grandfather had died when I was 5, I sometimes got to sleep with my grandmother. She'd had had a hip operation shortly after he died in April of 1962, and that spring and summer we lived with her briefly while she recovered. I still consider that one of the best times of my life. Before bedtime, she would slowly say the Our Father in Ukrainian, and I would repeat it with her. My grandparents were eastern rite Catholics. My grandmother always kept a church calendar, and observed the stricter fast rules. I used to love looking at the calendar for Eastern Rite saints. Her nickname derived from "St. Paraskevia."
I can remember how much pleasure it gave her to comb my hair - though I didn't always appreciate the 100 strokes at the time. She did indulge my liking for the wild rabbits in that she didn't shoo them away when I was around - though they did plague her vegetable patch. In the evenings we'd watch television together. Her favorite was Jimmy Durante. She always enjoyed his sign off line: "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." I've always been partial to his Inka-Dinka-Do♫ number myself. I defy anyone to remain in a bad mood after hearing it. Whenever we went for a ride in the car, she always called the "the machine." Years later, when I took Russian, I was delighted to find that they call a car "a machine."
The picture below is one of the few I have with both grandparents and me. The occasion was my youngest uncle Joe's 8th grade graduation. It was taken in the spring of 1960.
Although we grandchildren didn't always obey our own parents, it would have been unthinkable for us, nor would it ever have occurred to any one of us to leave any request of our grandparents unheeded! I still miss her very much to this day. I miss my grandfather too - he had the most firm but gentle touch of any man I've known. I wish I'd gotten to know him better, but I suppose I am lucky in that some of my cousins never got to know him at all. I am very proud that they were my grandparents.