Tonight’s dinner of Hungarian breaded pork chops, chive potatoes, and Hungarian hush puppies.
I have been a very blessed human being in so many ways. I was genetically predisposed to so many little bits of negativity. I sometimes think that it is in the often sad Hungarian blood that courses through my veins. It is a sadness borne out in the violin music typical of my heritage. But, I am blessed, blessed that I think that more often than not I have trained myself to look at the good side and keep the bad side in perspective.
I have had my share of ups and down in life. Haven’t we all? It is all how you look upon these events and I must say that my deep personal philosophy is that even the worst scenario has some shred of good, something to learn, something to move on from in a positive way.
I honestly thought I wouldn’t be here on this earth at the age that I wear. From a very early age I pondered what would happen to me at the age of forty. For some goofy reason, I felt that I was living in a time bomb. We are all, in fact, living in time bombs, we just don’t know when they are going to go off and we put the idea on hold; we need to do that to go on. My idea of a time bomb was that my Dad died when he was forty and that forty was my number. There is no logical reason for me to have thought like that, but we are not always logical, reasonable creatures. One call to a customer service number for any number of enterprises will make you well aware of that within seconds; just being on hold will do it.
My mother had always reminded me that I “was living on borrowed time.” Even in her current state of memory loss, she will still tell me the story of how I almost died. I was quite young, in a crib, and my paranoid mom (and thank goodness for paranoia) was in my bedroom checking on me during the night when she realized that I was very cold and had turned blue. I had had a cold or something like it and was okay when I went to bed, but… She immediately ran for my aunt, I am not even sure where my aunt was, I think that it was either in the upper part of the abode (it was a kind of duplex house with one apartment just above ground floor and one above that, type of situation). I am not sure about where my father was, I do know my aunt and uncle had a car. Well, this aunt, a very sad, flawed, wonderful person who had a short life herself, Aunt Helen, apparently gave me artificial respiration as they drove to the hospital. She saved my life.
This all brings me to my regrets in life. I really don’t have many, as I said, life has had its tough moments but I have been a lucky soul. My regrets are quite simple: relationships that have floundered and/or dissipated to the point of being empty. I have a very French/European attitude about friendship and I truly feel that we have very few true friends. That is okay. Most of our friends (in the American sense) are truly acquaintances or acquaintances plus, if I can say that. A true friend will be there for you, like my aunt, when you really are in need, always, no questions asked. I haven’t had all that many of those, which is very normal. I have had family members who have not fulfilled my idea of how family should operate. I have done my best to try and recoup family situational losses with mixed results. With my acquaintances on the road to being friends and even with some friends, I have been at a loss because we have lost contact or our connections have weakened considerably. The Internet has been helpful because it can help us reconnect. As a family patriarch, and I have to say I would never have believed that I would become one, I have been working hard at putting out little family fires that are malignant and causes of horrible and unexpected family strife when not dealt with, thank goodness for “pretirement*.”
A case in point just occurred last night as I once again, for the umpteenth time, tried to find a lost friend via an Internet social connection site. Would you believe that I looked at the picture, showed it to Mary Kay and we agreed that it was him! I have not heard from him in oh so long, had always thought (in my naïve way that we would always be in touch, and this was not the case. I sent him an invitation to be my “friend” to see if, in fact, we were right, that that was in fact him and this morning I received a reply that it is him. The reply came with a “we need to catch up” and a phone number. Life is, as the old cliché says, GOOD!
*just in case this looks like a typo, it is not! “Pretirement” is my way of saying that I have retired from my Educational career, but am in no way “retired” and have no intention to be. I am still working (and currently looking for a main job, as the ‘Recession’ has hit)!
Got up early as usual and went to the gym. Following that, it was errand city. I drove to see our little old Hungarian watch repair guy. That is always a trip and a half since it is not easy to get out of his shop which is a tiny room with a separate entry on a small cape cod in Glenview. He is a piece of work, the type of person I love going to for specialty work. Years ago I thought that once a watch or clock died, that was it. I even ended up throwing out my high school graduation watch, an Elgin that I loved. What a mistake.
Let’s call my watch repair guy, Mr. Kovacs. He is amazing. He speaks with a nice Hungarian accent much like that of my grandparents. It is like a step back in time for me. He told me once of his entry into the USA. He escaped Hungary by walking out of it, into Austria. He ended up going to the Caribbean and working there. He worked his way to the United States and ended up marrying an American.
He took the gold pocket watch my grandfather got in the early 1900s and repaired it, it keeps great time. He also took my father’s high school graduation watch, a Mathey-Tissot, and repaired it. My father received it in 1937 and wore the death out of it. It was actually sweat damaged. Mr. Kovacs repaired it, I wear it all the time. He is amazing, inexpensive, and extremely reliable. When he puts in a new battery, he tests it first to make sure he is selling you a good one, then he writes the date on it and installs it. The best part is that he doesn’t even charge much!
I worry a lot about him. He had a bout with some facial cancer a few years ago and that took its toll on him. Now he has Parkinson’s disease. That makes it hard to work on watches but he still does. I call that the Hungarian work ethic!
I took in a bunch of watches needing new batteries, They will be ready tomorrow although I won’t be able to pick them up then.
After my visit with Mr. Kovacs, I went to my in-laws’ house where my son and his fiancée are living. I went because he is still dealing with the aftermath of the dissolution of the brickpaving business that he shared with his older brother. The garage is serving as the new warehouse for the time being and the overflow of materials from the now vacated warehouse in Waukegan is distressing. I gave him my time after taking him out to lunch.
We managed to clean up a lot of junk and I organized all sorts of things for him to make it a bit easier to get things under control. Although early in the season, his snow plowing has kept him busy and we are supposed to get more snow tonight. I was just thinking that I spend far too much time in garages. Is there something wrong with me? Ask Mary Kay, I am sure she will agree with that conjecture!
Tomorrow, I am helping Mary Kay as a chaperone for her German class as we go to downtown Chicago to the Christkindlmarket. That is always fun as it is great to be with high schoolers again and going to the Christmas Market is always like being in Europe.
Years ago when we were visiting my mom in Cleveland it was always tough when we were leaving. My mom, being alone and all since my sister and I left the nest, and I being the offspring who moved away, it was particularly difficult for her. She adored seeing us, cooking all of my favorite things, and seeing the boys and Mary Kay.
One time, she told us this ethnic story of some Hungarians. Truthfully, I don’t know whether the story is even true or maybe just made up by someone, but I tend to think that it is real.
My mom told us of some Hungarians who were trying oh so hard to learn English and to use the proper expressions at the appropriate times. We language learners know that there is nothing funnier than situations when people are experimenting with a language and just not managing to do so. Not that we want to laugh at their mistakes, but it is just funny. I always implored my students to be oh so careful when using colloquial expressions just for that reason, to be sure that they really understood the usage and the nuances.
Well, these Hungarians were interested in knowing the proper way to say “goodbye” and they asked some people, supposed friends, to tell them what to say upon taking leave of someone. They were given an expression and practiced it so their pronunciation was in order and then left.
One day, as they were taking leave of someone, they did the final small talk, were ready to leave and yelled out as they were departing and waving their hands in a goodbye gesture, “Go to Hell!” They thought they were saying something nice. Instead they almost got into trouble!
My mom told us the story and we took it in, this all occurring during our visit. As usual, the day of departure approached and my mom’s eyes started tearing up. We were all in the car, all five of us, and opened up the windows as we were ready to put the car into gear and yelled out to my mom, “Go to Hell!” This is particularly funny because not only did my mom start smiling and laughing but there were nosy neighbors on her Parma, Ohio Street who took it in as well and wondered what was going on. From that moment on, our family goodbye taking always includes a good “Go to Hell” and a big smile.
It is a bit after 7 am on Thanksgiving morn. I have done the duty I have for some twenty-six years now (without a break), the ritual preparation of the family turkey. I woke up, without wanting to, at 5 am and got up and started the massive task of getting the bird stuffed and in the oven so that the starving Koerners will be able to eat with gusto, and, as Art Buchwald stated so eloquently years ago, “…for the only time during the year eat better than the French do.”
I had mentioned in my other blog entry that I have been doing the family bird and stuffing for all these years because circumstance moved me into it and apparently I did it well enough that my family will not hear of my changing the ritual. The Koerners are heavily involved in ritual throughout the year, Mary Kay and I had always more or less been proponents of it, but I must tell you that there is a serious backlash from it. Not that I don’t think it is a good idea, I do, but there is a price to pay.
An example of a ritual with a price to pay is the Christmas stocking issue which I still do for my twenty/thirty something sons and their significant others. I collect all sorts of valuable/invaluable trinkets throughout the year for these. I learned the habit from my mom and kind of added my own spin to it. The kids almost look more forward to this than to their actual gifts. Another is that the decorations at various times of the year have to be placed appropriately in “their places.” When this is not followed, there is often hell to pay. Mary Kay started making a “Vichyssoise” of sorts, a potato soup and was told one day by my oldest, “Something is different here.” My wife admitted to not having the usual bacon or having tried a different chicken stock. The good news is that these little things are the cement that keeps families together, as ridiculous as it seems. When everything else goes awry, you can count on that Potato Soup to be delicious, soothing, and as my son Richie hates to hear me say, “a comfort food.”
The reason I took almost two hours to get that bird in the oven is because the family stuffing I use, which is based on saltine crackers, is so loose in consistency that the turkey must be sewn up very carefully, otherwise the stuffing will flow out before cooking. I have put in a picture of the family bird so that you can see the plastic surgery our Deerfield turkey endured before hitting the oven. I actually have to remove skin from one side of the bird and attach it to the other so as to allow me to seal it up and keep the stuffing from exploding out as it bakes. It has the consistency of a soufflé when it is done. The first time someone tries it the reaction is generally disconcerting. It is not what one expects. The second part of the reaction, however, is to become addicted to it.
I have mentioned in previous articles of my blog about my “Honey Don’t” list and how I am perhaps not the typical guy. I have always thought that I am so because of the loss of my dad at age seven. I was forced to learn to do all sorts of domestic things (which I found out later actually bothered my mom, as men don’t do those things) and to cook. I am a type A personality as my wife reminds me and I truly have trouble sitting down. I rationalize that I cannot since I have so much to do and I now have the chance to insert a phrase I use every so often which drives my wife crazy, “Women work from sun to sun but a man’s work is never done,” which is, of course, my version of a well-known expression. Preparation for Thanksgiving is labor intensive and worth it. My father-in-law used to say to me, “It just isn’t worth it. You spend all that time preparing, working hard, and it is gone in a moment.” I don’t agree. I think that the benefits are immense.
Our family has to have everything from scratch, we like to eat healthy, use what we have, use the most natural products, etc. We stick to it, otherwise there is that infamous price to pay. Our meal is generally complex, simple, yet elegant. The mashed potatoes are just plain mashed potatoes with butter, milk, and salt (we cannot abide “fake” mashed potatoes). The salad is simple and sometimes adorned with croutons and a homemade vinaigrette. The pumpkin pies are made by the expert pie maker, my wife, and always done to perfection with a crust her mother tried to reproduce without ever managing to even approach it. We have rolls, fresh cranberry sauce, wine, and sometimes champagne (it has to be French, otherwise it isn’t champagne).
The table is generally surrounded by more than ten, it depends on the year, we often have someone coming who has nowhere else to go and sometimes people just show up for dessert.
This year we were supposed to have all the boys home for the event. Michael, at the very last minute, ran into housing issues in California where he lives, and will not be with us. The trauma and discussions preceding this day once we found out he wasn’t coming were monumental. We needed him and he isn’t with us. At least he will be coming in a few weeks. The good news is that “Dad” had to say very little to him to express disappointment, everyone else, especially his brothers, took charge of that!
As is often the case, my mind went into “zen” mode while sewing up the bird and preparing the stuffing. The first thing I thought of was my sister-in-law who passed away on the 4th of July over a year ago after a courageous battle against an insidious pancreatic/kidney cancer. As I cleaned the bird I looked at the tail of the bird and thought of her as she was the only family member who enjoyed attacking the small amount of meat found on it.
I thought of how sad it was that my mom will not be able to be with us as she is in the nursing home (since January) and it is absolutely impossible to get her out in a doable way as she is wheelchair bound and our house is so inhospitable to that issue. I am planning on taking her some stuffing and I know exactly what she will say, “it is delicious but you need to season (salt, in her lingo) it more!”
My in-laws will not be here, my father-in-law having passed away following his daughter in October of 2009. My mother-in-law is saddled with an unbelievable dementia which has only exacerbated the bad character traits she possesses. I am not saying she has been totally bad all her life, she hasn’t, but what I deem to be traits of mental illness have caused her to be abusive mentally and verbally to her children, family, and others. She has been a terrible burden this year as she is living in a nearby apartment and has caretakers coming in twice a day. Her life has taken a very sour turn as she deals with the sadness life has brought her and deals with the fact that she is so hard to be around, and there is such history of past unpleasantries, that no one wants to be around her. We get numerous calls from her looking for her husband, often thinking he is out drinking with our oldest son. The irony there is that he never drank in the latter part of his life and that he would be at a bar with our son. As our son explained, that would only happen if he paid for Papa! At 3:45 am the other morning we got one of the many calls from the police/firemen that they were spending “quality time” with her as she had, once again dialed 911. They said that her lungs were clear, but that if we didn’t physically “sign off” for her, that they would have to take her to the hospital for observation. So, off went Mary Kay to sign the forms.
I am thankful that we have done our best to take care of our elderly family members. Their situations are not perfect, but we are keeping them safe, clean, and warm for the most part. Without them, the family Thanksgiving ritual shall be different, but, in many ways, easier. My in-laws’ arrival was always touched with “When are we eating?” They were very demanding and caused great stress to us that is now only with us in passing comments and some sad memories. The horn will not honk this year to force us to do what they expected us to do, run out and help them out of their cars (whether they needed help or not) and make our blood pressure rise.
This year, we shall be about eleven or so around our table. Despite the traumas of the past two years, I am optimistic. We have had a rough time losing Mary Kay’s sister. The relationship with her was basically good, but fraught with, what I view, the aftermath of being brought up in the home she was reared in. I always felt that her “stance” toward us had been so colored by the abuses she had endured with her overbearing but very well meaning parents, especially her mom. She had done her best to be as far from the parents as she could and somehow my wife ended up somehow as an afterthought at times. I am convinced that this was due to her need to escape a malignant situation. As she approached the end of her life, she and Mary Kay had pretty much laid to rest the silliness of growing up, growing apart, moving away. The central pain in all of this is that the relationship was never what it could have been. The realization of that fact is quite painful and the short span of her life actually putting a cap on its evolution to something better for both.
Mary Kay’s sister’s son lives in the Chicago area and will be with us, as often he has been in the past, for Thanksgiving with his wife and two children. They are most wonderful people and we feel very close to them. Ken, having been older and semi-established in the area, remained here when his parents, sister and brother moved to Virginia. They are an integral part of our family.
The dissolution of the older two boys’ business within the past months has been traumatic in a different way. I view it literally as the loss of a loved one. We are currently in a state of mourning, all at different places in the process. Christian has moved on to finding a job in the business world he is not truly happy with. He realizes that we have to make compromises in life and his family needs to be taken care of. Richie has kept the brunt of the business mode and is evolving it into a handyman/snow removal operation, a change from its brickpaver era. He has had more of the hands on, equipment maintenance aspect while his older brother has done more of the business end. Although they love each other dearly, dissolution of the business has wreaked havoc on them (as it most naturally would) and has had repercussions within the family. Mary Kay and I have done our best to keep communications lines open and make sure that we all keep this within the proper perspective.
My genetics taught me the glass half empty approach, I have fought all my life to see it the other way. I have succeeded, for the most part in managing to maintain this. We have been so, so blessed. I told Mary Kay the other day that for years I was waiting for the “shoe to drop” as I felt that things were moving along so well and with so little bad stuff happening to us. Some of the bad stuff that has happened recently has only emphasized some of the negativity that had been going on for so many years. I reflect back and often have wondered if we had needed to take a different approach to many of the little difficulties and I realize that, in fact, we had done the right thing. With some issues, it often just doesn’t matter.
Life is good! Samantha, soon to have her second birthday in March of 2011 is a total joy and a total reminder that we must all go on. Her energy, joy, smiles, infectious laughter, and enthusiasm remind us where we all need to be on this day. We cannot allow the negativity to infect us to the point of losing control or falling prey to total sadness, we need to harness the positive and remember that tomorrow is another beautiful day and that next year will bring changes that will make things better if we demand that they be. I, of course, have my own special joy with her in that she and I share a common language, French. I speak nothing but French to her and it is so fascinating to me to see how she acquires it and how well she understands it.
It is now almost 8:30 am. The turkey is doing beautifully in the oven. I lowered the temperature, basted it with the broth I had made, and the kitchen is relatively clean after the swath of destruction my travails made as I created the stuffing.
It is now a few hours later, almost noon and the turkey is to be done in about an hour. I have been faithfully basting it every so often and tending to the broth I made on the stove with the turkey innards and some vegetables, using that to baste. Had to cover the turkey with a bit of foil here and there to protect the skin.
During the time between my first writing and now, we have set the table, set up the drinks outside since it is cold enough for pop, beer and wine out there. Christian and Samantha arrived and she will take a nap here, making it easier for her and for us to enjoy the meal. The potatoes are peeled and ready to go.
Soon all will arrive. It appears Richie and Emily shall be at her family’s place as the newly engaged couple. Perhaps they may join us here later, it is hard to believe that Richie will be able to pass up the stuffing. Luckily there are always lots of leftovers and they never go to waste.
Come 1:30 pm or so, the Parch family arrives (Ken, Carla, Abby, and Stephen) and Laura and her mom arrive as well. Appetizers, drinks, conversation and then the meal come 2:30 or so. It was amazing. The turkey, stuffing, cranberries, rolls, salad, and gravy were great. We had a delightful time.
Come 9:00 pm Mary Kay and I were sitting down in our leather armchairs, chilling by the TV. Everything is pretty much cleaned up and the leftovers are put away. Vive Thanksgiving!
This stuffing is an old Koerner family favorite which was created by my maternal grandmother, Barbara (Szucs) Bori, who came to the United States in the early 1900’s from Hungary. Originally it was an all-bread stuffing which my grandmother converted to saltine crackers because of the lighter consistency, which is comparable to that of a thick souffé. To produce the extremely light texture and the heavenly understated flavor, the stuffing must be made in a tightly sewn turkey. Mincing the vegetables and the turkey liver very finely avoids the chunkiness often found in most stuffings. Surprisingly, even those who detest the flavor of liver (myself included) love the taste. My family likes it so much that my sister has been known to eat it in sandwiches the next day. I am the only male member of the family to recreate this family recipe and my wife flatters me by insisting that mine is the best version. My mother has consistently told me that I do not season (salt and pepper) it enough!
Here is the recipe:
Grandma Bori’s Turkey Stuffing (Stuffing Szucs)
(10-12 lb. turkey)
1 stick butter
4 slices white bread
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup minced parsley
about 1 tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped celery
pepper to taste
puréed turkey liver (from giblet bag)
2 1/2 stacks saltine crackers (app. 1/2 box)
Do the following, then set aside:
Use the food processor to finely chop the following vegetables, then set aside: onion, parsley, celery. Purée the turkey liver. Melt the butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions until translucent. Immerse and soak the saltine crackers and bread in warm water. When thoroughly moistened, squeeze as much water as possible out of them.
Beat the eggs until frothy. To the egg mixture, add the chopped vegetables, liver, crackers, bread, and salt and pepper. Stir until completely mixed. The consistency will be similar to that of cooked oatmeal.
Take the stuffing mixture and spoon into the turkey. It must be carefully sewn to prevent the soupy mixture from escaping. Extra stuffing fits nicely between the skin and breast meat which I gently stretch apart. Not only does this allow you to put more stuffing in the turkey, it also seems to keep the breast meat moist. Roast the turkey as usual.
My grandparents were less than perfect individuals but had a tremendous influence on me nonetheless. Both of them were very important, especially when my father passed away. It turns out that just before he died, my father asked them both to make sure that my sister, mother, and I were taken care of. Considering they had never been easy with my father for some reason, I think for no other reason than their inability to mind their own business, they took this request quite seriously.
My grandmother, Barbara Szucs Bori, was born in Nyirtass in eastern Hungary near the border with the Ukraine. The year was 1894. To my knowledge, my Grandmother was not a lover of men, in general. She married my grandfather in the U.S. with the thought that he would take her back to Europe. WWI broke out and that never happened. She came to the United States at the age of nineteen on the Carpathia (which later saved Titanic survivors), having set sail from Italy, if my memory serves me well. She was out for some adventure and to connect with her sister.
She apparently was a devil of a kid when at home in Hungary. She told me stories of having mistreated her sister’s boyfriends, spitting on them, hitting them with brooms, and the like. She told me that she used to get after the milkman when he would go drinking, releasing his horses from the carriage. She apparently lived a very nice bourgeois life in Hungary, the daughter of a landowner and his wife (who was apparently adopted). In any case, she went all alone to visit her sister and ended up settling down in Cleveland, Ohio. She was quite the talented lady with crocheting and I believe worked in some sort of knitting mill at one time for the grand total of $.09 per hour wages.
She and my grandfather, Joseph Bori never ever got along well. They fought all the time, making the air blue with Hungarian cursing. My grandfather was from Csongrad near Szeged, Hungary, born there in 1888. He was a tradesman, a shoemaker in Hungary, I believe. I am not sure how old he was when he came to the United States. He was a character, to say the least. I know he had spent a good amount of time in South Bend, Indiana. He worked as a bartender. I know that he was a lady’s man. That got him into some trouble as apparently he got a girl pregnant and her brothers came after him. He fended off their attack quite well, to the point of one of them being in the hospital and my grandfather had to fly the coop, never to return to Indiana. He never gave many details but finally divulged a bit to my wife when he was in his nineties, saying he was going to go visit his son in South Bend. We shall never know! While in South Bend, my grandfather procured a beautiful gold Elgin pocket watch which he had on a beautiful gold fob from Europe which I coveted. Mysteriously, although it should have gone to his son, I was the recipient as Uncle Joe was not the least bit interested in it. My grandfather had a customer in the bar who was in need of money, he paid him $5 for the watch, bought him dinner and all the drinks he wanted.
They were not a happy couple. They had four children, three girls, one boy: Aunt Helen, the eldest, Uncle Joe, my mom, Elizabeth, and my Aunt Fran. We do think that there is a distinct possibility that my Aunt Helen might not have been my grandfather’s child, there were always rumors to that effect and apparently, through the years, there were lots of fights, in Hungarian, between the two in which this subject was broached. My grandparents refused to celebrate their wedding anniversaries, to the point of not even divulging the date. I have since found out that they married on October 22, 1916 in St. Joh’s Greek Catholic Church.
Both of my maternal grandparents were not the best English speakers. My grandmother, despite her thick accent, was the better speaker of the two. My grandmother would lord this over him every chance she could. I remember so clearly one day when he mentioned a chair, calling it a “chur.” She made brutal fun of him for this.
Religion was an issue between the two. My grandfather was a non-practicing Roman Catholic who claimed to not believe in God. My grandmother was a Greek Catholic who wanted to practice but didn’t because of the ire it created in my grandfather. My grandmother was more than pleased when we, the grandchildren, were around as she could take us to Church.
When my dad died and we moved away, to the suburbs, my grandparents remained in town. I remember the times they would show up unexpectedly to our home, my grandmother would have taken several different buses to do so (they had no car) and she would arrive with cakes, breads, etc. to make our day brighter. She would spend time weeding the garden, cleaning in the house, cooking, and such, things that working mom just didn’t have time to attend to. My grandfather would do his annual tarring of the cracks in the driveway, the tarring of the roof of the garage, and any other thing he could find that needed attention. The amusing thing is that he had no taste when it came to fixing things up and one time he mixed about four different cans of latex paint of varying colors and then proceeded to paint the back of the garage.
My grandmother would cook all of the things I liked, making sure to attend to my picky tastes and modify things where needed. She knew I didn’t like sour cream (was I crazy?) so she pulled the chicken and some sauce out before finishing the Chicken Paprikash just for me. She always used to get annoyed with Uncle Herman at Sunday family dinners because since I liked white chicken meat, he decided he did as well. My grandmother would hide some for me, not allowing him to have it from then on.
One funny situation with my grandmother was when we had a once a year family gathering at my Uncle’s place out in the country outside Cleveland. My grandmother had never really liked my Aunt so this was always an interesting visit. We were served rhubarb pie, as I recall, and my grandmother (and everyone else) flipped out over the lack of sugar, the pie was almost impossible to eat. When no one was looking, my grandmother slipped her pie into a bag under the table. We laughed about this for years.
I was Grandma’s favorite. We all loved her, but in retrospect, I see what a difficult person she was at times. I am sure it is because of her sadness of having left her family, planning on returning, and not being able to. She was somewhat good at fomenting trouble, pitting one person against the next. The grandchildren were always special though. My sister and I were even more special since we had lost our dad.
Grandma’s breakfasts were special. She had this way of making peanut butter toast that I still do every once in a while and used to do for my own children. She would butter the toast on both sides, and then put peanut butter on both sides as well. She would then cut it into four pieces. It tasted disgustingly good. She introduced me to coffee, offering me some with lots of hot milk and sugar. She made her special iced tea (with lemonade, beating Starbucks to the punch), and her stuffing for chicken and the Thanksgiving turkey were unique. To this day, I make her special stuffing, which we call stuffing Szucs (her maiden name). I have made it on an annual basis since Mary Kay was pregnant with our third son, Michael. My sister-in-law had suggested cold cuts, not wanting to cook, my mother-in-law was not feeling well, Mary Kay was soon to give birth, so Grandma’s stuffing came forth. The crazy thing about her stuffing is that it is a labor intensive situation, requiring surgical moves on the turkey, otherwise the stuffing oozes out before cooking! Despite the fact that my brother-in-law said that if I was cooking, he wouldn’t eat, he did. I have been making it each Thanksgiving since, Grandma Bori lives on!
Making noodles with Grandma was always a treat as well, she would pull out the huge special sheet and make them. Her soup noodles were the thinnest that I have ever tasted, she used to cut them super thin. She even managed to do this after cataract surgery. She also used to make noodles with her friends at the local Church.
Grandma was a most wonderful friend to me and always thinking about me. I shall never forget when I was four hours away at school in Athens, Ohio, receiving a box of Hungarian breaded chicken in the mail! I have to admit, fearing that it might not have survived the trip, I threw it out, but it was such a sweet gesture. I am not sure what she was thinking when she sent it, but I know that sometimes all of her reasoning skills were not there at this time in her life. With her cooking, as she aged, we noticed that she was mixing things up a bit differently at times, her pies were somewhat strange, mixtures of this berry and that berry, but still good.
Before I left for my academic year in France, she and I got in the car one day and drove down to visit my old roommate. It was a four hour drive each way, we had an absolute ball as we enjoyed being with each other, talking, eating, visiting. She was a great sport!
I was with my grandmother when she died at the age of 81, just a week short of my wedding in Chicago in June of 1975. I was quite attentive to both of my grandparents. I called them all the time, went over to help them when needed. For some reason, I went over to see them; no one knew she was ill; it seemed to come on very suddenly after I arrived. In any case, within a short period of time, she was gone. It happened so fast that by the time we called the ambulance, it was too late. She had been under a doctor’s care for issues of acid reflux, I am certain that it must have been some sort of internal hemorrhage or something. It was quite a hard thing to take before my wedding and it was a major loss, especially for me. This was my first major loss of a loved one since my dad and it hit me particularly hard.
Grandpa didn’t take it very well, as could be expected. Despite their less than amicable relationship, they were truly joined at the hip in their own special way. Grandpa demanded that Grandma’s funeral be done by a hell, fire, and brimstone minister that freaked out the entire family. I am sure that Grandma was tossing and turning in the coffin at the time.
My grandfather lived for quite a few more years, reaching the ripe old age of 99. He drove my mom absolutely crazy. He must have suffered from some sort of dementia, and that, combined with his English, and his less than perfect hearing, sometimes made communication difficult. He would get angry at my mom over this or that and say he was moving out. He in fact did move to be with my aunt in California, which was a major fiasco.
My funniest stories of him are when he flew on an airplane the first time to visit me in Chicago. I was worried sick since I was unable to go to the gate at Midway Airport. At this time, it was still possible to do so but I believe there was some sort of remodeling going on. I begged them to allow me, explaining his limited English, his advanced age, and his never having flown. They told me they would take care of him. Lo and behold, I see him being escorted by two tall, attractive flight attendants, talking up a storm. As it turns out, they knew my life story by the time he reached me!
He stayed with us in our little two bedroom ranch and was with Mary Kay when I was at work, some thirty miles away. I do remember taking phone calls regarding his behavior while I was gone. He, Mary Kay, and Christian, our first son were home alone. He was notorious about getting into mischief. He wanted to take Christian for a walk, Mary Kay just wasn’t totally sure it was a good idea (and she was right), she finally ended up paying the neighbor girl to follow him to make sure all was well.
Another time, Grandpa decided to do some yard clean up. The problem was that he did it in the neighbor’s yard, cutting down a small dead tree that had been there for some time. Luckily, when apologizing to my neighbor, he explained to me that my grandfather had actually done him a favor.
One day, he walked up to my neighbor, Jim, who was in his fifties at the time. He said to him, “Jesus Christ, how old are you?” Jim told him. My grandfather retorted (in his very Hungarian sounding English), “You look much older, you are too damn fat! Lose some weight.” In my embarrassment, I apologized to Jim. He said, “Don’t, your grandfather is right.”
Grandpa also decided, one day, that he was going to move in with us. I explained to him that we only had two bedrooms. He said, “No problem, I will take your bedroom and you and Mary Kay can sleep on the couch.”
Grandpa finally confided to Mary Kay one day that he was going to stay with his son in South Bend, Indiana. This is where the line between reality and dementia becomes fuzzy. All these years we had wondered about what had gone on in South Bend and Mary Kay was finally the recipient of the information.
When visiting us one time, the feather fell out of Grandpa’s hat. He was convinced, for the longest time, that Christian, our oldest son, had pilfered it. Years later we found it somewhere in the house where it had fallen.
He spent his last days in a Hungarian retirement home near Akron, Ohio and died at 99. Both he and my grandmother had provided our family with all sorts of funny stories and had enriched our lives. At his funeral, I remember all of the funny stories that we told as we regaled his long life. It is just so sad that he and my grandmother had been so unhappy with each other for all those years.