Thursday, June 23, 2005

Happy Birthday, Grams!!

I'm a bit late in acknowledging this birthday, since it was actually yesterday, but oh-well! Yesterday my grandma (my dad's mom) turned 85! I was chatting with her this morning and all that she has been through still amazes me. Want a little bio?

She was born in 1920 in Poland, the first of three children. She lived on a small farm and can remember gypsies traveling by when she was young. One of her stories is about how she disobeyed her mother and gave away a bushel of potatoes to a band of fleeing gypsies. In return, a woman gave her her fortune - my grandma, Marie, was told that she would have three children and would one day move to the United States.

One of her younger brothers died when he was 18 from brain cancer. He was sick from Christmas until March when he died. I'm pretty sure that it was shortly after this that her family left their home in Poland and sought refuge in Russia. They didn't want her other brother to be called into the military. They stayed in Russia for a horrible six months, with no food, no shelter. This morning she told me how they would each stand in a food line, one for bread, one for sugar... so they would at least have food for a little while.

It was when her family returned to Poland that my grandma was taken prisoner by the Nazis. Although she is not Jewish, it didn't matter... they took whoever they wanted, she says. Her mother, father and brother went back to their charred remains of a home and she was shipped to Germany.

I am thankful that she didn't face the same fate that so many did. She was sent to work and live with a very nice family. She cleaned, cooked and nannied... the children and parents alike loved my grandma. She made friends with some German girls and met my grandpa, Dusan, a Serbian prisoner. Luckily she was able to locate her family. She tells of how once she was given a three week vacation home but stayed for five... and she got letters telling her to return... That she was scared she would be sent to work in the factories, or worse.

She lived and worked for the same family for the five years she was in Germany during the war. Afterward, she married my grandpa, who was working as a police guard for British-occupied Germany. They applied for immigration passes to many places, including the U.S., Australia, Canada and several South American countries. Then they waited to be accepted somewhere. My uncle was born in Germany.

He was two when they made the trip to the States. My grandma remembers the boat and how sick everyone was - her and my uncle and the other passengers they were crowded on with. I am pretty sure the journey took two weeks. She's told us about Ellis Island and then the trip to Michigan, where she came because she had a cousin in the area.

My grandma settled with her small family in a small house in a neighboring town. My dad was born a few years later, and he remembers they had a cat. My grandpa worked afternoons as a janitor at Consumer's Power. I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been for my grandma to learn English, especially with two young sons who were learning it too!

They soon outgrew their little house and moved to a nice ranch across the street from where I live today. My grandma worked cleaning houses and businesses, and my grandpa took my dad and uncle fishing before he went to work in the afternoons. When my dad was old enough to drive, my grandma scoured the want-ads looking for the perfect car. My dad was five when my aunt was born, and my grandma had her family with three children living in the States.

My grandpa died when my dad was a senior in high school, and my grandma somehow managed to keep house and family intact without a driver's license or a steady job. I am fortunate to have lived across the street from her my whole life. My sister and I never had baby sitters growing up because we always had my grandma. She is a fighter and a worker and I love her so much.

Happy Birthday, Grams.

Time to go get the Kleenex and blow my nose, I've been crying for like the last five paragraphs...

(I forgot to mention that my grandma still keeps in touch with the children of the family she worked for, and in fact went to visit them in the 90's. She's also still in contact with her girlfriends from the war, the ones who are still alive.)


Blogger Heather said...

Oh Natalie, Hug your Grams for me!!!!!!

7:23 PM  
Blogger Jennifa said...

Wow. That IS a lot to go through in one lifetime...what a strong woman!

9:51 AM  

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