Tag Archives: family

rambling from my journal in hungary: les jours tristes/szomorú nap/smutne dni

Art museums are some of my favorite places. I like staring at pieces of art that tell a story about a certain time and place in history, and I like filling in the blanks with my own ideas.

In Kansas City, I’m always within twenty minutes of  the Nelson-Atkins. That museum’s gallery of American paintings is something else. So much Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham, those capturers of the middle-American spirit. They were Missourians, so it’s appropriate that those paintings of small-town Missouri politicians soliciting local shop owners in suspenders are gathered in the state’s museums. And it’s great! I love those paintings, I love those stories.

But I don’t identify with them. They tell me nothing about my own history or even my own culture. First-generation American, watching other museum-goers muse over their great-great-great grandparents. So what, I’ve lived in the Midwest most of my life? I still don’t recognize Missouri as my Home-with-a-capital-“H.” Those paintings are foreign to me, to my place in time, to my history, to my family.

I prefer going to art museums in Eastern Europe, like the National Hungarian Art Gallery I visited in the Buda hills of Budapest. The photos of those peasants — tending to sheep and picking flowers in the fields — that’s my history. I come from some of world’s the poorest people. When my grandfather was a child, his parents were too destitute to care for him. So, he went to live with his uncle. His uncle gave him chores, and one of them was to let the cows out during freezing morning hours. Nagypapa (Grandfather) couldn’t afford shoes as a little kid. So he’d go out barefoot in the frosted fields. And he’d step in cow shit to keep his feet warm.

My dad told me this story on the car ride back to Izsak from Budapest, and I crinkled my nose in disgust. Visceral reaction: “ew, ew, ew.” But that’s where I come from. The child of immigrants. Poorest of the poor. Half-Hungarian, half-Polish. One hundred percent Eastern European. Adopted, engulfed, eaten up by the States. That’s temporary, I hope.

But the art I saw in that National Hungarian Gallery, of the peasants in the countryside from the turn of the century — sure, maybe that’s the first time I saw those paintings. But that’s my story. Those are my great-great-(great)-grandparents. And I felt a familiarity with those subjects, you know?

“Biro elott” (“Before the Judge”), Bihari Sandor. 1886.


I’ve always been conscious of class struggle, mainly because my family has been desperately poor for the better part of history. People say, “You’re so lucky!” when I tell them that I’m visiting Hungary. “How cool!”
How do I tell them that my savings account is more-or-less depleted? This is not a vacation. I came for my grandmother, because at 84 years old, she’s dying of cancer. The medication is dulling her brain. She thinks she’s 15 years old, and she’s convinced that my dad (her son) is her older brother. She’s helpless. I’m helpless. All I can do is watch her waste away as her brain slows down. The cancer sped up the process, but her anxiety has been killing her for years. It scares me like hell.

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thoughts on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the invasion of poland

September 1, 1939: Seventy-five years ago today, when my grandparents were twelve years old, Adolf Hitler invaded their country.

My grandparents lived in a village near Lwow in the eastern part of Poland.  Dziadziu (my grandpa) had been in love with Babcia (my grandma) since kindergarden, and, according to stories from my mother, his preferred courting technique was throwing rocks and frogs at her. This method of romance somehow worked, obviously, but I digress. The Nazi invasion rudely interrupted their childhoods.

Map from The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/6080985/World-War-2-Poland-resists-invasion-on-three-frontiers.html), only slightly altered by my incredible editing skills to show you where my grandparents are from.

Map from The Telegraph, only slightly altered by my incredible editing skills to show you where my grandparents grew up.

Dziadziu was too young join the army, but by the time when he was 15, German soldiers began forcing him to help them with odd jobs like unloading Nazi train wagons.

Soviets parading through the streets of Lwow in 1939, before the Nazis took over this part of Poland. Photo Credit.

Soviets parading through the streets of Lwow in 1939, before the Nazis took over this part of Poland. Photo Credit.

Much of the violence inflicted on the Poles in the eastern part of the country was actually imposed by militant Ukranian nationalists with the support of the Nazis. One of Babcia’s sisters had a mother-in-law who was killed by the massacres imposed by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists when they burned down her house. She was not the only one. An estimated 70,000 Polish women, children and unarmed men were killed in an ethnic cleansing campaign in 1943 led by Ukrainian Stepan Bandera.

After the war, Poland’s borders were redrawn and my grandparents’ families were forced to leave their home. They left almost everything they owned in their village, stuffed their livestock into train wagons, and actually sat on top of the trains into their uncertain futures. My great-grandfather packed up his belongings into his own wagon. I’ve never met him, but I can’t help but picture him as Tevye singing “Anatevka” at Fiddler on the Roof’s end, pulling a wagon filled with a pot, a pan, a hat, a broom. They had no idea where they were going; authorities dictated where they would stop.

My grandparents’ families stuck together, and they were kicked off the train at a town called Olesno in Silesia, the western part of Poland that was occupied by Germany only a few months before. Ethnic Germans had heard horror stories of incoming Soviet soldiers, killing men and raping women, and most had run away from the area before my grandparents arrived. So, Polish women arriving from Lwow camped out in ditches as men scoured the area for abandoned homes.

Another very impressive display of image editing. The route my grandparents took from Lwow, and where they ended up. Image Credit: Biega.

Another very impressive example of my image editing skills. The route my grandparents took from Lwow, and where they ended up. Image Credit: Biega.

Babcia first lived in a nice brick house, but as it happens, the German family who had run away later returned and reclaimed their house.  That’s how my grandparents’ families ended up living together with a few other elderly couples in a large house on the border a tiny village called Lasowice Wielkie. My grandparents married in November 1948 and continued to live in the meadow house. This is also where my mother was born in the 1960s, and where she lived for the first twenty-some years of her life.

Babcia and Dziadzu's home on the meadow. My mother's home, too, in Lasowice Wieklie.

Babcia and Dziadzu’s home on the meadow. My mother’s home, too, in Lasowice Wieklie. Photo credit: one of my sisters, probably.

Since I’ve come to grad school, I’ve been asked “where are you from?” almost as many times as “Wait–did you say your name is Tasha?” The question always gives me pause. I’ve lived in many towns and cities, but one of the two places with any consistency in my life is this house in Lasowice Wielkie (the other is my Hungarian grandparents’ home in Izsak–more on this in another post, I’m sure).  It’s strange to think that this place that signifies stability in my life also signifies uncertainty and usurping for the generation just before my mother’s.

I come from a family of displaced peoples, people who became refugees in their own land, products of violence from ethnic tension that has dominated Eastern Europe for the better part of known history. If you’ve been paying attention to the news beyond U.S. borders, you may have noticed that echoes of history are becoming louder and louder. If you haven’t heard, it’s time to start listening.

life, lately: westport and workspaces

August is a heavy month, so I do my best to keep busy and distract myself from its  weight. This time around, Kyle came all the way from St. Louis to spend a week of waning summer evenings on Westport patios with me:

DSC02789He came with Haley, my sophomore year roommate. We lived in a dorm room/jail cell, complete with concrete walls and moldy communal showers. It was a blast. Either way, we survived, and this August we celebrated Haley’s 22nd birthday and attempted to recreate the mandatory roommie photo (which always seemed to contort our face into hideous masks when we actually lived together).

from left: Kasia, Haley, Melissa

from left: Kasia (yours truly), Haley, Melissa at Piano Bar in Westport, KC

And a bonus, for your viewing pleasure! A very special Throwback Thursday collection of the four of us, September 2010.

… I’d like to think we’ve come far.

In other news, I moved into my first solo apartment like a Real Adult, while my sister Julia moved into her first dorm like a Real College Student. This means that I got to visit my family for a weekend, and they drove up to Kansas City to visit me to return the favor. Four days in one month is the most time I’ve spent with my family in two years, probably, which is an incredibly sad thing to admit.

Julia and Ania at the park in Springfield:

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Ania and I danced, and then I fulfilled my most important role as a teacher and a sister, which goes something like this: “Loser, loser, double loser, as if, whatever, get the picture duh.”

Last weekend, family and I at the Kansas City Irish Festival:

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Between the family, Westport and (what was essentially) a month-long Bananagrams tournament, my time was spent moving into my new place, and then blogging, freelancing, jogging, yoga-ing, and studying for the GRE.

The moving in process was a slow one, drawn out over the course of the month. Most of my time was spent organizing books and clothing, since I have very little furniture–this might have something to do with my close-to-nothing-decor budget. It also might be related to my determination to live in every city by the time I’m 30 (ev-er-y city), so I’m careful not to accumulate a ton of baggage. That’s literal, by the way, not metaphorical. Regardless, I like what I’ve done with my limited resources. Here’s a peak into my work spaces.

This is where I cook (um, make sandwiches and sometimes Ramen), eat, and study for the GRE:

Here’s where I write and drink lots of tea.

signing off and working hard, me in my own space

DSC02936xoxo Kasia