Monday, April 17, 2017

A Conversation with Ata, my 103 Year Old Mother

Ata Kando
By Madeleine Kando

I watch Ata struggle with her blankets. She has returned from one of her numerous trips to the bathroom, trying to settle back in her recliner close to the window. My sister Juliette moved it there on her last visit, so that Ata can look out, although she cannot see much any more. Just spots, she says. My mother has grown thinner and smaller since last September. When she shuffles across the room, leaning on her wheeled walker, her hunchback is now so prominent, that she has difficulty looking straight ahead.

She breathes heavily, groans and sighs until she finally settles in her usual comfortable position. Then, her sweet smile returns and she is ready to engage with the world, which is now me, on my latest visit from America.

It’s a beautiful Dutch spring day and I ask Ata if she would like to take a ride to the beach that afternoon. But even brief day trips are no longer part of our routine. Her world is reduced to trips to the bathroom and to her bed at night.

A few years ago, when she was only 96, we could still go on overnights together to places like the Ardennes. As the years passed, our trips got shorter, but my visits to Ata were always fused with the joy of driving through beautiful Holland together.

This time it is different. Ata no longer leaves her recliner. She no longer reads, listens to music, or watches TV. She cannot smell the blooming cherry trees in front of her large bay window. Her extreme old age has sneaked up on both of us, as one by one, her senses have abandoned her. Read more...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Some of the Things I Remember from World War Two



War is on my mind lately, because of the saber rattling by the boy who leads North Korea and our own man-boy leader. It’s scary, when two mentally unstable heads of state face off, and they both have nukes.

Also, I just saw The Zookeeper’s Wife. The movie is better than the credit it gets. It’s about World War Two, in Warsaw.

I was barely over 4 years old when the war ended in Europe, and I grew up in Budapest, which is “next door” to Warsaw, so to speak. This movie brought back many memories. It’s interesting how one becomes more forgetful in the short-term when one ages, but also how long-term memory sometimes resurfaces.

The Battle of Budapest between the Soviet Red Army and the Axis Powers - Germany and Hungary, primarily - took place in the winter of 1944-45, one of the coldest on record. It is estimated that it resulted in 40,000 civilian deaths, 150,000 Soviet casualties, dozens of thousands of German and Hungarian combat deaths, and half a million Hungarians transported to the Soviet Union (Siege of Budapest).
Read more...

Friday, April 7, 2017

Tower of Babel, Cacophony, or Multilingualism on Testosterone?



So this morning I Skyped with my family in Holland (actually, it was morning for me, evening for them).

My mother Ata lives in Holland. She will turn 104 in a few months. This week, my sister Madeleine, her daughter, her son-in-law and her grandson were all visiting Ata. They are all from America, but my sister Madeleine is an immigrant, like me.

In addition, there were a couple of Dutch ladies there, wonderful women who volunteer to provide my mother with immense assistance. Altogether, there were more than half a dozen people in my mother’s Dutch flat while I was skyping with her from Sacramento.

So this skyping event was exceptionally international, which is not unusual in my family.

We were all born in Hungary. I was seven when we left that country, and my twin sisters were six. The three of us soon forgot Hungarian, but it has always remained our mother’s primary tongue. Read more...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Is Patriotism Good or Bad?



 There is a lot of talk about patriotism these days. The new president wants to make America great (again).

 Also, I just read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. It’s a pretty good book. The author describes with great honesty his feelings about his Appalachian origins, and his feelings about that subculture, as well as about America in general. He was a marine for four years and served in Iraq. He is an “enlightened” patriot. He gets teary-eyed when he hears Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

So I am thinking: Why don’t I get teary-eyed when I hear that song? What’s the matter with me? I am an American, too!

And why do I admire Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er quarterback who kneeled during the National Anthem instead of standing at salute? The vast majority of the public in the stadium booed him, and he might not be hired by any NFL team next season. His act of defiance was in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. He is paying a high price and I I find his behavior heroic. Read more...