• Margaret's Legacy

Rina's #LegacyInspiration

CHANNELING MY INNER GRAMMA


She did not cure Cancer or establish world peace; she did not build hospitals or invent life-changing technologies; she did not travel the world or wear the most fashionable clothes… but she did teach us that a good life is one focused on friends and family; and she showed us that laughter is really good medicine (maybe even the best); she made the choice to highlight the best in every single person; and she loved altruistically, absolutely no strings attached.

I am 43 years old and I miss my grandmother


every


single


day. 


She truly was remarkable. And, of course, I realize this only in hindsight after she passed away (in 1998).  


My dad used to always describe her in part, by saying that if you stepped on her foot, she would apologize for having put her foot in the wrong place. She wouldn't want you to feel bad.  I miss how altruistically kind and proud she was of each and every one of us, quite simply because we existed. I miss how, upon hearing us laugh she would come over and ask what it was that was so funny, because, as she would explain, "I want to laugh too!" I miss the look of absolute joy and accomplishment on her face when we would catch my younger cousin under the kitchen table, cheeks stuffed, and "juice" of the forbidden chocolate dripping down her chin. I miss the sound of her - every "ishta nem" and "draga." I even miss the middle of the night heartburn that followed a meal at her house (oy, those made from scratch and fried in a pan "hamboorgairs" [that's "hamburgers" as said with her Hungarian accent]).


She was Ilonka (Helen) Rodak-Izso, nee Friedmann. Born in Abauj-Kér, raised in Kosice-Kassa (which was in Czechoslovakia, then Hungary, and today, Slovakia). Daughter of Marcus and Terez; sister of Olly, Shani, and Latzi. They owned a successful cork factory, which somewhat mysteriously burned down in early 1944. Her family was on train 2499 out of Kosice on June 2nd of the same year.  She was liberated in Muritz (near Hamburg) in May of 1945. Less than one year between. She managed to stay wither sister. They were moved twelve times; from camp to camp to camp. Twelve camps in less than one year – Auschwitz, Kaiserwald, Kurbe, Stutthoff, Glowen…. They survived a selection by Dr. Mengele. They survived a death march. They survived the journey back to Kosice. My great-grandparents and so many other family members perished, while my grandmother and her siblings miraculously survived. Her brothers landed in Rishon Letzion, Israel. My grandmother and her sister ultimately landed in Toronto, Canada.


When I was a little girl, we used to go on excursions via subway. My grandmother taught me all the subway stops, up and down the lines. Even though she didn’t speak English when she came to Canada, she managed to become fluent enough and served as a library assistant at U of T’s Robarts library for 20 years.  She baked us chocolate chip cookies, and beehive pastries, and special dobosh cake (we would make fun that the recipe called for no less than 12 eggs). Together we would sing the entire soundtrack of "The Sound of Music" as it played on her record player.  I don’t remember her ever wearing slacks - in my memory she is always in a skirt and blouse, maybe with a scarf... and she smelled like Chanel No 5. She ate pizza with a knife and fork and liked to partake in a little Bailey’s every now and again.


Anxiety in the form of self-doubt has been an ongoing theme in my life, probably since adolescence. It is something I have fought with for as long as I can remember. We live in a culture ready at every turn to point out flaws, errors, shortcomings. I seem to be especially skilled at this, most particularly with respect to myself. I’ve developed strategies over the years to ensure that I remain a functional human being. As part of my self reflection, I attempt to channel my “inner Gramma.” I remind myself that despite any actual or perceived shortcomings, I am valuable simply because I exist.


As part of my self reflection, I attempt to channel my “inner Gramma.” I remind myself that despite any actual or perceived shortcomings, I am valuable simply because I exist.

All 4 of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors; their grandchildren’s existence is nothing short of a gift and a miracle. This is what my grandmother believed, so why shouldn’t I? I try to laugh and find humour at every possible opportunity, because that is how my grandmother managed through every age and stage of her life. She sought out the opportunities to laugh, to love, and to enjoy. She didn’t wait for those chances to appear – she sought them out. She seized the moments.  I also try to access in myself that altruistic, unconditional love that she had for us. Whatever we were, whoever we would become, she loved loving us. Choose the chicken or the brisket, come visit on Tuesday or Sunday, wear the red dress or the blue pants… she didn’t care. She just wanted us to be happy and to be part of the creation and sustenance of that happiness. Everyone deserves to have someone in their life who loves them THAT much in THAT way.


Everyone – infant, child, teen, or grown up – should know the feeling of Gramma Ilonka-type love. Of all the strategies taught to me over the years for combatting the self-doubt, these are the strategies that have saved me from myself most often.


My grandmother would be turning 104 years old this year.


She has 2 "vonderful" sons and daughters-in-law,


5 awesome grandchildren (plus some grandchildren-in-law),


and 7 amazing great-children...


who all LOVE to laugh, know all the words to the Sound of Music soundtrack, and still bake the beehive pastries and eat the dobosh... and who are all very very proud to be her legacy.


She did not cure Cancer or establish world peace; she did not build hospitals or invent life-changing technologies; she did not travel the world or wear the most fashionable clothes… but she did teach us that a good life is one focused on friends and family; and she showed us that laughter is really good medicine (maybe even the best); she made the choice to highlight the best in every single person; and she loved altruistically, absolutely no strings attached.


These are the lessons we channel and commit to pay forward. We know it would make her very proud.


By Rina Rodak

https://www.facebook.com/rrodak


P.S. My grandmother's memoirs can be found here:

http://migs.concordia.ca/memoirs/rodak-izso/rodak.html

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