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Mom’s One Tough Lady

I hope all Moms had a happy Mother’s Day last weekend. 

My Mom was born in Yugoslavia.  Her Dad was German and Mom Hungarian.  After WWII broke out a German officer rode up to the door of their house and told my Grandfather that he was to report for duty, and if he didn’t, they would come back and shoot him. After much discussion with my Grandmother, he decided to report. He came home a few times, but is listed as MIA in the area of Yugoslavia now known as Bosnia.  In the meantime, my Grandmother was taken to a Russian concentration camp.

My mother, at nine years old, was left to fend for herself, begging for food, after her Grandfather’s death and her brothers took off for Germany.  After a year on her own, she eventually found her Mother, who was rented out by the Russians to work in farmer’s fields during the day.  She was then also placed in the concentration camp with her Mother for 18 months.  The Russians lined up the men in the camp, and were taking every tenth man for a work detail.  Her brother who was dying of cancer, saw what was happening, and tried to swap spots with him, but he refused.  The ones chosen for the walk detail were tied together and led into the woods never to be seen again.  Those with mental issues were taken on a picnic, but didn’t come back.

Mom was playing under a bunk and found some money. Grandmother used it to pay the underground to help them escape with a group of 60 from the camp.  The person leading them didn’t want to take Mom as he said she was too young and small to keep up.  Grandmother told him that she would stay behind if she couldn’t.  At one of their stops, she fell asleep on the cold concrete and awoke to a guard watching her and crying.

Mom tells the story of stuffing her little dog in the bottom of her bag, and piling clothes on top of him so she could sneak him on a train.  When they got to where they were going, she took the clothes out of the bag, and the dog wasn’t moving, and she thought he was dead until he jumped up and loved on her.  Travel became very dangerous for the group. They next group leader made her leave her dog behind.  She could hear him howling for miles.  

They hid out in corn fields during the day, eating raw corn in order to survive.  They traveled at night and crossed over the border into Austria.  After going to Austria, somehow, they were united with my two uncles and came to the U.S. as refugees aboard the troop carrier USS Hanselman. How did Mom and Dad meet?  My Dad requested a family to come and work for him through the Catholic Relief Services. Another family was to come and work for him, but their children developed the measles, so Mom’s family was selected.  After a brief courtship, mostly hiding and kissing behind a stack of milk crates, they were married and had five children.  

With Dad milking cows, bottling the milk, going on the Sheffield or Tuscumbia routes to deliver the milk, going to the field after he got home, and then milking cows, we didn’t get to see him much.  Mom made sure that she took us different places such as Davy Crockett State Park, the Dismals, Cullman, and Spruce Pine to see the Duncan’s.  A great time away from cleaning the barn, feeding chickens, pigs and calves, and helping haul hay.

Our old hay barn had a rail system in the top that was once used for hauling hay into the barn with mules. When the barn was empty, we would hang onto the rope and swing from side to side or ride the rope down the rail from front to the back doing our best Johnny Weissmuller imitation.  When the barn was full of hay, we would climb to the top of the stack and open the back door and hang the rope out and play mountain climber down to the ground from about twenty feet up.  we recently told Mom about the Tarzan thing in the old barn.  I’m glad she didn’t know at the time what we were doing. We thought she was going to have a stroke.  Thinking back now I realize what danger we put ourselves into.  We could have fallen into a crack in the hay and suffocated or slipped off of the rope and fallen onto the rocks below and done some serious damage to ourselves.

Raising the five of us was one tough job.  I would be under the kitchen window making mud cakes one minute, and gone the next, either to the barn, or going with Shep through the cows going to see my Aunt Lillie. Aunt Lillie really wasn’t my aunt, but we all called her that while her husband Jack worked for Dad.  I gave her grief also, when she saw me walking through the cows.  She would yell at Jack to go save her baby.

Mom is one tough lady. She recently had an aortic aneurysm repair.  Dr. Cleveland told her she was not to get on her riding mower for six weeks.  Her girlfriend told me that she planned to get back on the mower, so I hid the keys to her mower to keep her from getting on it before the six weeks were up.  She stills mows her own grass, except for once a month, when she has someone cut the grass and do the weed eating.

Mom is one classy smart lady, that I love dearly.  Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Hooligans ready for my supper.

Published on May 15, 2019

Grit Magazine

Live The Good Life with GRIT!