I don’t remember my grandmother too well. She died one month before my 9th birthday in 1960. She was a petite woman, barely 5 feet tall. She spoke very little English, and when she did, it was only as an interjection to her native Slovakian tongue.
Although she was very slight of frame, she carried a LOT of weight in the house with her eight children and especially with my grandfather. She ruled the roost, without a doubt.
Virtually every memory I have of Grandma was of her being in the kitchen of their home at 3334 Duquesne Avenue in West Mifflin. She produced delicious hunky food on a daily basis, creating the best soups around and perfect little stuffed cabbages. Always wearing a faded house dress and an apron, a handkerchief would perpetually be tucked neatly into the pocket of her dress. I recall this since I was witness to her wielding her hankie on several occasions to moisten with her tongue and clean off one some stray food from one of her grandchildren’s faces.
After Grandma died, my dad, as well as my uncles and aunts, didn’t talk a lot about their mother. It wasn’t because she didn’t have a story or their love and respect, but more likely an issue of not wanting to think about her not being with them any longer. I know they missed her terribly.
It wasn’t until I was older that my Aunt Peg began to share stories about her mother and her youth. A few weeks ago, I shared my Aunt Peg’s recollections about her own childhood and about my grandparents. As you may remember, Aunt Peg was the young girl in the story about The Blueberries on the Hill.
When I visited Aunt Peg a week ago at her apartment in Munhall, I helped her once again to decorate for Christmas, including putting up her tree and trimming it for her. As I unpacked her special ornaments, she once again pointed out Grandma’s garland and retold the story of those special glass beads.
My Grandmother, Anna Zrelock, was born in Lubotin, Czechoslovakia. She immigrated to the United States in 1907 when she was 16 years old. Although she came to live with relatives, she was a very brave young woman to make the trip from her home to a strange new land. She spoke no English and arrived at Ellis Island in June, 1907. We are so fortunate to have a copy of the passenger manifest from the S. S. Rhein, the ship that brought young Anna to the States that day.
As I was told, Grandma may have been sent to the United States by her parents as a future bride in a pre-arranged marriage with my grandfather. Aunt Peg believes that to be the case, but it has never been validated by anyone or any documentation. What we do know though, is that Grandma arrived with very few personal possessions. However, among the few mementos that she carried across the Atlantic with her were a small garland of glass beads that were used at one time on her parent’s Christmas tree. I would imagine that those beads meant so much to her as a link to her parents and to her homeland. The fact that she cherished and protected them for so many years is testimony to how much they meant to her.
Since the day that Grandma’s garland arrived in the US over 105 years ago, the number of delicate glass beads has dwindled to just 12 now. The original mirror like finish shows its age and now has a mottled finish and only a hint of the garnet color they once possessed. They have been restrung with a think string, and contain a few broken beads as well.
As I hung this family artifact on the very front of Aunt Peg’s tree this year, directly under the Blessed Mother tree topper, I realized how rich, yet humble our family’s heritage was. I could hear the pride and love in my aunt’s voice as she retold the story of the beads. I believe that the Anna’s story and Christmas garland will continue to be handed down for generations to come in our family. Although future generations will never have the blessing of meeting the former Anna Zrelock, they will undoubtedly find comfort in the strong love that she possessed for the family she left and the family that she raised.
Merry Christmas Grandma
Veselé Vianoce Babička
And Merry Christmas Aunt Peg and my entire family AND all my Duquesne friends!