Most people from Europe - including my family - refer to their homeland as "the old country."Â Though theÂ accents - especially in my neighborhood -Â may have been different, the meaning was still very much the same.
In my parents' case, they were forced to leave behind everything - and I meanÂ stepping on American soil, for the first time,Â withÂ nothing more than the clothing they wore, most of which had been donated at the refugee center, before leaving Austria - for a chance to live in America, where everythingÂ (even something asÂ basic as freedom)Â was new.
MyÂ father and mother adapted fairly quickly to their new life (they were 19 and 14,Â respectively)Â but,Â kept a lot of their "old world" customs andÂ (once they met and, soon after, were married)Â shared theirÂ love for cooking, gardening, Hungarian musicÂ and family, openly.
Every Sunday, my mother, grandmother and I would have dinner on the table by noon (sometimes, as early as 11:30 in the morning) the only time we were afforded to sit together, talkÂ and eat, as a family.
Even now, Sunday just isn't the same withoutÂ a big old pot ofÂ Â homemade chicken soup boiling away on the stove...or my grandmother.
I've been feelingÂ weird for the last few weeks and - besides the fact that this is the first time I have all four of myÂ kids in school, at once, andÂ already possessing aÂ restless spirit - although I'm enjoying these first few weeks of solitude, the stillnessÂ is overwhelming my senses!
A smell, a sound or a simple thought - the smallest disturbance becomes painful.
We've had red geraniums in our windows since...well...as long as I can remember and I've kept them since the first day we moved into this house, 13 years ago.Â I can smell them now -Â as the breeze blows through the dining room window and carries their scentÂ across my face -Â and understandÂ whyÂ their colorÂ was so often referred toÂ inÂ folktalesÂ in a veryÂ mysterious, stimulatingÂ andÂ sensualÂ manner.
Although I've never met my grandmother - my father's mother diedÂ eight months after my brother and I were born - my father has been able to keep her memory alive with stories of her gentleness, soft-spoken manner and infinite patience.Â We were her first grandchildren and she proudly told anyone and everyone - within ear shot of her front gate or clothesline - that her "oonchies" (slang term for "uno-kam" meaning "my grandchildren) were coming to visit her, soon.
Two years later, my grandfather solemnly welcomedÂ his only son and immediately took him out onto the small apartment's balcony.
"What do you see?"
[following my grandfather's gaze]
"You know I'm not a superstitious man, don't you?"
[my grandfather continues]
"Well, what would you say if I told you that each and everyone of those pots of flowers were dead, last week.Â Have been for quite some time. Â And the day I got your telegram telling me that you were bringing me my grandchildren, they started to bloom?"
And as my father stood there, staring at the pots thick with blooms, he choked back the tears enough to answer myÂ grandfather:
"I'd say they are very red!"
So would I...Papa.Â