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A Kinder, Gentler and Colorful Kind of Immigrant

Mama and papa talk about 56 revolution

My 10 year-old son's class celebrated Heritage Day, last week.

"This is my Mama and Papa and they escaped Hungary in 1956 and they're gonna talk to you about immigration."

I asked my parents if they would be interested in speaking to the children about their experiences.  My father did something similar for my middle daughter's girl scout troop on International Day a few years ago.  Still.  This time, he'd be speaking to a much larger group of kids (2 of the 4th grade classes, combined) so, my mother agreed to tag along, for moral support.

"What was the most scariest thing that happened to you?"

My father has a colorful way of manipulating the English language and is very rarely known to be at a loss for words.

Mama and papa heritage day

" zee...vhut you keeds don't know iz...I mean...eeet iz harrrd forrr me...forrr us..."

My father's eyes began to glaze over, as he tried to speak, but I could see that he was getting all choked up and having trouble finding "the right words" and a few of the children giggled as he visibly began to shake.

"What Mr. K. means is, staying alive was scary."

I nearly dropped my camera and I almost didn't recognize my mother's voice.  You see, she is the ying to my father's yang and, after nearly 46 years of marriage, Anyu is very comfortable with quietly observing from the back.  Not this day, however.

"I was only 14 and can still remember the sound of the tanks rolling into town, late that night."

Heritage day 

The rest of the parents and teachers seemed to be very engrossed in what my parents had to say, but the's almost summer and, well, they're kids.

Glen on heritage day 

Though, I tried to take my son's picture and he turned his head to shush someone right before I clicked.

"How many of you have ever gone hiking?"

A couple of kids jumped -- I guess they didn't see me quietly standing way in the back -- and then many of them quickly raised their hands.

"How many of you go hiking in a forest?"

Less hands.

"At night?"

A couple of hands go up.

"Without a flashlight."


"Okay, how many of you guys have gone hiking, in a forest, at night, without a flashlight, a coat, or shoes, in December?"

This time, even Survivor Man's son had to put his hand down and, now that I had their attention, I quickly told the kids the stories about the shoes.

"Did you have a machine gun?"

And then I started to think that perhaps this wasn't such a great idea, after all.

"No, I didn't, but the Freedom Fighters did and all we wanted to do was get to the Austrian border where it was safe."

Apu entering america  

My mother needed a moment, so I passed around my father's immigration papers issued in Salzburg (many mentions of the Sound of Music made, here) which gained him admittance into the U.S.

"Why did you pick America?"

For my father, it was because he loved going to the theater and watching American movies, in particular, old westerns, about cowboys and how they roamed the wide open ranges, free and without any borders, or papers.  Also, the Andrew Sisters always looked so, you know, happy.

For my mom?

"Because, it was far away from Russia."

Then, she went on about how the authorities separated my mother and her sister (who was only 4 years-old, at the time) from her mother, because my grandmother failed the physical examinations.

"I was only 14 years-old at the time and so scared that we wouldn't see our mother, again!"

Then, the bell rang.

"Would your parents mind moving over to our classroom and staying a little longer?"

Glen's teacher canceled the rest of her lesson plans for the day and I was surprised to see that the other 4th grade teacher did the same.

"Pssst...we have to go to gym, now..."

An hour later, my parents were exhausted, but in a therapeutic sort of way (if that makes any sense?) even if the kids didn't get most of what was being said.

The rest of us grown ups?

"We've had Heritage Day for the last 8 years and this, by far, is the best one, yet!"

Well, there wasn't a dry eye in the classroom.

"Liz...all those years of baseball ...who knew your life was so colorful?"

And the kids?

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Katkics,

Thank you for coming and telling us how hard immigration was because I thought it was easy to go through.  I liked the pictures you showed us because they were old, nice and interesting.

I have a whole pile of Thank You notes, just like that one, to give to my parents, when they visit for Hopey's birthday tomorrow, including this one:

Thank you for coming and explaining how difficult your journey was when you came here.  I hope the rest of your lives aren't difficult like the old days.  Stay out of trouble.

Yeah, I think they got it.


I'm still pretty much hoping for the same thing, too.

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