For Mothers Day: The profound impact that my grandmother, Nanuka, has had on my life. From August 2015, 89th birthday tribute.
Whenever I sit down to write something intended for an audience other than myself, a stereo of inner critics tries to stop me. This is too long, cliche, boring, scattered, you’re wasting your time, and so on. Thus in order to proceed without caution, I must first take control of my thoughts and turn the stereo on mute. I suppose this will be an exercise I will have to practice as long as I write, and since the only foreseeable frontal lobe forecast right now is a relentless word rain, it could be a long time. But despite all the chatter, there is one track on that stereo that actually deserves attention, and I turn it up. Ringing loudly and clearer than the rest, that voice is Nanuka’s…
I think back to being 11 years old. While a bit gangly and uncoordinated, I was also almost always cheerful. But on one particular scoreless basketball game day, I opted to play the role of the stereotypical moody preteen instead. My teammates offered a few comforting platitudes. “Don’t worry, you’ll score next time!” they said with false assuredness.
But Nanuka neither grew up in American sports culture nor cared much about whether I would ‘score next time.’ She did want me to be happy, but she also had perspective. She saw the Burgess Menlo Park league of intensive sports and helicopter parents, or whatever it was called, for exactly what it was; 6th-grade basketball. So instead, she told me not to worry, because even if I didn’t score a basket, I could write fun stories, and she said “If zer ver an Olympics for verds you vould vin.” At the time I considered this comment an insult, because I thought that creative pursuits were for the unathletic and the uncool. “I wrote stories when I was little,” I said, in my grown up 11-year-old voice, “but not anymore.” Truly, at the time, I did not care about writing, because belonging was more important than any of my fairy tale rewrites. But sometimes, the grandmother who observes objectively, and speaks her unfiltered opinion, knows best.
Fast forward and I was now a double dozen years old, dabbling in writing again, and sending the family an occasional fun email. By this point I had figured out that Nanuka was actually a romantic, so I could tell her anything and the more dramatic the better. She chipped in with her own stories, about how many years ago they would go dancing until “’round about 3:30 in the morning,” refilling coffee and feeling “so much energized.” She especially emphasized that “in those days, zer vas no such sing as decaf.” Together, waist deep in walnut shards, Nanuka heard bits and pieces of my quarter life complaints of crippling self-doubt as we made palacsinta pancakes. She did not accept my self-pity for long however, and thought instead to interrupt me. “You are so clever, and wary vity too” and then she paused and said something that this time I chose to take seriously. “Never give up zee writing.” I stopped in my tracks at hearing the earnestness behind her request. She said this almost as if it were a command. Or almost, as if somehow, even though I rarely talked about it, she telepathically knew. She knew writing was still a passion, and that while publically releasing it scared me, the alternative of shying away, was far more frightening…
One day I would like to write material that people can relate to, laugh about, or discuss. If an article goes viral, then great; but that’s not my motive. Even if that never happens, and even if everyone scrolls right through the facebook link to read more a compelling article in Relevant magazine, I know I will have at least one reader.
She will be a great critic. With a razor sharp memory that surpasses my own, she will surely illuminate the plot inconsistencies in the family stories. And she will also probably chuckle at the overly complicated relationship manifestos, regardless of how ridiculous 21st century dating must seem to her.
It’s possible that Nanuka wakes up every day completely satisfied with the first 88 something years of her life. But I’m not sure. It’s also possible that Nanuka may feel as though she never really changed the world in a big way. She never finished high school, and education was of utmost importance to her. But either way, I want her to know, that she absolutely did change the world, one grandchild at a time.
Sometimes I catch myself afraid to take risks. Perhaps it’s confronting a person, starting a blog, or trying to preserve a self-image that’s already imperfect. But then I think about her; I think about the risks she took in her life to stay alive and persist under all circumstances.
It can be easy live as though earth exists merely for our entertainment, and like the currency of our time is cheap. But even in the bleakest of circumstances, Nanuka clung to life and hope with the same tenacity with which she holds your hand on an evening walk. That is to say, if she could squeeze every last drop of death out of the death grip, she would. She and her family took a risk in fleeing their much-loved homeland, and she is undeniably still nostalgic today. It was scary as and they traveled by night, sometimes forgoing food and often comfort. They hid in basements praying as bombs blasted outside. But she didn’t just survive, she thrived. She managed to marry another Hungarian (a feat in itself while in Canada), have a family, and nourish her grand and great-grandchildren with stacks of palacsinta pancakes and meatloaf.
Today Nanuka is well and cognitively sharp. But she is also old, and life is fragile, as we are all but a vapor in the wind here in the spectrum of eternity. So whether it’s in 1 year, or 15, before she goes, I need her to know something.
Thank you for not only telling me, but showing me how to never give up. I will strive to be the millennial that leaps from the laurels of my ancestors rather than rests on them. There are times my skin appears to be as thin as yours. However, if fear is what stands between me and action for change, the only way I know how to make a laurel into a launch pad of lilies to leap from, is through taking risks, and following dreams and callings. And so my dear Nanuka, even if you are the only reader, you are completely, 100% worth it.
Her next day Reply:
My Dearest Chrissa
I am still under the spell of your gracious tribute, I read it last night and this morning again. Chrissa just going back again when you were in the 6th grade and you could not throw the ball in the basket… Sports have a short lifespan, but your interest in writing not only showed then, it is with you at the present time and I believe strongly it will never leave you. All your ideas and thoughts for writings are deeply embedded in your brain, till one day you will come out and share them with the big public. Do not hold back Chrissa. You have a great vocabulary, and this your treasure house. Chrissa you do not have to go treasure hunting, you already have it. Use it wisely.
Thank you again for this beautiful birthday greeting,
With ALL MY LOVE,