Dear Gram Hruska hailed from Budapest, Hungary, by way of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and delicately brushed with Bohemian.
She was wiry, strong, but incredibly fragile emotionally.
She offered a delightful remark when compliments found their mark in her. She would proclaim “Not so extra”,
I wish I had spent more time with her. She passed away when I was in High School. I last saw her when I was fifteen, selfish, stupid and self-absorbed.
Gram’s “not so extra” stabilizes me in times of unexpected attacks of flattery. I proclaim “not so extra”, and the billowing clouds of facetiously wicked ego are punctured, and I am safely grounded.
What was “so extra” for Gram? What spurred her through her incredible thoughtfulness for others?
She lost three sons in WWII, and I still remember her grim, unforgiving hatred of then General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
She would show me her special boys’ Purple Hearts – let me hold them as she wept, keening over private memories where things were so extra for her.
When feasting on her golden Chicken Paprikash, this sumptuous marriage of fried chicken bathed in sour cream and sweet Hungarian Paprika – compliments flung in her direction elicited multiple, but sometimes half-hearted “not so extras”.
But I would see a wee smile hovering around her lower lip.
These were extra special times.
I went to the Lutheran Church with Gram, in her dark polka-dot “going out” dress, hat perched atop her braided bun, and army shoes holding her feet hostage. I would love to think she inspired me to Godly living.
No. Gram was a kleptomaniac.
Not so extra.
Gram adopted her sister’s family when her sister died, opening her heart and her home.
She went the extra mile indeed.
I remember her teaching me how to tidy up the living room. Plucking floor debris from the bristles of the carpet sweeper before and after treating the rugs and floors – not so extra but oh so necessary. Thumping the cushions on the old blue horsehair sofa produced a surprising amount of cough-producing dust.
What did I learn about Jesus from Gram? Courage, fortitude, love of family, love of His gardens – but on a platonic level. Being a completely self-absorbed play-oriented child, I was not questing for nor questioning about God.
All I knew about religion at nine years old, was that we were never to tell our other Gram, Mom’s Mother that we were not Jewish. Gram Patterson highly suspected, calling us shiksas. I wish I had shuffled in her slippers for understanding why life was merrier playing cards, rummy and pinochle, chatting wittily in Yiddish and roaring with laughter and friends . . .
Another story for another time.
We were raised as fairly lukewarm Methodists, occasionally attending services and participating as “Rainbow Girls”. I won a beautiful wooden plaque of Jesus, having invited the most people to church. That and the fact that I clung to a crucifix I found in our yard. I needed so much more.
Not so extra.
How I wish I could thrill you with stories of my walk with Jesus as a child. I only know I was baptized at least four times, for sins committed in ignorance.
Not so extra.
Gram Hruska loved her gardens. Her huge wood dining table was covered with unforgettable bounty, groaning under the weight.
She had a wicked sense of biting humor, tempered by her grief over the loss of three of her sons.
She lost her fourth son, my Daddy to drunken folly with a freight train. After Mom remarried, Gram lost us all when Dad moved us from Cleveland, Ohio to San Diego, California in 1953.
Poor Gram ran out of all her extras by then.
When I last saw her, I was astounded that her now iron grey hair barely came up to my chest. But, by golly, she had Chicken Paprikash bubbling on the basement stove.
That was beyond extra.
I wish we had talked about Jesus. I so wish that she had found comfort and the capacity for forgiveness for the loss of her boys. She was the epitome of good womanhood.
But she was tragically, grievously lost. When we moved to California, life seemed to have lost meaning for Gram. Barb and I were her only grandchildren.
Breaking her heart – and mine.
Mom made us faithfully write letters. “Dearest Gram, the weather is nice. I miss you. I love you. The end”.
Not so extra.
I miss you muchly, sweet Gram . . .
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