Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lena is now 83 years old, her birthday was February 15th. History fascinates me, and senior citizens come by that knowledge obviously by having lived long enough to be a part of it. Lena was born in Mucsi, Hungary Every weekend I go pick her and her daughter (who is mentally ill and young in the mind) and every weekend Lena talks about her brother Nikolas who died in the war (WWII). She tells me about her cousins and older sisters who were forced to go work in the mines in Russia and how a couple of her cousins died in the mines.

She was "too young yet" as she puts it. "What did I know of Hitler? I had no radio. No TV. We didn't even have electricity!" Lena came to America to live with her aunt in 1949. She worked in a book bindery for awhile, supplementing this with various odd jobs, mainly house-keeping and food service. Lena was wooed by a man with the last name of Wagner (first name, unsure) and with him she bore two children--daughters. She described Wagner as a drunk. "Every chance he got, he excused himself to the bathroom. I didn't know it at the time, he was secretly drinking." She ended up divorcing him because he had become a full-blown alcoholic.

She took her two daughters and ran back to Germany. But the laws there were more in favor of the father than they are the mother, so Lena decided after a time, to come back to America so that Wagner could not take her daughters away from her. But Wagner died from what I can only assume could be complications from alcoholism within a couple years after their divorce. "I was not a homely girl! But I was alone and desperate. I thought he loved me and I thought that I loved him. Whoever said life was easy? Ah yeah..."

Lena then met a man by the name of George Gommermann. He is her first cousin from Mucsi. He and Lena married and had a daughter, Lynn (whom I also spend time with on the weekends). When Lynn turned 16, George succumbed to a fatal heart attack. Or least, that is assumed because Lena could not afford the autopsy report. "Seven-hundred dollars, they wanted. I told them, what does it matter? He's already dead. I'll pass."

So for thirty some-odd years, Lena has been "on her own". She used to live in Milwaukee, when she first moved here to America and while married to Wagner but when she married George, he moved the family to Brookfield. The house was modest but roomy enough for three girls, a wife and himself. "When we moved here, there were five of us. Now there is only me..."

She speaks to me in German often and tries to also teach me Hungarian, to which, when I try to speak either language (or read aloud her mail from Germany) she chuckles and says, "You need more schooling!" It is good for a laugh. Her favorite thing to do is play cards, "Sheep's Head". It is a gambling game and she plays for pennies.

Lena has Macular Degeneration, a medical condition which usually affects older adults that results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field and can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. She also has a touch of dementia, albeit it is very slight. Mostly, she is simply forgetful.

We go every weekend to Schoenstatt, which is a religious retreat nestled in the rolling countryside of Delafield Wisconsin. She has been visiting the sisterhood for over forty years. Every Sunday, she goes to church--"I was born Catholic and I'll die Catholic." and after every service, we go out to eat and enjoy each others' company over coffee, chicken dumpling soup, and cheesecake.

Why more people don't go spend time with the elderly is beyond me. Lena has enriched my life. She isn't the first, for sure, and she won't be the last--I will not ever forget her.

Lieber Magdalena, you are one of the hidden treasures of history.


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