I was born and raised in the north-west suburbs of Detroit in the early 1960’s. My father immigrated from Baghdad,Iraq and worked as a civil engineer for Ford Motor Co. He met my mother, the oldest child of Hungarian immigrants, while she was working as a store clerk in Detroit. The clashing of their diverse cultures created an overwhelming and interesting childhood.
I was born extremely sensitive. I rarely made a sound, and didn’t like noise. Noises and people were overwhelming to me. I would always hide in my room, or sometimes in our cedar closet and find reasons to not have to go anywhere. It was just easier, safer and quieter. I would not find out until my early 20’s that what I was experiencing was an incredibly refined sense of intuition, clairvoyance, mediumship, and empathic qualities. I knew this because my grandmother Yulishka and Aunt Anita had these gifts too. It would come to be something that would bring us even closer.
My place of refuge, peace and total security was in my grandmother Yulishka’s house. It was a soothing balm of enchantment, luxury, and incredibly good Hungarian food.
The fragrance in my grandparent’s home was of woodsy apple pipe tobacco, dried eucalyptus, old newspapers, buttery baked Hungarian pastries, fermenting dough pickles, and chicken soup. The combination of these things would literally act as a narcotic, and usually cause you to nod off into a thick pile of silky Hungarian goose down comforters which were piled high on the couch. That nest was so deep that all you could hear was muffled Hungarian and grandmother banging her worn, wooden spoon on a soup pot. Hungarian was spoken freely between my mother and grandparents. It seemed so musical and jovial to me. Sometimes, grandfather would get out his violin and stiffly sway from side to side while he played spirited old gypsy songs. Grandmother had hearing loss, so her rotary phone had to be wired into a large amplifier on the wall. When the phone rang, it rocked the whole house.
Their home was a mix of fine, gilded Viennese opulence, Louis XIV, and smoothly worn Early American woods. Reminders of the post depression era were scattered everywhere.
Tubs of used-up bar soap pieces sat in the basement next to large galvanized buckets of home-grown garlic. Barrel sized, foaming glass bottles of her dandelion wine perfumed the garage. This clashed with grandmother’s high-end Bonwit Teller dresses, Oscar De La Renta perfume, Gucci bags, and hat boxes in her closet. As a young woman, she had worked cleaning the homes of famous Hollywood movie stars, and because of that she always painted her fingernails, and dressed glamorously. We were made to feel pampered and comfortable in her fairy tale home.
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has been the most influential aspect of my life. Her unpretentious, bubbly and joyful presence, along with the twinkly light of her always smiling, grey-blue eyes would make me feel incredibly loved, safe, and tickled with happiness. She was quick to make jokes, calling herself, “…a big old baboon...”, or “…a fuzzy headed, dancing monkey.. .” This always sent me spiraling into excruciating belly laughs right along with her. What I loved most was that she always had a batch of freshly baked cookies for us when we would visit.
I miss her so deeply that my heart often feels like it’s split wide open. Her love and consistent guidance has navigated me past the dark and rocky areas of my life. Even now, as I make the tropical paradise of Florida my new home, she’s there with me in this warm land of orange blossoms, laughter, white beaches and eternal sunshine.
Her voice is always there, nudging and guiding me along my way, right beside me as I pour my tea. She visits me each and every night, in my dreams for years now since her passing. We sit at her kitchen table and just talk. Others who have passed are there too, usually enjoying a Torte cake and a celebration of some sort. When the wee hours of the morning come, she begs me to stay, saying, “It’s too late for you to leave, you should stay here.” Regrettably, I always must leave.
I want to live my life positively and beautifully, surrounded in love, color, twinkly lights, and offering my gifts of art, vision, love and cookies to the world, just as she did. She always used to say, “No matter how hard things get, tomorrow is a new day.” Truly words that are needed in each of our lives.
We can all do something wonderful today. The easiest thing is to simply offer someone a smile, coming from the love in your heart. Let’s all just be nice to each other, pour some tea and share cookies while we all walk each other home.