Archive | November, 2015

Shme the Hungarian refugee

18 Nov

I’ve been re-reading my Oma’s story a lot the past couple of days to remind myself who I am and where I come from.  If you think refugees shouldn’t be here, then you think I shouldn’t be here.  Maybe that’s hyperbole.  Maybe it’s not.  I’m a third-generation immigrant–my family (on my dad’s side) hasn’t been here very long.  My family came here in 1951, fleeing from their home after World War II.

 

So often over the years, I’ve thought to myself…”What could be so bad…so horrifying…that Eric and I (and potentially small children) would leave our home for something completely unknown…for a chance…leaving, of course, meaning that we might potentially not survive…that we were going to brave TERRIBLE circumstances to TRY to get out…but staying where we were was no longer an option…”

 

I can’t imagine that world.  But I know it exists.  Because that’s my history.  That’s my Oma’s story.  It might be easy to overlook if it’s not close to you–if you don’t know it–if you didn’t grow up hearing the stories.  But I did.  I heard them for as long as I can remember–they started out innocent enough as a little girl, but as I got older they got more complex, more detailed, more harrowing.  And so I’ve been reading and re-reading Oma’s story the past couple of days.  Remembering that my family lived through WWII in Europe, in Hungary.  That they were forced to become SS soldiers, buried themselves in secret floorboards to hide from soldiers on all sides of the war, picked body parts of loved ones up after bombs fell on their town, were persecuted post-war for being “German-nationality Hungarians,” lost EVERYTHING and were being forced to move, left Hungary in the middle of the night to go to a refugee camp in Austria, and luckily found a family to care for them in the US.  A family that set them up to create a better life for their family–for me.

 

When I read Oma’s words, what strikes me most is that nothing has changed.  We are older and allegedly wiser, but the way we act, the things we say…we are no better.  Who knows? Maybe we’re worse. They say history repeats itself and sometimes I really think that’s true.

 

I don’t know what the answer is to any of this.  I wish I did.  All I know is the truth in my Oma’s words.  And so I’ll let her speak.  Excerpts from her story, told to my cousin, who transcribed all of it so we’d have a written history and not just her stories (Thanks, Renate!).  It’s long (this is short compared to the 50-some pages that are actually written).  But it’s worth the read (in my obviously biased opinion).

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There were many air raids but no one was afraid of them until June 28, 1944. My step dad (Franz) and I were out working in the field getting grass feed for our animals when we heard the planes and then we saw them coming. We watched the planes for a while but kept right on working. This was a group of American planes. Then we watched as they circled our town three times. On the third pass the planes dropped seven bombs over the town.

 

We ran for home to see if we could help. We could barely see because of all the smoke. We could make out the church steeple. When we got back to town we heard that the bombs hit the convent, the church rectory and the building where I worked. Three people were killed and one died later.

 

Katharina Tigilman, Kathy’s godmother, was taking some bread dough to the baker to have him bake it when the bomb sirens went off. She sought shelter in the building that was the closest to her. As she ran into the building the bomb hit the building and she was killed. She left behind her two-year old little girl. After the all clear sounded, the soldiers roped off the area and started looking for survivors. By now the families were out looking for their people. Katharina’s family was asking everyone if they had seen her since she did not come home after the bombing. So now they too were looking for her. One soldier said he saw a young women run into the building. Since it was roped off and she was missing they let only the family go into the bombed out building and search for her. When they found her it was just body parts.

 

After the bombing all the town’s people started to dig shelters. Some were just holes in the ground and others were like a root cellar but not as deep. It was some place to take cover and to be ready for the next air raid and bombings.

 

Katharina did not like the shelter and she cried every time she had to go into it with us. My dad (Franz) finally said he would say in the house and take care of Kathy while the rest of us went into the shelter for cover. He told us should anything happen to him during the air raid, we would have to look out for ourselves.

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We could hear the shooting in the distance and we knew it was coming our way. The next thing we saw was the drummer coming and announcing that the front line is very close, if we want to leave do so now. Then he told us in what direction to go with the wagons. A few families did leave. We decided to stay. All day and all night long we could hear the shooting. The Russians were coming. To save some of our belongings we tried to hide things the best way we knew how. We buried some of our things under the haystack and some in holes in the ground, any place we could think of.

 

Theresia was home by now and was a big help. We had to take care of the animals before we could leave town. After that was done we went to the shelter to hide. Our grandmother was sick and we had to leave her at home. That night the Russians invaded our town. The German soldiers told such frightening stories of what the Russians would do to us. We were scared when we heard all the bad stories. We knew the Russians were on their way to our town and by night fall we could see the rockets going up in the sky. It was time to go into the shelter. We went to my aunt’s house, Katharina Frey. She had a shelter in her backyard, just a hole in the ground. It was very small and there were six of us that had to fit into the hole. In the shelter we all had to lie on our side very close together. There was no way we could move or stand after we were all in place. We were covered up from the outside by my grandmother Schneider. This is my mother’s mom. We were buried underground, all six of us, my aunt, Katharina Frey, my mother, my sister Theresia, two friends and myself.

 

The soldiers had reached my aunt’s house and we could hear them knocking on the door. They then entered the house and searched. They were looking for people who might be in the house. Not finding anyone in the house they left. From then on my cousins Emrich and Ferdinand Frey were our look outs. They would let us know when they saw any soldiers coming so we could run and hide. After two days of this hiding my mother had to go check on Grandma Glaub. She also had to feed the animals. This went on for two weeks. Then things settled down. By now we all looked like walking ghosts.

 

The Russian soldiers did rape and steal but they were not the only ones that stole. Some of our own town’s people did the same. They broke into stores and took what they could carry. I don’t know what makes honest people act like that.

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I began working in the hospital which the Russians set up in what used to be our kindergarten building. So many wounded men came through there. It was sickening to watch all the young and old men coming in. They all had such bad wounds. Worse than that was the clean up job. Sometimes I would get sick, but in time even that got better. You can get used to almost anything if you do it long enough. After the soldiers moved on to a different battlefield it was better working in the hospital.

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One day some men from far away came and checked out the houses in our area. They wanted to see which ones they would like to have. A week later they brought their family along with all their belongings. They were ready to move into our house.

 

That day we received notice to move out of our house. They gave us two hours to pack up what we could and move out. It was a good thing that Mathias came home the week before so we had a man around to help us pack up our belongings and leave.

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The happiness did not last too long. In February 1948 we heard that the communist government will be picking up the German people and taking them to East Germany. Our name was on that list to be sent to East Germany. We did not want to go to East Germany. East Germany was a communistic country, just as bad as Russia.

 

Again we sold as much as we could and packed up the rest of our belongings. This time we paid a truck driver to take us to the Austrian border. There was Mathias, the children, my parents, my little sister Rosa, and me, all together seven of us. We were getting out of Hungary to freedom. This move was hard on all of us. The children were young. Kathy was five and Hansi was 6 ½ months old.

 

We left at night on a national holiday, March 15, 1948, hoping that everyone was busy and they would not miss us until the next day. We asked the nearest neighbor to tell the police that we left, but to wait two days before reporting it to them.

 

We knew where we wanted to go in Austria. We were finally on our way to Austria to join my aunt and her family. That spring many more families were sent to East Germany. This was our last chance to get to Austria and to freedom.

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We had no beds. We were given an area in the room that we could us. There was straw put on the floor and that is what everyone was sleeping on. We were too tired to care. There were some people who pushed and crowded trying to get more space for themselves. We had nothing. We had each other and we were safe. We were happy to be inside a building to sleep.

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We were making a new start again. It seemed like that was all we were ever doing. After we were settled in this new place my uncle asked us to take my grandmother Schneider to live with us. He did not want her or have to be responsible for her. Grandma Schneider came to live with us and we loved having her. When I found a job in the lumberyard and saw mill, it was grandma who took care of the children. My grandmother was a petite woman and a very hard worker. Mathias was able to put her on his health insurance.

 

A few weeks after grandmother moved in with us, uncle and his family applied to go to Germany in the French zone. Their moving did not upset us at all. We were safe and we had jobs. We did not hear from them for a long time and we had no way of knowing how they were doing. With them gone we had more space for ourselves. There were still nine of us in the one room. Now we had money, but we could not buy anything in the stores; too many people and not enough supplies. We were given ration stamps to buy food, but the lines were so long that by the time you got in the store there was no more food. There were times we bought bread on the black market.

 

My grandmother was always finding things that we could use. She found the square sardine cans, the ones 6 x 6 x 1½. She cleaned and scrubbed the cans until they were shiny. Now we each had a bowl to eat from. She was always looking and always finding things.

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In 1950 people started to register to immigrate to Canada, Australia, South America or U.S.A. These countries opened their borders and let some refugees in. We also registered. We did not care which country we would be sent to as long as we were all together. We were always looking to make a better life for ourselves and for our children. It took a long time for them to process our papers. There were so many people before us. Because of this, we could not report to the immigration office until the early part of 1951. They told us we would be going to America.

 

Our papers were started and we had to go for physicals. We needed so many shots for diseases we never heard of. This was a difficult time for us. So much coming and going; always such a long day for us and the children. It was just the four of us going to America. We were told that our parents and Rosa would follow at a later date. We said goodbye to the family that was left behind and started on our long journey to America. This time the good byes were harder on all of us. Theresia and Stefan were married and would not follow. They will stay in Austria and we might never see them again.

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The next morning we received our papers so we could leave the ship and I hope the last time we have to stand in line for anything. We made it to solid ground. We made it to America. We were waiting for someone to tell us what to do next when we heard a lady call out our name. She spoke Hungarian. She gave us $20 and brought some grapes for the children. She took us to a bench and told us to wait. Someone will get back to us. We were supposed to go to Fort Wayne, Indiana, but the farmer in Indiana had taken another family and could not take us. They had to find another place for us to go.

 

We were hungry and started looking for some place to eat. We found a diner, but we could not speak English. The man must have known we were foreigners. He mentioned sauerkraut and sausage. That was our first meal in America. By the time we got back to the bench they had found a place for us. They told us there were two farmers in Florence, Alabama, and they would take all of us. There were three more families going with us to Florence, Alabama.

 

We were put on the train. We were now on our way to Florence, Alabama. None of us knew where that was or how much farther we had to go before we would get there. It was a long train ride and none of us could speak English. They said we would have to change trains in Washington, D.C. The conductor was told which train to put us on once we reached D.C.

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God selected a good family to take us in and guide us in our new country. Mr. and Mrs. Locker were very nice people and they treated us well. Mrs. Locker welcomed us into their house when we first arrived. She made little appetizers for us; we had no idea what it was. We never had food like that. We did eat the crackers. It was nice of her to think about us and to take the time to make something for us to eat. They were both very friendly people. He had a little house ready for us to move in and it even had some furniture and food. I’m sure it was Mrs. Locker’s doing. We understood each other a little and he was patient with us. The workers were mostly black people and they too were all very nice to us.

 

It was time to start all over again. But this time we were free and that was a good feeling.

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My Oma and Grandpa worked for Mr. and Mrs. Locker on their Alabama farm for 2 years paying off their debt.  The farmer and his wife taught my grandparents some English, gave them a safe place to live and a job, helped my Grandpa get his driver’s license, made sure my aunt went to school, and even paid for their entire trip over.  Years later, a friend told them that they should’ve received a bill from Catholic Charities for their boat trip over–they never did because the Lockers footed that bill for them.  I find myself more and more driven to find the Lockers and thank them for what they did for my family.  To pay it forward.  A major reason why language always fascinated me was growing up hearing German all the time with my grandparents–learning to sing German songs and dancing at the German Club (Club Lorelei in Buffalo).  I knew ESOL would be a good fit for me, but when I look at my little babies, even when they’re driving me crazy, I remember Oma…I remember what my family went through…the least I can do is take care of this next generation of immigrant children.  Give them the chance that my family had.  Help them through such a difficult change.

One of my favorite parts of the whole story is this paragraph:

“In 1956 we became American citizens and we are proud to be Americans. The people were all good to us and helped us on our way. Oh yes, we did have to pay taxes just like all the people. Some people thought immigrants did not pay taxes.”

In Hungary...

In Hungary…

oma1

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follow up on body image

12 Nov

After I posted this blog about body image, I kept thinking…

Eric had commented and posted a bunch of pictures and said that he would pick me (and did) every time.  And it was very sweet, but the thing is…

No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter what your body type, you can find someone who is “into that.”  Someone will love you for how you look…even if YOU perceive that look as flawed in some way.  What other people think is so completely and utterly unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  No one else has to live inside your body, with your thoughts.

So what IS important is that YOU love yourself.  Because you can’t wait around for someone else to love you.  YOU need to love you.  And anyone else loving you is just icing on the cake.

 

love

Mendon 50k

8 Nov

I registered for Mendon in a moment of “I’m-such-a-badass, training-for-Virgil-is-going-so-well, this-is-the-most-logical-thing-to-do-next” illogical moment.  It seemed like a great idea before Virgil–I was prepped better than I’d ever been–but recovery from Virgil took (is taking?) longer than I could have anticipated.  In my head, 6 weeks seemed like a perfectly normal amount of time between races–2 weeks for recovery, 2 weeks of training, 2 weeks of tapering.  In reality, I think I maybe trained for 1 week, and it was lack-luster at best.  I was tired, my legs were leaden, and I just didn’t feel like running.  Last week, I kept thinking about how if I could go back in time and do it over again, I’d have never registered for this race.  I considered dropping, but then figured I needed to finish what I started and also see what I was capable of.

So leading up to the race, I tried to muster up as much excitement as I could, but it was hard.  In my head, I kept thinking about how 50k is nothing compared to 50 miles.  But then I would really think about it and realize that 50k is a long ass way to go, particularly on tired/undertrained legs.  Even now, I keep wavering between being excited/proud of 50k and feeling like it is really not that big a deal–not sure how I got to the point where I could question whether 31 miles is a big deal or not…  I tried my best to keep visualizing feeling strong on the course, remembering how great I felt at Virgil, thinking about how strong I was that day and knowing that strength doesn’t just go away.  I knew I’d be faster than I was last year, so it was just a matter of how much faster.

On race morning, I got up, took a shower, ate half a peanut butter bagel and packed a cooler of tailwind, electrolyte tabs, skittles and fruit rollups.  Eric packed a tent, table and beer cooler.  Then we were on our way.  We got  to the race, set up the tent and organized my stuff, hung out with some people pre-race, and before I knew it, we were off.

Loop One:  Flying  ~1:08:00

I started pretty far in the back, and in my head I kept wondering how that was possible, because I felt like I was moving so fast.  I kept looking around me, thinking about whether all of these people were going to be able to hold this kind of pace for the remainder of the race.  In my head, I knew that they likely wouldn’t–this always happens in races, where people go out too hard.  I tried to keep an even pace and run my own race, and not even halfway through this loop, I started quickly passing people. I was feeling great and really pushing myself, and around the end of the loop, I knew I couldn’t maintain this pace for too long, but I also knew that I didn’t need to slow down TOO much.   I cruised into the aid station, switched out tailwind and grabbed a fruit roll up for the road.

Loop Two: You’re What the French Call “Les incompetent” ~1:10:00

I ended up hiking up the stupid grass hill to the woods, which pissed me off, but I knew I needed to be smarter this loop about my pace and run smart (and I hate that freaking hill).  I was already starting to get tired, and it was so early in the race for that nonsense.  As I started running, I spotted a red shirt in the distance and made it my goal to catch whoever that was.  My other goal for this loop was not to get caught by the 10k, 20k and 30k runners who were starting about 20 minutes after I left the aid station.

I caught the red shirt, who was with another red shirt and a blue one.  They were all together and I kept trying to understand what they were saying.  At first I thought I was losing my mind, then I realized they were chatting in French.  For some reason, I heard the line from Home Alone, when Kevin’s sister says, “Kevin, you’re what the French call les incompetent.”  I have no idea how to spell that or really even how to say it aloud, but it just kept going through my head the rest of the run, and I’ve included it here for your viewing pleasure.  I kept chuckling to myself about it.  I would catch the “Frenchies” on the downs or flats (limited haha) but they’d lose me on the uphills.  I decided I just needed to try to stay with them as best as I could, because we were all on pace for a sub 6 finish, which had been my A goal leading into the race (solely because I thought it would be cool to say I took an hour off my time–in my head I knew that running that fast was unlikely).  People started to pass me from the shorter races (they started at 9:30, an hour and a half after the 50k-ers) in the last mile…I was proud that I’d held them off for that long, and I knew I was going to start to get passed by people I knew, which would be cool.  There were also a TON of people on the course cheering, which was cool–seeing familiar faces is always a good feeling and it helped take my mind of what was happening to my body.

Loop 3:  Let the Death March Begin ~1:17

I was already slowing down, but still thought a sub-6 might be possible at the start of the loop.  But somewhere during this loop, I started feeling bad.  Really bad. Worse than ever before bad.  Everything was hurting me, screaming at me to stop.  I was getting cramps (non-running ones), my legs felt heavy, and my back was starting to hurt.  I toyed with quitting…not even finishing the loop but calling to ask for someone to come get me on the road.  The curse of knowing a course well is knowing where bail out points are, I guess.  I kept thinking about how this had been a stupid idea, how I had nothing to prove to anyone, so why keep running when it was sucking so much to run.  I got in my own head, which looking back pisses me off.  Had I been able to shake that off, I wonder if I’d have been ok.  I also think running solo made it really tough (I got on an island somewhere during the end of the first loop and aside from the Frenchies, stayed that way for most of the rest of the race).  Mid-loop 3, I passed the French guys, who seemed to be struggling pretty badly.  I was getting passed by some of our friends doing the shorter races at this point, so it was nice to see them and chat briefly as they blew by.  When Jen saw me, she commented about how well I was running and how fast I was going to finish and I told her then that I was going to run a 6:15.  I came into the aid station and did not stay long because I knew that I wanted to just sit down and quit, so I grabbed fresh bottles and a fruit roll up and cruised on out.

Loop 4:  Remember the Alamo??? ~1:2X:00??

At this point, I realized I had about 2:25ish to do my final 2 loops.  This was not enough time for a sub-6, but then I kept thinking of last year, when I thought a sub-7 was impossible, but then 2 miles into my final loop with Angie something clicked on inside my brain and we flew through the rest of the race to come in at 6:57 or something like that.  I started to hold onto that thought, and then “remember the Alamo” popped into my head, the Alamo, of course, being the last loop last year haha.  The things I think about while running long and alone are ridiculous I swear.  Anyway, the rest of the loop became “remember the Alamo” over and over again.  This loop, I was really alone for most of the time, which sucked.  A few people passed by me, including the eventual 50k winner.  I remember telling him I hated him because he was on his last loop already haha.  I tried to keep up a decent pace, but I felt so awful.  I have never had to dig so deep in a race to keep my body moving, and it sucked. Towards the end of the loop, I managed to trip over nothing–I rolled two full times before stopping.  This would be the beginning of many other near-falls, signaling to me that I was, in fact, really tired and pretty done with the focus that this race required.  I needed to just finish.

Loop 5:  Just Finish ~1:2X:00??

I pushed as hard as I could this loop, but I had nothing left.  My body was hurting, and I started feeling kind of pukey.  My asthma was acting up the whole race, and there were a couple of points in this loop that I got really nervous that I was going to have a full blown asthma attack.  But I love that in loop 5, you can say adios to all the shitty climbs–last year I remember telling myself after each one that I never had to do them again if I didn’t want to, and that was a liberating thought this year, too.  Kitty Litter Hill (Post-Meadow Speed Bump as some call it) can suck it.

I came into the aid station 3.5 miles into the loop and Welden was there.  I grabbed a cup of Mountain Dew, took a huge swig and…spit it all out.  It was not Dew…it was pickle juice.  I wanted to puke.  I grabbed some flattened coke and drank.  *shudder* I was thisclose to consuming pickle.  Nasty.  I kept going and eventually caught up to Miranda and her crew.  We chatted for a bit, then I kept going, wanting nothing more than to finish. I I kept looking at my watch and realizing that my prediction of 6:15 was going to be spot on.  That was pretty funny.  At first I was disappointed, but then I realized that it was still a huge PR and a great time on a not-so-easy course. I crossed the road, told the guy who had been there ALL day (the vollies were AWESOME, even that one who tried to kill me with pickle juice) that I was sure glad I didn’t have to see him anymore.  He gave me a high five, I high fived Dan, and then I ran down the hill and through the finishing chute to my #TrailsRoc family. Sure enough, I crossed the finish line in 6:15:21 (by my watch).

Final Thoughts on the 2015 Mendon 50K:

Someone please remind me next year when I start looking at this race that I don’t particularly like the course–the loops are tough mentally and it does not play well to my strengths as a runner.  I feel like you are always climbing, with just enough time between climbs to get a recovery flat or down before you go up again.

On the flip side, it’s a local home-grown race that is uber-cheap, well-run (great job, Brian!) and a nice challenge.

I am a little disappointed that my splits weren’t closer together.  I guess I ran a traditional Mendon 50k (I feel like most people slow way down toward the end of the race).  For a brief moment, I wondered if I just went out too hard, which I had a tendency to do in road races back in the day.  However, I think no matter how I ran the first two loops, I was going to be a mess for the last 3…so I’m glad I gave it everything and then was able to just hold on at the end.

I am also disappointed with the way I fell apart mentally in Loops 3 and 4 (and 5, too, I guess).  That being said, I’ve asked my body for a lot this year, so I can’t be too disappointed I suppose.  I would have loved to have been closer to 6 hours, but an almost 45 minute PR is huge.  I’ll take that all day, especially racing so close to Virgil and feeling like death for the entire second half of the run.  I have never had to dig that deep in any race, which is something I am very proud of.  I could have quit any number of times, and believe me I wanted to.  But I forced myself to see it through.

Last year I said never again.  I ran again this year.  This year I said never again.  We’ll see what next year brings.

Final Thoughts

Pinch me.  I can’t believe any of this is real, that this awesome, epic running has been happening to me Shme ran a 50 miler??? On mountains???? Shme ran Mendon in a 45 minute PR????  Starting this past spring/summer, I really worked pretty hard.  Definitely harder than I ever have before.   It’s nothing anyone else doesn’t/can’t do–it’s all just building mileage appropriately and then finishing what you started.  Ultra is way more mental than anything else–even when you are feeling bad, you can push yourself through to finish it up. I realize that now.  But if you’d have asked me last fall if I had what it takes to do this stuff, I’d have been wishy-washy at best.  After this fall, I’m not sure there’s anything running-wise that I couldn’t do if I didn’t decide I wanted to do it and buckle down to get ‘er done.  That’s exciting–not to be afraid of races or challenges.

I’ve spent the past few months being really hard on my body (and the months before that being hard on it in a medical way)–I have not necessarily been taking the best care of myself, which is weird to say since I’ve been training hard and running some great races.  Work is super stressful this year.  I’ve asked myself for a lot of really hard miles (80 miles of racing alone in 2 months…that’s no joke).  I’ve not been eating the best, and I’ve been drinking likely more than I really should.  So moving forward, I’m ready to “clean it up.”  We’ve been working very hard to eliminate stressful, toxic situations in our life.  I am trying to find ways to be less stressed about work.  This next month, I’m not following a training plan of any kind for the first time since March–run when I feel like it, no pressure to hit certain mileage or elevation.  Just running for fun and for recovery.  I want to ride my bike more, hike a ton, snowshoe when that time comes (sigh) and do more lifting.  The past couple of weeks, I’ve been much better about cooking and eating healthier, and I want to continue that, along with cutting back on the alcohol and drinking more water.  Ultimately, I want to take November and December to get back to a good place mentally and physically, so that I’m ready for 2016 and whatever new adventures it has in store.