Wednesday, January 15, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #2 - Loving Someone I've Never Met

Amy Johnson Crow from NoStoryTooSmall is setting up a challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
52 Ancestors in 52 WeeksThe challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor. Not only should this get me blogging more, but also to take a deeper look at some of the people in my family tree.

How can someone you never met have an impact on you (other than the obvious physical contribution of advancing the family line)?  My maternal grandmother, Eva Brandl, died before my parents got married.  So of course, I never had the chance to meet her.  But I've learned so much about her, I can't help but admire her and I know I would've loved her dearly.

Eva was born in Austria, in the now-defunct area called Galicia, which has historically been referred to as a kingdom and a province.  Its ownership changed hands but ultimately it has been most associated with Austria and Poland.  Eva's father died when she was very young, and her mother, Suzanna, another woman of great character and strength, made the courageous decision to leave her homeland and come to the United States with her children.  Suzanna and Eva arrived at Ellis Island on June 18, 1910 when Eva was only 9 years old.  The day after their arrival, they boarded a train for Chicago, where Suzanna's brother was living.  Imagine all they'd been through--they'd lost their husband/father, left all things familiar--culture, language, surroundings--as well as most of their belongings.  They'd made what was most likely a very unpleasant voyage, traveling in steerage and enduring conditions most of us will never see, then, at Ellis Island, withstood both physical examinations and lots of questions that stripped many people of their last shreds of dignity.  Then they had to find a place to spend the night, with a meager budget, before their train ride the next day.

June 19, 1910--Suzanna and Eva board the train bound for Chicago.  Perhaps at this point, Suzanna and Eva were breathing a sigh of relief, thinking the worst was behind them.  Suddenly, they heard a huge noise--the train had crashed.  Eva would recall the sight of an engineer running up and down along the tracks, holding his head in his hands at the horror of it all. Thankfully, there was not a large number of casualties, and Eva and Suzanna were unhurt.  They made it to Chicago and started their new life, joined by Eva's three siblings.

Suzanna remarried 18 months later.  I have no idea what her new husband was like as a stepfather, but there must have been some adjustment needed for young Eva.  5 more children joined the family, so it must have been close quarters in their home.

When Eva was 16, she made a decision that was, at the time, very controversial and stirred up much dissent within the family.  She decided that she no longer wanted to be Catholic.  The entire family was Catholic, and they were appalled at her decision.  Eva said she was bothered by things within their theology that she could not reconcile or accept, and so she became a Protestant.  Quite the scandal for its day!  I applaud her courage to follow her heart, despite the criticism and threats of eternal damnation she endured.  You rock, Grandmother!

Copyright 2014 Linda O'Donnell
All Rights Reserved
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I have no idea how Eva met my grandfather.  Based on my personal experiences with him, I would describe him as self-centered, mean-spirited and kind of a slacker.  But perhaps at the time they met, he was different.  They married when she was 21, and my grandfather sporadically held a variety of jobs, losing them due most likely to his lack of ambition and/or interest.  Eva opened a neighborhood grocery store, the type of little shop you might see in the 30's and 40's, offering basic items and Eva's home-cooked goods, like pastries, salads, casseroles and sandwiches.  By this time, my aunt and my father had come along, and Eva made sure she was always home when they came home from school. She must have been an excellent cook, and my dad would later try to recreate many of her recipes, with me and my siblings as his taste-testers.  

Eva was the practical one in the family.  Despite my grandfather's inability to commit to long-term employment, she handled their finances, and paid all their bills even if it meant he couldn't go to the bowling alley for a few weeks.  She was strong, self-assured, loving and practical.  My father didn't talk about her much (or anyone from his childhood, for that matter,) but when he did, it was with love and admiration.  Eva was obviously the one who instilled in my father a strong worth ethic, the abiity to distinguish between right and wrong, and a generous spirit.  (If only he'd gotten all of her traits...but that's a different story.)

When my father was drafted during the Korean War, Eva was not feeling well.  It was determined that she had colon cancer, and my father was allowed to come home when she was dying.  My grandfather went crazy with grief, and fled the Chicago area for California, leaving behind my grieving father, who had to return to combat in Korea after the funeral.  It must have been a horrible time for all of them, and my father and grandfather's relationship remained strained for the rest of their lives without Eva there to smooth things over.

My father is gone now, too, taken by the same disease that claimed Eva.  I take comfort in knowing that he and his mother are together, both healed from physical disease and emotional hurts, and that I will see them one day.  Eva's legacy to me is her story of strength, survival, courage, endurance and above all, love.  She was a role model to me that I have tried to emulate, though my obstacles have been far different from hers. Eva, you are a heroine to me, and though we've never met, I love you.

To my paternal grandmother, Eva Brandl Barski (1901 - 1952).
Copyright 2014 Linda O'Donnell
All Rights Reserved

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