Since then I've wondered what to say, if anything. Personal matters are not something I usually talk about here. But at the funeral service today my nephew delivered an eloquent summary of my mother's life and times that I could only have hoped to equal, so with his permission I'm posting his words here....
Hungary was rebuilding itself after World War I. In the small farming village of Bate, Hungary, Rose Gyurko, my grandmother, was born on March 6, 1922.
In 1938 she married my grandfather, a young man from the next town, Eugene Cseplo. A year after they married, World War II broke out in Europe when Germany invaded Poland. Hungary tried to stay out of the conflict but reluctantly became part of the Axis for fear of invasion by the Nazis.
Grandpa was eventually drafted into the German army. He was stationed in a nearby town. It was during this period that my mother, Margaret, was born. As the Russians advanced west, grandpa was able to avoid being sent to the front by having himself conveniently captured by the British. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW.
Without grandpa, my grandmother was left to plow the fields, milk the cows, and raise her daughter alone.
When the Soviet army swept through Hungary pushing out the Germans, the Russians used grandma's house as their local command center. Grandma and my mother had to live with relatives while Marshall Zukov, Stalin's right hand man, slept in her bed.
Grandma had a story about how the Russians used the local Hungarian women to bail water all day from the bomb craters on the airfield, thus creating a human shield to protect the local airstrip from German bombing. In protest my grandmother and the other women did this while wearing all black. Grandma always took pride in her little rebellion against the Russians.
Eventually the war ended and grandpa was freed. He returned home to his family after a year or two of separation. He entered politics during a period of free elections and became head of the Small Farmers Party in Hungary. Then in 1947 the Communist Party under Stalin took over the Hungarian government. My grandfather was given an ultimatum: Join the Communist Party as Secretary of Agriculture or go to prison for being anti-communist.
Due to his strong principles his only option was to flee Hungary immediately and cross the border into Austria, saying goodbye to Rose and his daughter without knowing if they would ever be together again. And once again, Rose was again alone to tend the farm and raise a child.
During this time the KGB would periodically raid the house looking for any correspondence from my grandfather to her. They never discovered grandpa's letters from Paris hidden under the attic floorboards.
Then came three years without any correspondence at all from grandpa. His whereabouts were unknown to grandma. My grandmother and mom eventually heard him speaking on Voice of America. He was alive and in the United States, but it was unclear if they would ever be together again.
Every time grandma tried legal means to leave Hungary she was turned down. Then in 1956 the Hungarian Revolution broke out. While it did not succeed, grandma saw an opportunity in all the chaos. With help, she and my mother were able to travel to a town near the border. One night they were led across the border into Yugoslavia. Thus began their journey to America to reunite with my grandfather.
They were reunited in New York after ten years of separation. My grandmother and mother joined my grandfather on his farm in Herndon, Virginia. Finally my grandparents' lives together could begin, and soon after my uncle Andrew was born.
In the early 1960's they moved to Catlett in Fauquier County. My grandparents ran the dairy farm there by themselves. I never saw grandma sit and relax. There was always work to be on the farm. Most of my earliest memories are from there. I loved being on the farm with my protective grandmother watching over me. The world of the farm, with the cows, the trains, the dogs, Andrew's matchbox cars, and especially the smell of grandma's Hungarian Goulash are the best memories I have from my childhood.
In the late 1970's they retired from farming and moved to a small house in Manassas. They still worked side by side as the custodians at the Knights of Columbus hall on the grounds of All Saints School and church. I attended school there and still remember seeing my them almost every day. Grandma and grandpa would come out of the Knights' hall at the start of recess to say hello to me on the playground.
Eventually grandpa's health began to deteriorate, and grandma took care of him. He died in 1991, just after they celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. Now, after 14 more years of separation, grandma has reunited with grandpa yet again. And this time they will be inseparable for all of eternity.
My grandmother's life spanned from the Old World to the New World and from horse drawn carts in her early days to seeing men walk on the moon. She survived the Third Reich, and saw the fall of the iron curtain and the breakup of the Soviet Union. She lived to see the dawn of the 21st century and a new millennium.
Most importantly, she lived to see the birth of her two great-grandchildren, Alexandra and Robert. She was a little upset, pointing out that Alexandra was a Russian name.
We could see the joy these two brought her in the end, and how she would light up upon seeing them. Her great-grandchildren--her little chickens, as she called them--gave her comfort in knowing that all her life's hardships had served a purpose.
Grandma, you will not be forgotten.