Memories of my Mother

My mother was as gentle as a kitten - but she did not like cats or kittens.

My mother was as tough as an ox. Not as strong as an ox, but a survivor. She had the lives of cat, and the tenacity for survival that comes from Eastern Europe. She survived:

She loved poetry, card games, and Scrabble. She loved to do crossword puzzles, an affliction she passed on to me.

She was a stickler for grammar, even though English was her third language. Or maybe because English was her third language (after German and Hungarian). How did she tell one language from another? For one thing, the grammars differ.

She learned Hungarian as a child, but was never educated in Hungarian, so she remained a little Hungarian-speaking girl inside an English-speaking adult. She taught me to say "Toodots madjarul besselny" (I can speak Hungarian). She could speak Hungarian, but could not spell it. "The accent always goes on the first syllable!". This is BES-selny, not bes-SELL-ny.

I remember her preparing goetta, a substance unique to Cincinnati, in the kitchen in our home on Oxford Avenue. She would cook up the pork, put it through the meat grinder that clamped onto the edge of the counter, cook it up with oatmeal, and cast it into rectangular loaves in bread pans. These loaves would be frozen solid, then sliced and fried in a skillet.

She baked what we called "strudels". This is not the flaky German pastry, but an Eastern European recipe made from yeast dough, rolled thin, spread with poppyseed or ground walnut filling, then rolled up and baked. This was an essential part of the Christmas holidays. Marj and I have been practicing strudel preparation for 30 years based on "Grandma's Recipe". Now every strudel we bake will be a reminder of how much we miss her.

She used a lot of paprika in her cooking, and the paprika had to come from Szeged. Chicken paprikash was a favorite recipe.

I remember when she typed my dissertation. She stayed with us in our tiny apartment in Bridgeport. We rented an IBM Selectric typewriter. No word processors back then (1974). We had two Selectric typing balls, one for a standard 12 point Times Roman font, and a symbol ball for typing mathematical formulas.

She was the city girl married to the country boy. She loved to dance, but my father never danced. In the Auer family, the men took dancing lessons as a matter of cultural development. In the Luken family, the men did not dance.

At Deedee's wedding, I was able to dance with my mother for a few minutes. This meant standing in front of her wheelchair and swaying gently, but it was something she had waited many years to do.

She was a night owl, another trait I hve inherited, and have passed on to my daughter.

Last Words

The last time my mother talked to me was Sunday evening, Dec. 2, 2007. Sometime before Dec. 1, she had purchased gifts and wrapped them in gift-wrap paper. She also purchased Christmas cards and attached them to gifts. We received our gift on Monday December 10 as we visited her in the hospice. Our gift was addressed as follows:

last words

These words were written before Dec. 1, but we did not receive them until Dec. 10, so these words, and those in the Christmas card enclosed in the envelope addressed as shown were our last messages from my mother. The enclosed card contained the following words:

Xmas card

In both examples, my mother's handwriting remains fluid, just like it was 50 years, or even 80 years before. She loved to teach penmanship, showing us how to make nice round circles. Move from the elbow, not from the wrist.

The gift-wrapped package to which this card was attached contained two porcelain goblets, each decorated with a festive swirl of red and white. On one side, a message reads "Home for the holidays". On the opposite side, a second message reads "Who needs a drink?".

So, she ended her life wrapping gifts for her children, and wacky gifts that imply a sense of humor and a positive outlook. We hope that these items show that she was happy.


Created December 18, 2007. Revised December 27, 2007.