Monday, May 28, 2012

Sometimes you just do what's right, not what's expected.

Louis Csaszar,Sr.

I know Memorial Day is to honor those who lost their lives in service to our country.  My Daddy was a veteran, a medic in WWII, but he (fortunately for my family) did not lose his life in the war.  Though he did not die for his country, as a medic he served it obediently and respectfully and cared for the wounds and remains of those who did pay a higher price.  So regardless, I honor him on Memorial Day, especially since his birthday is May 31st and I’m thinking of him in the last days of May anyway.

Way back in 2001 or so my brother, Julius, came to me with a story he had written about Daddy.  Daddy never talked much about his war years.  Actually, Daddy never talked at all about his war years, at least not to us.  All I ever knew growing up was that Daddy was in the war, he was in the Army, he was a medic, and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  That’s why when he opened up to Julius about something that happened to him during the war, Julius listened well and wrote it down for posterity’s sake.

Julius brought the story to me and asked me to help him with it, iron it out etc.  He wanted to submit it to The Checkerboard, a newspaper Daddy subscribed to dedicated to the men of the 99th Infantry Division, the division Daddy was part of during WWII.  

I read the story and tweaked it here and there, but the writing is essentially all Julius.  He wanted to submit it under both our names since I helped out.  The paper accepted the article and printed it but mistakenly left Julius’s name out entirely, so it looked like it was all mine.  I take credit where credit is due, but I certainly do not take credit where credit is not mine.

So here is Julius’s story, originally published in The Checkerboard First Issue of 2001, mailed April 18, 2001.

The Watch
                Even during the most horrific time of war it is possible to look past the enemy and see the human inside the uniform.
                Our dad, Louis Csaszar, Sr., served in the U.S. Army in WWII during the time of the Battle of the Bulge.  He has always been reluctant to talk about his war days, and when he does he downplays his experiences.  He did, however, recount one event, which to us, shed a little light on his days in the war, and proved that acts of kindness and human compassion can occur even under a dark cloud of bullets and bombs.
                Louis was a medical technician in the 324th Medical Battalion which was part of the famed 99th Infantry Division.   The 99th was called upon to repulse the last massive and nearly successful offensive by the German war machine, the Battle of the Bulge.  It was during this battle that his unit aided many wounded soldiers including German POWs.
                While giving first aid to a wounded German POW Louis noticed the soldier was wearing a beautiful gold wristwatch.  Apparently very valuable, it was probably a famly heirloom passed down to him, or a going-away gift given to him by a loved one before he went to war.
                This was the sort of thing that would have made a very nice war souvenir for an American serviceman.  The act of picking the pockets of dead enemy soldiers and POWs was not uncommon.  “To the victors belong the spoils,” so said Andrew Jackson.  It would have been very easy for Louis to take the watch for himself, but instead, he felt sympathy for the man he was bandaging.  This was a man wounded in battle.  He knew the wounded POW was in serious risk of losing the watch so he took action to protect his precious possession.
                In an attempt to help the man from being robbed, Louis took the watch off the man’s wrist and wrapped it securely under the layers of bandages just above the soldier’s elbow.  It looked just like the other bandaged wounds on the German soldier.
                There it would remain safe until he was transported to a rear area hospital where he stood a good chance of keeping all his personal belongings until he was repatriated after the war.  Maybe this way he would be able to keep his heirloom watch.
                Our dad hated the Nazi regime and all of the murder and destruction it afflicted on the world.  However, he did not hate the individual German.
                To him, a wounded man was a wounded man, and deserved humane treatment despite his political affiliation.  He could have very well been one of Louis’s other brothers fighting the war on different battlefields.  Our father would have aided any soldier, Allied or Axis, even if were only to help someone hold onto his personal treasure.
                More than 50 years have now passed since the war and there is really no way to know whatever happened to that German soldier.  Did he realize what our father had done for him?  Perhaps so.
                Perhaps he carried this one little selfless act on the part of one American medic in his heart for the rest of his life.  Perhaps he shared this kindness to someone else along the way.
                Maybe he, too, shared this story with his children one day, late in life, when he felt the need to shed a little light on this most personal of experiences.

*I would like to thank my brother, John, for sharing the picture of Daddy (above).*

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One thing leads to another, I know.

As I was driving home from Sumrall today, down HWY 589, and I passed Oral Church Road I thought about the farm, as I always do when I am in that spot.  But I forgot to do my customary glance to the left (or right if I am coming from the other direction) to acknowledge my Aunt Rozie who lies in repose in the small cemetery across the highway from the church.  She was the only girl born to Karoly and Barbola Csaszar, preceded in birth by one brother (my father) and followed by three more.  I know virtually nothing about her life as her life was a very brief one.  She died when she was one year and one month old.

There are no more Csaszars of her generation alive to tell me exactly what happened to little Rozie, so I can only go on the memory of what my father told me.  It was said she was sick and the doctor who treated her prescribed the wrong dosage of medication.  By the time he reached my grandparents to tell them of the mistake it was too late.  This might not be the entire truth, but it is the gist anyway.

I cannot imagine the devastation my grandparents must have felt when their baby girl was taken from them.  My father was only two years old at the time, and my grandmother was pregnant with her third child.   When I think about it I am able to see deeper into my grandmother’s psyche and understand her a little better.  You see, anyone outside of the family I’ve ever heard speak of my grandmother says she was a kind and generous woman.  I believe that, but my family was not privy to that side of her.  She always held a grudge against my mother.  I think she had hoped my father would have married someone she handpicked instead of someone he chose for himself.  She would not even wear the corsage my mother provided for her at their wedding, and she refused to attend the reception.  This belligerence carried over into her treatment of my siblings and me.  We were seven more reasons her beloved son could not give her his constant undivided attention.

Let me clarify something here.  I, personally, have warm feelings towards my grandmother.  She lived with us from the time I was born until the day she died.  I was 11 or 12, but she had been sick and bedridden for several years before she died.  But before her sick days I remember her warming a blanket in front of the gas heater and then wrapping me in it and rocking me.  She used to make me Cream of Wheat and toast and coffee for breakfast.  I remember her many times asking me to sit in her lap, or come into her room to visit her.  But, I saw how she was around everyone else.  I heard the Hungarian rants when my father came home from work.  I saw my father torn between his family and his mother, and choose his mother’s side more than once.  On the other hand, I am the child who was left in a hotel room with her when we all went to a cousin’s wedding in Louisiana.   I heard her crying and felt her sadness for being left behind for one of the before or after wedding events.  She told me things one might only confide to a best friend.  I’m sure she thought I was sleeping, but I heard.

So these are some the reasons I think about my Aunt Rozie, and wonder what life would have been like had she grown up.  She would have been the only girl in the family so surely my grandmother would have taught her things about her Hungarian heritage such as cooking, or songs, or poetry; things that a mother shares with a daughter more easily than she shares with a son.  Now this is the part where speculation turns into imagination.  I like to think if my Aunt Rozie had lived….
  •  She would have adored her older brother, of course, because he would have doted on her.  And to her younger brothers she would have been bossy, like my oldest sister, and she would have had great influence on their lives.
  • Because she and my father would have been close she would have been a fixture in our house, and I would have had an aunt who would tell me funny stories about growing up on a farm with immigrant parents and four brothers.
  • She would have taught me Hungarian.
  • I wouldn't have her grave marker on display in my bookcase.
  • Being the only daughter she would have made sure her parents’ house was kept in good repair and remained a place of family gatherings.
  • My grandmother would have gone to live with her instead of us after my grandfather died.
  •  My grandfather would have lived longer because she would have watched his health.
  •  My grandmother would not have cared who my father married because her attentions would have been more focused on her daughter’s life instead of clinging to her son’s.  That being said, my grandmother would have had softer feelings towards my mother.
  •   My grandmother would have had softer feelings for my siblings and me because she would have had softer feelings for my mother.
Most importantly, had my Aunt Rozie grown up my grandmother would have known more happiness in her life instead of grief.  Even my imagination cannot fathom what that would have meant for my family.  

To imagine is fine, but imagination is not reality.  I know for everything there is a purpose, and, as the song goes, I (often) thank God for unanswered prayers.  Still, my mind wanders and wonders.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Now I lay me down to sleep...

For all practical purposes I should be in bed fast asleep by now.  I got up early today, baked a cake, worked some in the garden, did NOT take a nap, and I took a powerful allergy pill about an hour ago that normally knocks me out in about ten minutes.  Yet, sleep eludes me.  My heart is too heavy to sleep.  Lying in bed wide awake makes me feel like a fraud, especially when I know my body would rather be sleeping.  So here I sit in a chair instead, trying to fool my brain into thinking it is ready to rest.

Today was Mother’s Day.  It was my first Mother’s Day without my mother on this earth.  I wasn’t prepared for the feelings that came over me today and the past few days leading up to it.  I thought I had grieved my grief, but I guess there are still unresolved issues in my psyche.  And, on top of all that, the community column I wrote for May was about my mother, and the paper chose to run it today, in the Sunday issue, and on Mother’s Day, no less.  That was emotional for me, and I felt honored, yet my joy was overshadowed by the same things that have me sitting in this chair instead of snoring in my bed.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by emotions and I shut down.  I have learned to push, push, push them down into a little bitty bottle until they dry up.  As a selectively mute child I was too shy and embarrassed to talk to anyone, even my mother and sisters, about anything too personal.  That reluctance to share my innermost fears and feelings has left a residual effect on me all of my life.  I find myself fearing reactions of others to my problems, and play out the worst case scenarios in my head before speaking them aloud.  Most times I choose to stay silent rather than face rebuffs or accusations of insecurities and unjustified anxieties.  

So in an effort to unload and get some sleep I will share a tid-bit of what is weighing on me tonight: old wounds, no mother, financial burdens, health problems, and last, but certainly not least, oldest son graduating.  Whew! A load off my chest. Not.

I know once I can finally pray my soul to sleep and keep things will be better in the morning.  That reminds me of my Granny.  She used to sleep with me when she stayed at our house overnight.  When she first got in bed she would talk to me in the dark and tell me things about her life.  If that didn’t put me to sleep (not that I was ever bored, just too young to care) I would be lulled to sleep by the sound of her whispered prayers.  I couldn’t hear what she was praying for, maybe she was praying the rosary, but she would pray for a long, long time.  I miss that sound of her private whispers to God.  I miss the stories, too.  I wish I would have listened more intently.

Thinking about my Granny makes me feel better already.  I hope she is still whispering those private prayers and that some of them are for me.  That reminds me of a great argument I came up with the other day about prayer intervention, but I can’t remember it all right now, and anyway I’m finally getting tired.  Another day, perhaps.

Yes, things will be better in the morning.  Things are always better after whispered prayers in the dark and a cup (or two or more) of morning coffee.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


My normal habit is not to eavesdrop on conversations, but when they are happening three feet in front of me and are carried on in normal voice levels I can’t help but overhear.  That is what happened during one of my Tuesday night, one-hour Starbucks sittings.  Yes, maybe I went a little overboard by transcribing the conversation, but who could blame me with all that jazzy music in the background and the caffeine buzzing in my head.  It didn’t help I had a laptop at my fingertips.  Anyway, that is what happened. 

I was feeling so metropolitan that night, sitting in Starbucks on campus, sipping my iced caramel macchiato with a green straw.  I faced a window looking out into the library lobby, watching students come and go to study for their midterms, or do research for that paper that was certainly due the next day.  But my favorite scene was what was happening at the table to the left of me.  This is how I recorded the event...

A cowboy with his blue jeans, plaid shirt, cowboy boots and hat sits talking to an Indian girl.  I think he’s trying to impress her by telling her about his lineage and asking her about her beliefs.   I could feel a “come to Jesus” conversation brewing.  Not that I am against come to Jesus conversations, but you just know when it’s coming, and boy is it coming.  OK, here’s the pitch.  “Do you believe in God?”  “Tell me about God,” he says. 

Her answer, “God is a creator and a destroyer”.  She doesn’t have any particular belief, she says.  She says she is open.  They continue to exchange ideas about God.  I only wish I could hear his beliefs but his voice is too low and the jazzy music is loud.  Through his murmurings I can tell he is probably not a Christian like I previously thought.   

Nope, now I know he is definitely not a Christian.  I heard him say something about the 1950s before his leader came over.  What?  Leader??  Should I be afraid for her?  Afterall, she is one of the students I helped bring to this country.  How can I tell her parents I let this happen?  My mothering instincts are kicking in.   But wait, she is holding her own.   She says she does not worship the devil (that’s a relief).  She’s not against any one belief.  She thinks people should be able to believe what they want.  

Oh, he’s cute alright, and he knows it.  She knows it too.  He said something to insinuate he has a ponytail buried under his straw cowboy hat.  On second look, it’s not really a cowboy hat.  It’s more like a sun hat shaped to simulate a cowboy hat.  He just lost cool points with me.  Ooh, he’s a smooth talker.  She says he has positive energy and now she’s smiling.  I can’t put a name to her face, but I if I see her in the office I will have to have a conversation with her about smooth-talking cult recruiters.

OK, so now he’s changed his conversation from religion to talking about other girls he has known.  Why do guys feel it necessary to brag on past conquests?  Do they really think that impresses women?

Now he’s asking her about her parents.  I can tell he does not care much for her mother being a housewife.  He is trying to impress her with talk of his world travels.  (Ahem, smooth-talking cult recruiter.  The girl is from India.  She has probably travelled to more places just to get here then you ever have. )  I bet he’s shaken a lot of dust off those cowboy boots….wait they’re loafers!!!   Strike two.   Loafers and a straw cowboy-like hat cancel the cool.

Interesting…he’s questioning her scholarship.  She is trying to explain it to him, but he looks surprised.  Obviously he’s not a graduate student or he would know what she’s talking about.   He looks like a graduate student and talks like one but obviously he is not.  Did he have her fooled? I want to jump up and say “Run, Indian girlie, run.”  Too late, I hear her giggles.    

Wow! He said his friend has a 60 foot yacht and he’s going to India on it with him.  India? Really?  I wonder if he was talking to a Chinese girl if the cruise would be to China. 

They are getting up to leave.  I see them through the window walking out to the library lobby.  She gives him an awkward hug and they leave.  Something tells me she will stay clear of him.  Something tells me he is done with her, too.  I pray.