Olga

nurses

She was the second daughter born to Ukrainian immigrants. They came to the U.S. for who knows what reason. To escape persecution of some sort, for better employment opportunities, the sheer adventure of a new country.  I don’t know.

So much I don’t know.

Olga was my mother.  Her real name.  Really.

Her father was a glass worker employed in the glass factories of Western Pennsylvania.  An amateur actor in local Ukrainian theater, he was short and my one uncle looked just like him.  From the one and only picture I’ve ever seen of my grandfather that is.  I know his birthdate, where he was from in the Ukraine and what ship brought him to Ellis Island.  I know when he got married, what faith he followed and where he raised his four children.  He may have been an alcoholic.  I know the date he died and where he’s buried.  And that sums up my knowledge of my grandfather.

I know even less about my grandmother.

Again, birthdate and place, immigration date, wedding date, date of death, burial spot. The “stuff” you can find from doing some basic genealogy research.  I’ve never seen a picture of her.  I know that she died of TB when my mother was only 16.

Olga grew up with her three siblings in a small three room house (with an outhouse) on several acres of land.  Their huge garden and the plentiful Western Pennsylvania wild game got them through the depression.

She was a pretty smart cookie.  Olga graduated from high school at 16 then went off to the “big city”, Pittsburgh, to go to nursing school.  I love that she was ambitious and wanted a career. She wanted a better life for herself. Or maybe her mom’s illness inspired her to be a nurse.  I don’t know.

Again, so much I don’t know.

Olga died 50 years ago yesterday from cancer.  She was in her mid-40‘s.  Way too young to die. After years of dark skies, the clouds were clearing, the sun was peaking through and her life had just started moving forward again.  So unfair.

I was 11 years old.  Way too young to think of asking the questions I would love to have answers to now.  Way too young to realize how my entire life would be changed by her sudden, forced and total absence.  Way too young to know how much I would want her by my side when life threw me curve balls and my own children were born.  So unfair.

From the few pictures I have of her as a young lady, Olga was a real looker.  And evidently turned the heads of quite a few doctors in the hospital where she worked. Sounds as if she could have had her pick of the lot until that fateful night at the frozen pond.

That darned frozen pond.

One night in the early 1940’s, she went ice skating with her friends.  That was the night she met my father and her life went into a spiral.  Now I realize that I wouldn’t be here otherwise, but for her sake, I wish she would have just stayed home that night. For her sake, I wish they’d never met.

Terrible thing to say right?  I’d be like Marty McFly watching my image fade from the family pictures had they never met.  But my heart wants her to have another chance at happiness.

She was 22 years old and fell head over heels in love with the charming, outgoing, handsome young man at the ice skating pond.  They started dating and, as sometimes happens, one thing lead to another…

Their quickie marriage is recorded in another state with a date that is 6 months prior to the birth of my brother.  Oops.

As far as I can tell, at the beginning, she was happy and in love.  My sister has some letters Olga wrote to my father about how happy she was and how she was looking forward to having their baby and how much she missed him.  Again, I’m not sure why they were apart.  Again, I just don’t know.

But unwittingly, she had married a self-centered narcissist who was the only child of an authoritarian, judgmental, doting German mother who had been widowed 8 years before. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when my father told his mom he’d gotten his girlfriend “in trouble” and had to marry her.  That couldn’t have gone well.

Sadly, it was only a matter of time before everything started to unravel in a devastating way…

But that’s another story for another day.  Maybe in the middle of winter when it’s gray and cloudy and spitting snow outside.  It’s simply too glorious out today to tell that part of the story.  The sun is making too big of a fuss shining today.

From all accounts she was incredibly thoughtful, kind and generous. My one cousin remembers Olga for the gifts she used to always bring when she came to visit. And that she was a great cook.  My other cousin said that my mother was the only person, other than Santa, who gave her Christmas presents. He so adored her, my one uncle (her younger brother), used to hitch hike the 30 some miles to Pittsburgh just to visit and talk with her.  I remember his unconsolable weeping at her funeral.

So on this half century milestone, I’m choosing to picture her in my mind’s eye as that young, smart, ambitious woman with dreams of a better life.  The newly graduated young nurse in the crisp white starched uniform.  The beautiful, gentle soul, daughter of penniless immigrants, who saw life as nothing but possibility.  The sensitive and kind sister, aunt, friend and mother who loved fiercely.

I like to think, to fantasize, that, had we been contemporaries, I might have been her friend.  Maybe even a good friend.

It’s a terribly sweet thought…

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32 thoughts on “Olga

    • I know right…. My nieces (her grand daughters) are approaching her age when she passed, and they are so full of life and hopes and dreams (as I think she was.) Which I guess helps me understand why her brothers and sister were totally devestated when she died so suddenly. Her pancreatic cancer was undiagnosed which I find so interesting since she was a nurse working in a hospital. Not sure how that happens.

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  1. That you might have been friends…such a sweet thought, and one I’d embrace too. It is so sad to have lost her when you were so young. I was 29 when I lost mine, I had not yet become a mother, and lived to learn so much about her after she passed. I wish I could have a few hours with her now, to tell her how much better I understand her after having my own children. Bittersweet. Hugs to you, AGMA. A lovely post. ❤️

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  2. You gave us a wonderful glimpse into the life of Olga–not an easy task, but you did it so beautifully! I could feel your sadness and regret having lost your Mother to Cancer. I can identify with that–my son had Cancer; he was only 19. I wrote about it recently, will post later–it’s too emotional right now. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words about my post!

      I have no words to express my sadness at the loss of your son so I’ll just say I’m so incredibly sorry. I’m sure your post about him is powerful. Will look forward to reading it when you feel like sharing…
      Peace to you my blogging friend and virtual hugs.
      AGMA

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    • Thank you so much for your lovely compliment! It’s funny you should mention it – I have often thought that she would make a great main character for a book or a movie. Great minds right?

      I’ll probably write the extension this winter. My posts are usually very light hearted and humorous (or an attempt to be humorous.) Writing this was difficult and really did put me in a funk this week. 😦 If I tried to write the extension too soon, I’d have to start taking some serious mood altering drugs! Better to wait to write it until January when I have SAD anyway! Ha!

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  3. Such a bittersweet post! It’s hard not to know, not to have asked the questions that we now have unanswered. Every young person should be encouraged, no forced, to write a story about their parents’ and grandparents’ lives. Then the questions would have an answer. Nice post.

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    • Thanks! And I totally agree about the family history “stuff”! My aunt (Olga’s sister) did a memory book for her family before she died. It had some wonderful recollections in it, but it there was very little about her parents and siblings. Mostly it focused on her marriage and raising her kids. Still, for her family it’s a wonderful gift!

      I think my brother and sister might know more than I do about my mom because they’re older, but we never speak of our parents or their history. It’s kind of a taboo subject – we were all damaged by the situation and have never been very close. We put the FUN in dysFUNctional remember? And like I said, I think my sister has some letters that my mother wrote to my father. I found them one time when I was snooping through her stuff like in the early 70’s… 🙂 One of these days I’ll work up the pluck to ask her for copies.

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  4. You have a gift. The gift of poignancy passed through the written word. And you escort your literary audience who are listening with their inner ears as you type your words. Realism and honesty shine through and I thank you for allowing me to enjoy this very personal ride. Exceptional post.

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    • You’re praise has floored me! Thank you so very much for your amazingly kind words. I’m speechless ( which, if you’ve seen my 1000+ word posts, is hard to imagine!) Both my fault and my strength in this world is my honesty. It gives me peace at night when I sleep, but it has also caused me great pain in relationships that didn’t want honesty. Such is life right?

      And, as I’ve said time and time again, I’m not a “real” writer. I couldn’t make up a story like Olga and write so passionately about it. My passion comes from personal experience, feelings, relationships. “Real” writers can create a character like this, write beautifully about her and make you believe she and her experiences are real. Maybe some day I’ll get there – hope springs eternal! 🙂

      Thank you again and thank you for letting me introduce my mother to you!

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  5. I hope someday when i die that someone will say such wonderful loving things about me. Beautiful and bittersweet story. You have inspired me to write about my family too. Thank you for sharing your mother’s story with us.

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    • And thank you for reading it! It was a very personal post to write and quite melancholy. I’m glad that people didn’t totally freak out because it was such an atypical AGMA post!

      I’m happy that it inspired you to write about your family! I love getting the creative juices flowing in other folks!

      My wish for you Joyful is that many people will say even more wonderful and loving things about you BEFORE you pass on and that your heart will be filled to overflowing by it! 🙂

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      • Those words are so touching and kind. I was looking over my stats and realized that a lot of the most read of my blogs were stories. I have always been a storyteller. So I think I want to focus on those blogs for awhile. I have some fun and interesting grandparents. Lol. Thank you again for sharing such a loving tribute and inspiring me too!

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    • Thanks for the suggestion, but my husband is also a “crazy” (another word for avid I think) 🙂 genealogist. He’s done a lot of poking & probing in my family tree and has found out about as many of the “facts” about my family that are out there. The trail gets kind of cold back in the Ukraine due to language barriers. So he’s got the bones of my relatives, I would just love to have the stories that would put the skin on those bones! Ha!

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  6. You are a very gifted writer and I admire your humorous posts very much. This was different, and it was so poignant and heart felt and well written. I think you can pretty much write anything well. Thank you for sharing. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Sometimes while I write tears stream down my face, but that often ends up being the best stuff. Good Stuff writer!

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    • You are so sweet Ilona! Thank you! It was a different sort of post for me and tears WERE flowing. But I just wanted to, for a few minutes, bring her to life again. I know this sounds a bit morbid, but it won’t be long before everybody who has memories of her will be gone. My cousin at 60 is the youngest. Yikes! Had she lived to know her grandchildren, the memories would be around for a little longer…

      Maybe I’ll make a memory box of her for my children and include the precious few items I have from her. Because I moved out of town with my dad immediately after her funeral, my aunt and uncles cleaned out her house and took most of her personal stuff which I understand – sort of…. I was only 11.

      I did get her nurses pin and cufflinks back from my aunt about 20 years ago and a silver coffee urn from my cousin about 10 years ago. I was thrilled!

      Thank you again for you kind words!

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    • Thanks so much! After becoming a mother myself and understanding how hard it was to raise children in a 2 parent family, I marvel at her ability to be a single working mother back in the late 50’s and early 60’s before microwaves and washers & dryers and all of the other conveniences we have now. And she didn’t drive so she used to take the bus to work until 1963 (when she got her drivers license.) She worked nights sometimes at the hospital too. And this was after the stress of a prolonged hospitalization (which included electric shock therapy) for severe post-partum depression that was misdiagnosed as bi-polar. It’s no wonder her poor body just gave out… 😦 I know we have a tendency to romanticize those we hardly knew to make them into the people we want them to be in our imaginations, but I truly do believe she was an incredible, amazing person! Thanks again!

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