Around holiday time, Christmas or Easter, when the family gathered at our grandparents’ home, my cousin Jim and I would walk after dinner from there a few blocks away to visit our Grandmother’s sister’s family. While it seemed then to me the point was to visit family, it was probably more likely an opportunity for Jim to smoke along the way.
We sat at the kitchen table with whoever was home and talked. She was called Leeza, though her given name was Elizabeth. This was one of the siblings my grandmother worked to bring from Europe to the new world. She had very long grey hair that was gently pulled away from her face and hung in a braid down her back. I remember her somewhat harsh voice as she spoke in Slovak, and I had no idea what she said. Her body had taken on the permanent shape of sitting as she was perched on that kitchen chair. Whether from the cold winters of her childhood in Kosice, Slovakia, or the luck of the draw in the genes, she suffered the cruelty of Rheumatoid Arthritis to an extent I have never before or since seen in another victim of that disease.
She managed to have a son, then twin boys before she became permanently rigid. The twins, one on either side, lifted her out of bed each morning, deposited her onto the kitchen chair, and there she was all day every day. I cannot begin to imagine such a life.
That is the sum and total of information I lived with about this relative from childhood through the recent past when I began sifting through stacks of old black and white photos, when I found one which included Leeza as a lovely child, but even more startling was one from her wedding day. If there had not been writing on the back of the picture, I would never have guessed that the beautiful young bride was the Leeza that I remembered.
It really was amazing to think of how little I really knew about this lady or many of the other relatives who paved the way for my generation and those who followed. The strides in medicine alone are remarkable when I think about Leeza and what she must have suffered.