It’s been awhile since I talked about my grandmother. Those of you who are not dog lovers might find this silly, but with the recent departure of my three Golden Retriever guests my thoughts have been drawn to her. Both these wonderful puppies and my grandmother showed me nothing but their complete love. I miss all four of them.
When I began this blog my very early entries revolved around the life lessons that she taught me. For those of you who missed it, she came from Czechoslovakia at the age of nine without any knowledge of English. She began as a scullery maid and taught herself a new language with the aid of her aunt and a dictionary. She never had any real formal education – but in my view, was one of the wisest women who ever walked on Earth.
She married, raised two children on her own after my grandfather’s death. Became a gourmet cook and totally doted on me. Many years after her death I am still benefiting from the example she set for me and for all she met.
One of the responsibilities that she took most seriously was expressing her voice at the ballot box. She would read the papers to inform herself on all the political races and would decide which candidates most represented her viewpoint. I remember her telling me that she had voted (twice) for President Eisenhower. (Grandma had a far better record of voting for winners than I have been able to establish).
I remember asking her why she had voted for Ike. As I asked this, grandma began crying. She was about to reveal something that she must have felt I was previously too young to know. She went over to the beautiful desk that was in the hallway and reached into a secret compartment that the cabinetmaker had built into the burled walnut. Inside that compartment there was a letter, quite worn and yellowed with age.
The letter had been written by a man who worked with my great uncle in the resistance to the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. Great Uncle Frantisek had been captured together with his wife and seven and nine year old children. My great uncle was apparently one of the local resistance leaders near grandma’s home town of Kutna Hora.
Three of the SS men who captured them raped his wife in front of my great uncle and then shot her. Then they brought his two children in the room bound with rope, poured gasoline over them and lit them on fire. Then they mercifully put a bullet through my great uncle’s head.
They released his lieutenant who wrote the letter and had witnessed these events with the intent of trying to demoralize those who would oppose their terror and tyranny. That’s why grandma had voted for Ike. She viewed him as the liberator of her place of birth and she was grateful to him.
After hearing this story I learned that one of the most fundamental responsibilities of being an American citizen is exercising our right to vote – preferably in an informed manner. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.
It’s amazing to me that as I think back about how my uneducated grandmother took this responsibility so seriously, so many of us who have had the benefit of receiving so much from our nation take this responsibility as a minor inconvenience – if they bother with it at all. Perhaps the Great American Tragedy has finally been written.