My grandmother Anna Serko was born January 1st, 1903 in Scranton, PA. Baba, as we called her, was a wonderful easy going woman loved by all. With little more than an eighth-grade education, she was savvy, generous, hardworking, and a pious churchgoer. A working mother she spent most of her working life at Endicott Johson shoe company stitching leather shoe uppers to the soles. Old school, she liked a few beers now and then and she kept a bottle of whiskey under the kitchen sink unapologetically drink a shot every day.
CNN was always playing on her TV. She loved staying up late, preferring the edgy David Letterman to Jay Leno. Never wanting to part with something as expensive and extravagant as a TV set she had multiple non-working console TVs (TVs that looked like furniture) around the house repurposed as furniture. A TV console served as the table for the phone (her number ST5-4089) and at one point a new TV with a plastic case was placed on top of the old one in the living room.
She was not big on gossip but always seemed to know what was going in the neighborhood and among our church community. She believed everything she read in the National Enquirer or other gossip rag my aunt would leave her. On occasion, she would let something slip about some celebrity or someone she knew. When asked where she got her information she’d say: “somebody told me… or, I got a whiff of it”. Never malicious in her sharing of such information she’d rarely offer judgment about something she’d heard, she’d leave that up to you to decide.
She didn’t drive and never owned a car which meant that one of us would be tasked with taking her to the grocery store. When the time came to make “halupki” (stuffed cabbage rolls) nobody wanted to take her since she had a habit of meticulously picking through the cabbage never hesitating to ask the poor produce man to bring out more making him slice a few open then summarily rejecting them all… we were all mortified. We’d march out of the store and drive to another in an endless search of the perfect head cabbage. One small local fruit and vegetable vendor once told my father “please never bring your mother shopping here again!”. She was not trying to be difficult, only wanting the best for her prized halupki.
I had the good fortune between college and grad school to work at IBM in a factory about four blocks from her house. My grandfather was still alive at the time and I’d walk to their house every day for lunch. What a joy it was to sit in their kitchen and eat lunch with them. Baba was no gourmet cook but what she made was uniquely hers and had a taste that can’t be duplicated; isn’t that a trait of every grandmother?
Baba died at age 97 in 2001. In her 97 years, she’d seen many things: she lived through both World Wars, the Great Depression, a life-threatening illness of my grandfather, along with a host of family difficulties (mostly from her troublesome younger brothers!). She had an older sister Mary who was married around 1917. Against her family’s wishes, Mary went back to the old country with her new husband (present-day Slovakia) to visit his family. He was immediately conscripted into the army, they never returned to the United States, trapped by WWI and later WWII, and subsequent communist rule. They never saw each other again. For almost 70 years they corresponded by letter. Not a single letter exists today, she threw them all out. Of course, she threw them out! Among a number of her memorable sayings was this one: “This is what it is”, a wise expression of her philosophy of life. That saying is enshrined on a bench that sits outside our house.
Happy birthday Baba!