Essay for Easter: Fresh start, new life
Easter was the big holiday for Baba. Unlike other celebrations, it went on for days. It started with sad anticipation on Thursday, leading to sorrow Friday, followed by the joy of hope on Sunday — a fresh start, new life.
It was much like the path she followed from the old country. Leaving Slovakia, where she faced unhappy days and a sad ending, the young woman picked her way through Europe to the ocean, finding passage to a new life. Like so many immigrants, she passed through darkness and into the light.
Making her way to Braddock, she rejoined her husband, one of the strong backs recruited by the robber barons to work in the mill, and together they built a life. Their children prospered, working the mills and factories of the valley, starting their own families, living the dream.
Baba had her faith when she had nothing else and Easter was her chance to celebrate that faith. After Mass, the children and grandchildren would pack into the half-lot row house on Talbot Avenue, barely a block from the mill gate, where she raised her family on her own after she lost her husband too soon to the mill.
The family feasted on ham, kielbasa, horseradish, hard-boiled eggs and poppy seed and nut roll. The kids played in the brick yard out back, kicking a ball around, oblivious to the clanging and whistles coming from the mill, pausing only when the ladle was spilled, lighting the sky even in the daylight.
Baba loved America. You could work hard here and see it pay. She kept a 24-hour kitchen, the men working swing shifts and mealtimes necessarily swinging, too. There was always hot coffee on the old stove, half-gas and half-woodburner, keeping the house warm in winter and the coffee hot.
Baba did not have much to do with politics. But when her youngest son ran for local office against the old political machine, she went to the priest at the Slovak church and complained that his opponents were slandering his good name, saying that he was not serious, too interested in carousing. From the pulpit the Sunday before the election, the old priest made it right and the young man won.
Baba would have kept her own counsel if she ever heard a politician say that there is more freedom in North Korea or any other dictatorship than in America. She would have prayed for the politician, maybe lighting a candle, asking that his eyes and heart be opened.
If she heard any politician talk about making it harder for her family to vote, it would have reminded her of the old country she left behind, a place without hope.
And if she ever heard someone say that people struggle and sacrifice to come to America out of love for their families, she would have known it was true. She had done that herself.
Baba celebrated Easter and America because both stand for hope, a fresh start, new life.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (joemistick.com).
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