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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember



Appendix (added later)


After the war our life was uncertain. We were not here and not there, uprooted, and didn’t belong anywhere or to anybody. The yearning after a peaceful life gave us the courage, the ambition and strength to start a new life and we wanted desperately nothing more than to be left alone and go about our life.

We spent more and more time discussing the possibilities about leaving the country. This is a hard decision by itself, but we couldn’t escape the bigger question: Where to go?

We knew somebody who had left the country many years ago and settled down in Canada, near Toronto where the whole family worked very hard and diligently on their farm, which after many years of such hard work proved to be successful. My husband decided to write to him about in 1948 and to our pleasant surprise the answer came shortly offering all his help. This was more than we had hoped and we were very moved. The man was a very simple person but behaved like a gentleman who understood our need for his help. We started to prepare ourselves, though for the time being only mentally and in our hearts.

Our family nest was empty, so this was not difficult to leave. In this place we lived and cared for each other as a close knit family.

About Canada we heard reassuring things, the climate was inviting, similar to ours, and the country was known for many other things which made our decision easier. We were hoping to find peace and all we can say is that we are very grateful and after the many years with every passing time we are always more attached and devoted. We feel at home and proud to be Canadian.

Our childhood was uneventful with devoted parents, grandparents and other dear relatives until the brutal catastrophe, which destroyed everything. We lived in Czechoslovakia, in Central Europe, but at the time of our tragedy our part of Slovakia belonged to Hungary, so we were deported from Hungary in 1944, June 2nd. Twelve months later, after incredible sufferings, we returned to our hometown, which had been liberated in the meantime by Czechoslovakia. The many sad experiences and memories forbade and didn’t let us call the place "Our Home" again.

After we received the important papers, we started to prepare ourselves in earnest and finally in October 1949, my husband and I and our seven months old baby were ready for the big journey to Canada.

We travelled by train through the Netherlands, from where we had to cross the English Channel. This was already the sea and we had picked the windiest day of the year; the seamen were teasing us.

The crossing was difficult because of the strong wind, but with some delay we made it and it was quite a trip with a seven months old baby. Since the boat was floating among the waves it was pretty frightening, especially when we saw the other boats dancing in the big water; it was like a big cradle which helped our baby to sleep.

We slept over one night in London and then were taken to Southampton, where our ship, the ocean liner Aquitania was waiting for us. It was frighteningly big with its four chimneys. This big ship told us unmistakably that we really were on our way to a new and strange world. We had mixed feelings, happy expectations and fear. The crossing took 6-7 days when we finally reached dry land. It was a beautiful feeling to arrive at our destination. The place was Halifax and after numerous checking through our papers, ourselves, and our personal belongings, we were transferred to the railway station. There a very long train was waiting for us and we had to find our place.

As I was holding my little son in my arms and repeatedly asked myself: Are we doing the right thing?

As we were struggling, carrying the baby with numerous bags and hand luggage, some volunteer ladies approached us and were trying to help us. But we didn’t know what are they trying to say or do? We saw only one thing, that they are trying to take the baby out of my arms and put him into the waiting stroller.

We were in a panic and started to rush away, but she was following us with the shaky stroller they were using at the time. Finally, she reached me and somehow made me understand her good intentions. It was really a big help and I had to apologize belatedly. But I still didn’t let him out of my sight for a split second and calmed down only when we were together again on our train and in our place. Those ladies were wonderful and I think of them with my heartfelt thanks, but my fear was also justifiable. Looking back after so many years this experience sounds funny, but it was not at the time. Slowly we settled down and the train moved away and started our long trip to Toronto, which took two nights and one long day.

Arriving at Toronto we were welcomed by a cousin who had come out in 1939. There are no words to describe how tired we were after traveling for two weeks with hardly any sleep. We made our home in Toronto from November 1949 and became citizens in July 1955. We are happy and thankful to live in a free country.

I just didn’t know what to expect. We had here already some relatives who were trying to find a place for us. Unfortunately this was not easy because nobody wanted children at the time. Finally, we received the good news that there was a flat for us with a telephone in the house. This was new to me, because we didn’t have a telephone in the house at home, only in the office.

My fantasy couldn’t work hard enough! How modern everything will be? Great was our surprise when we found ourselves in our flat, which was a very modest one bedroom flat with shared bathroom, and since it was November the windows were closed tight.

We were warned early enough not to open them or let some fresh air in because then the furnace would have to work harder. This was strange to us, because in Europe we were used to open the windows wide to let the fresh air in. Now we could only have the three holes, in the base of the window sill, which was hard to get used to.

Our landlords were hardworking, very simple, but very good people. After a few weeks we found out accidentally why our messages hadn’t come through? We had prepared a pad for them to take the incoming calls for us. Suddenly it came out why they didn’t use the paper and pen, because they couldn’t use them! They were embarrassed when the truth came out. They were illiterate! It was an emotional testimony how these old people described their start here. The old lady had to work in a factory at an early age of nine; so she had never had a chance to go to school.

When they had arrived many years ago, her grandfather was leading her by the hand and when they spotted people sitting on the verandas or on the stairs, he was puzzled. No wonder he was surprised, because this was the newcomers’ neighbourhood, not where the skyscrapers and huge businesses are! Before arriving he saw only those pictures of America and not from this side. This was a total surprise, but slowly he learned to live, work and mingle like everybody else.

One episode stayed with me for long and still helps me when I feel uncertain, or down. We brought a sewing machine from home, which came in handy, but after some time the needle began breaking often. Changing needles didn’t help. We had by then befriended some of our neighbours and one especially kind lady offered her help. She told me to expect a visitor who was familiar with this problem. This gentleman was nobody else than the manager himself from the White Company from Simpsons and he didn’t mind to check my minor problem. At first I was in panic, because my English was too poor to be able to explain my trouble; but he calmed me down with the most eloquent way, with reassuring voice and words. He said that it takes time and determination to master a new language and he only has respect for people like us, who had left their safe and comfortable home to try a new and strange world.

Seeing my state of mind he added that just that would happen to him, if he would drop in to our country! He would be lost because he only speaks one language and that is English! His words were my guides for many years. I am very thankful to him, not only that he helped to fix the problem, but for the way he did it! By the way, the bobbin was the trouble and as he wanted to calm down my excitement, he explained that this was not even a household word, no need for embarrassment.

The first years were a little difficult but we tried to adjust ourselves as best we could. To find a job was not easy, despite the fact that we would take anything. It started to brighten up somewhat after we overcame the language difficulties a little bit. In the meantime, our second son, Paul, arrived in 1954. We, of course, were delighted,, but had to change our lifestyle and schedule. My husband tried hard to find employment, which sometimes looked hopeless. After much trying he decided to try his luck in the construction business which was booming at the time; but the situation here changed too slowly. Myself, after a few jobs for a shorter or longer time, was very daring when I answered an ad in the paper and I was just lucky when I found a place for myself at the University of Toronto Library as a Library Assistant. I was trying my best always and stayed there until my retirement (1964-1985). I have to admit that I was happy there; work was not a burden to me as I loved books all my life. I realized that I went there to work, not to read; but even the closeness of their company was satisfying.

After my retirement in 1985 I joined a creative writing group, where I am a member. I try to be independent, but my family’s help is still greatly appreciated.

I am very grateful that I could see my family grow and my five dear grandchildren who give me true happiness and enjoyment. This helps me through some difficult times.

In the meantime, our George was growing up and did his part of schooling. He was always a good student and never gave us any trouble, neither did Paul. They seemed to be happy, hopeful, and young.

Unfortunately my husband became seriously ill. Our doctor revealed the truth to me and I had a very difficult time during his illness to face reality. He had leukemia and I tried to keep the difficult situation in secret because of our young sons. Those were five long or short years, until his ailment deteriorated and in 1967, Jan. 14, we lost him. In the beginning of his sickness he was still working. He was always very diligent and was never sick before. This was a blow to us and a tragedy, a feeling of helplessness. To watch someone so close to suffer and not be able to help, except to make his condition easier. I went to work during all this time and I have to comment on the understanding of all my colleagues, who were supportive during these difficult times. I really appreciated it very much.

Both my sons are very conscientious with exemplary characters at their work and are devoted to their families. They are happily married and involved in longstanding careers. They are also active in community events and sports.

It took us a while to get acquainted with the Canadian lifestyle and conquer the language difficulties; but we did it! With one exception, that we didn’t have time to accumulate some wealth to ensure our security. This is undeniably a big help always, but especially at retirement age.

In 1979 I made a big decision and remarried. Ernie Izso was not a stranger to us. In the early years to Toronto we were neighbours, when both families were still together. We lost touch for long years, but met again when unfortunately we were both alone already. We were still working and it seemed like a good idea. But our plans were cut short because after four years he suddenly passed away. With his death I lost a good friend and companion for my old age.

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