It Was a Wonderful Life

20081103_094450_06I have been in contact with my Uncle Fred and he sent me some items from the funeral along with a heart moving note.  He has been in London the last couple of days, but unfortunately we have not been able to get together.  It reminds me of the last time he was here on 9/11, but this time it is a different tragedy.

Among the items from the funeral was a history of the life of my Aunt.  There were things about her early life that I didn’t know about.  Somehow this doesn’t surprise me as my own family had gone through similar experiences and no-one ever talked about it.

I have copied out this history of my Aunt and publish it here.  The photo at the top of the page is one I have always seen of her since I was a little girl and that lived in her bedroom for many years.

Brief History of the Life of Marta Stern

Marta was born in Budapest, Hungary in August 1943, and at a young age she moved to a small town where she lived with her grandparents.  The family lived in a summer kitchen carved into a hillside, making Marta a ‘Cave Woman’.  The family moved back to Budapest and Marta attended school there.

When the Hungarian Revolt broke out in 1956, Marta was very excited and participated the evening the statue of Stalin was pulled down.  Charlie, her brother, said that when the rope got taut, it lifted Marta into the air.

Marta yearned to be free and tried to escape at least once prior to her successful effort in early 1957.  Her father would take people to a place where they would continue the journey.  Marta was taken by an Aunt and Uncle one night when she replaced her school books with some clothing and left.  Her father learned she was on his truck and let her go.

20081103_094450_02The trip was harrowing and the group met people along the way and had to cross an area where snow was quite high.  A mounted patrol came upon them and informed them that they were in Yugoslavia and took them to a refugee camp.  Marta spent two years in different camps under very difficult conditions for a 13 year old girl.

The Red Cross informed her that the rest of her family had escaped to Germany and reunited her with them.  Her family escaped in a miraculous journey from East Berlin into West Berlin.

The family came to New Jersey in 1959, at that is the only place where Marta wanted to come.

20081103_094450_03Marta married her first husband in 1960 and Leonard Jr. was born in August 1961.  Marta soon divorced her first husband and lived in Perth Amboy for almost 30 years.

Marta worked for AT&T and ascended to a Manager’s level.  She worked there for 28 years before retiring in 1998.  While at AT&T, she developed many close friendships.  She also participated in a number of self development programs that empowered her to confront life and reach beyond to help others and community work.

Marta seemed content being single with a large group of friends till she met Fred one evening in 1989 just before Thanksgiving.  Fred had been dragged out by his brother Gary and Marta had been dragged out by her friend Betty.  They went to the Hilton Hotel lounge where Marta met Fred.

Fred was struck by Marta’s accent and inquired of her homeland.  When she told him she was from Hungary, Fred put on the charm and talked about his 11th grade term paper, which was on the Hungarian Revolt of 1956.  They both believed they were destined for each other.  Fred, the history major to be, studied an event Marta had lived and experienced.  When Fred wrote that paper in 1966, Marta was married with a 5 year old.  Marta was slightly older than Fred, but he was so impressed with her beautiful smile and charmed by the open honest and love of life he saw in her.

20081103_094452_16She was an inspiration in every way and their relationship and devotion to each other was consummated in marriage on October 12, 1991.

They were happily married until Marta passed away on October 30, 2008.  The final years of their life together was challenging as Marta developed Alzheimer’s and needed extensive care and attention.

Their daughter-in-law, Susan, lived with them for a year and a half for support before Marta was moved into special assisted living accommodations and then into a nursing home.

Her Alzheimer’s had robbed her of her loving and caring personality, but the beautiful spirit of her memory will never be extinguished.

When faced with time constraints, she volunteered to do more.  She took on a community project while planning her wedding.  She would never accept someone telling her they would try to do something.  When you were tired and disgusted she would ask you why you stopped and what was holding you back.  She sang Christmas songs at Nursing homes on Christmas morning, and donated more of her meagre funds than wealthy people.

You can’t imagine how privileged Fred was to have had her as his wife for as long as they had been together.  As difficult as the final years were together, when his daughter-in-law asked him what to name the photo gallery of pictures being displayed in the room on the day of her funeral, he immediately replied: ‘It Was a Wonderful Life.’

You can click here to see her online memorial.


2 thoughts on “It Was a Wonderful Life

  1. I am deeply sorry for you and your family’s loss. What a beautiful tribute to your beautiful aunt.

    It sounds as though she did indeed have a wonderful life.

    My very best to you.

  2. Arlene

    Thank you for your thoughtful and kind words.

    Her passing has been particularly poignant considering the holidays coming up, my empty nest, and having a lot of free time on my hands right now. She was barely old enough to be my mother and she has been through and done more than I could hope to achieve. It certainly puts things into perspective.

    Time is precious and not to be wasted – she obviously didn’t.

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