a Labor Day letter to my grandfather



5 September 2016, Labor Day, U.S.

Milý dedo,

There is a muchness in my life, and you are the  invisible force in its creation. Will language be a barrier? My tongue is ready to imitate the “chs” and rolling “r”s, but I am so sorry to disappoint you, drahá dedo, but my few Slovak words have slipped away from my childhood, along with you.

For your son, my father – Joseph, thank you. Resemblance between father and son was obvious. There are few black and white photographs of you; ones that my tety proudly display in their slightly tarnished silver frames. There you sit in your stiff, formal suit looking stern and slightly possessive of your wife, my baba. Yes, dedo, my father had that look, your face, your lines, although his evoked protectiveness, rather than possessive. Perhaps you were that way too? Protective of your fifteen children and wife. Yes. I will think of you in this light. For you are my beloved father’s father.

Joseph, your son, too, had a strong Catholic faith. This devotion was not only to be found in the pews of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, but sitting at the kitchen table, sharing the five o’clock dinner, only after we all were seated; after the blessing, hands folded.  This, every day of his long life. Reliably loving. This must be what you carried with you from Demite to Bethlehem.  In your bones and blood. This faith. This steadfastness. How else could you, #800111040064, have boarded that massive immigrant ship with other Hungarian-Slovaks, and Finns, Swedes, Germans, Russians, all strangers going to this place unknown, speaking a language that pains the ear – no diacritical markings to soften a hard alphabet?  This devotion that could not be shaken. You gifted my father, and then, me, with these qualities. Again, ďakujem, for these gifts have saved my life.

When you fell from that forty-foot steel-mill platform in 1936, your devotion to family did not die along with you. How could you know, even then, that it would be your third-born son, Joseph, never to finished high-school, who would take up your mantle? How could you know that he would put aside his mathematical brilliance, forgo offers of college, and go to labor where you died? Working the “shift.” How could you know that he would be the son who stayed home on the South Side to care for his bereft mother and the remaining thirteen siblings? How could you know that he would never carry a bitterness for lost opportunities while his oldest and youngest brothers were college-bound, the star athletes at Catholic universities? He remained on 6th Street; never wavering, walking up and down the steep incline, metal lunch pail in hand.  Countless Good Fridays of potatoes and buttermilk.*  Atonement. My father was dutiful, môj dedko. Always.

I imagine you. Like this. Steadfast. Reserved. Dutiful. Filled with a love for your God, your new country, and above all, your family. I would have loved to hold your calloused hand, to feel the tickle of your moustache, to see the softness in those eyes that saw such hardship. I imagine this. That my father was like you. I imagine that  you would have loved me, too, moj dedo.

Vaše vnučka,  Tina Hudak



* “Good Friday was a day of complete fast and abstinence during which the priest removed the purple veils from all the statues in order to reveal the crucified Christ and all His martyrs. On this day Slovaks generally ate only baked,skinned potatoes and sour milk” (Stolarik 79).


Works cited:

“Falls To Death Bethlehem, George Hudak, 57, Fell 40 Feet to His Death from a Platform at the Bethlehem Steel Company’s Plant.” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader [Wilkes-Barre, PA] 30 July 1936, Evening News sec.: 9. Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News. Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. Web. 3 Sept. 2016. Need to sign-up for access to electronic edition.

Stolarik, M. Mark.  Growing Up on the South Side: Three Generations of Slovaks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 18080-1976.  Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1985. Print.


2 Responses to “a Labor Day letter to my grandfather”

  1. Sally Says:

    What a lovely tribute not only to your grandfather and father, but to the time and place they inhabited. I see your boys reflected in the faces in the photo. Lovely.


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