Kató Farsang - My Mother
The Game Ancestry - Second Edition - Part II - Chapter 10

Katalin Farsang, my mother

Hu shield

Katalin Farsang
23 Mar 1909 - 27 Jul 1990

My mother Kató
First child of György Farsang and Katalin Biller

For most of my life I knew very little about my mother's family. I had known her mother, my maternal grandmother, a widow whose husband's name had been György (George) Farsang. I knew that because she was known as Özvegy Farsang Györgyné, a Hungarian formulation meaning "widow of György Farsang". It took me almost 60 years to learn why I had only known her to be a widow, and how she became one.

It was in 1989 that I last saw my mother alive. I was already keenly interested in genealogy by then and that I asked her the crucial question of just where exactly her family had come from. That is when I learned that my maternal ancestors had come from the village of Pázmánd, about 30 kilometers west of Budapest. I remembered that in 1938 my mother had taken me on a train trip to a village because she needed to obtain some documents of her Arian ancestry in preparation for moving to Hitler's Austria where we would rejoin my father who had gone ahead - supposedly to find some sort of employment. I had no idea where we had gone to get those papers. I was 8 years old then, and all I could ever remember was a small village of little white houses with thatched roofs, and lots of white geese walking about in the street. As I was able to confirm later, we had been to Pázmánd.

Kató, as my mother was known, was only five years old in 1914 when her father went to war and never came back. Her mother, a village girl from Pázmánd, found herself alone with three children in the big city of Budapest. She had moved to the 8th district of Budapest to a three-story concrete apartment building with an inner court yard at Dobozi-utca 41 I/40. The "I/40" means that she occupied apartment 40 on the first floor (which is one level above the ground floor). This was within walking distance of the Reméz, the garage where the street cars were cleaned and refurbished for the next day. Grandmother must have been a very stable person. She kept that job until her compulsory retirement, and stayed in that apartment until her death in 1972 at the age of 91. Kató's sister Mariska continued to live with her mother, and was also supported by her.

Not quite 5 yrs yet
Kató not quite 5 years old
On 21 December 1913 a railway pass was issued for little Kató with her picture. She was 4ž years old at the time. On the reverse of the picture is the legend identifying it as a railway pass "Magyar Királyi Államvasutak. Személyazonossági igazolójegy Farsang György gépmunkás leánya Katalin részére. Kelt Bpest, 1913. decz.21". A part of a rubber stamp indicates that it was issued by the Royal Hungarian State Railway's machine shops. This then indicates that my grandfather had been working in the railway machine shops before being called for military duty. It is curious that he would not have been exempt from the draft being in the employ of an organization so crucial to the war effort. Perhaps he was not a skilled worker, or others had more pull, or more seniority. The purpose of the railway pass is somewhat of a mystery. It almost makes me think that grandfather was at least initially commuting to work, as many railway employees do. From where to where? But regardless, why would his little daughter need a pass?

The obvious good which came out of it is that now I have a picture of my mother when she was under five years old, and because it documents grandfather's employer. Grandfather is called a gépmunkás which means machine, or equipment worker. Although this is not as elevated as machinist, or lathe operator, it is a respectable level of blue collar worker,and one that would require some training. Where would he have obtained such training? Since Pázmánd seems an unlikely place for it, perhaps the railway had some program of on-the-job training. Unfortunately he was no longer alive the year after Kató's railway pass had been issued.

A certified extract of Kató's her birth certificate was obtained on 1 Sep 1919fggdoc97 and it was most likely required for registration to one of the schools Kató attended. September was the beginning of the school year. She was 10 years old in 1919 and would have been finished with the four years of elementary school, and been heading for a secondary school of some kind.

Kato 14 in class picture
Kató (14?) in white blouse in front of the priest, was among the prettiest in her class.

Kató had mentioned both having "gone to school with the nuns", and "going to a commercial school". The picture with the nuns would then be the secondary school picture. This photograph, in which she looks to be about 14 years old, confirms that the entire teaching staff consisted of Catholic nuns of the order of the Merciful Sisters (with those big white head covers reminiscent of the TV program "The Flying Nun"). It is gratifying to see that my mother, sitting in the second row center (in front of the priest), was easily the prettiest one in the entire class.

A second birth certificatefggdoc98 is dated 24 June 1922 when she was 13 years old. Although schools are periodically restructured, at that time it was customary that the first four years (age 6-10) would be spent in elementary school, and then the child would continue in a secondary school of four or eight years duration. Those aiming for a university education would go to a Gymnasium (a classical high school) for eight years to a senior matriculation. Those aiming to learn a trade would take a general course for four years, and then (at age 14) enter an apprenticeship for three years accompanied by attendance at a trade school. Kató seems to have taken this latter route, unless there was a commercial course offered, similar to the one that was offered in Canadian high schools. That second birth certificate with the June date would seem to be for the registration into a 3-year commercial course from which she graduated in 1925 at age 16. The question remains why the certificate obtained in 1919 was not good enough in 1922. We will have another look at this document later.

The second school picture was taken to commemorate the occasion of having finished the commercial course, because in my mother's handwriting it says "Abschluß von Handelsschule 1925" (Commercial School Graduation). She had glued this picture into an album many years later, when she was living in Austria, which is why the annotation is in the flawed German that was so characteristic of her. She had little competition for looks in that group, and wore her hair a bit more grown-up looking, which was probably important at age 16.

I am not sure what she learned in the commercial course, or what it was supposed to have prepared her for, or which of the two types discussed above it resembled. I always felt that my mother wrote very eloquently in Hungarian, and that she had a nice, round, easy-to-read handwriting. She was very clever with needle and thread, and had a distinct hunger for things cultural. She knew most operettas, and quite a few operas well enough to sing their melodious parts quite accurately and with their Hungarian lyrics - some of which stuck in my memory by default, so that today when I am over 60 years old, I can still remember, and sing some of them.

Kató (17?) circa 1926
The next picture of Kató is a small snapshot taken in some park. In the background are large structures which I believe might be part of the Royal Castle of Budapest. She would be perhaps a year or two older than in the previous picture of 1925. She wears a plain dress over a checkered blouse, and something on her head which looks like a rimless hat, and she carries a handbag to enhance the young-woman-look she seems to want to achieve. She looks pretty, and her face has already taken on the features she will wear for the next fifty years. What was the occasion for the picture? Who was she with that had a camera? The time would have been fast approaching when she would meet my father Emó, but if this was only 1926 or 1927, then I somehow doubt that he was already in the picture. Although he did have a camera, and had taken a large number of snapshots during the war, I somehow think that if this had been Emó's handiwork, there would have been more of the same type of snaps around. Perhaps there were, and my mother kept only this one for reasons of her own.

I really do not know what she did for the next two or three years, or when exactly her path crossed that of my father Emó Zwierzina, the former captain of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Suffice it to say that I was born 28 April 1930 in the 9th district of Budapest, at Gyáli-ut 1, which I believe to have been the address of the Szent István Közkorház (a hospital), and I was baptized there seven days later into the Roman Catholic faith - as all my ancestors had been on both the maternal and the paternal sides. Kató's address is recorded as Pesterzsébet, Angyal-u 64. There is no mention of a father, and I was entered as törvénytelen, which means illegitimate.

Somewhat belatedly, Kató and Emó did marry on 20 January 1931. (A marriage certificatefggdoc100 issued on 22 August 1938 was provided "without charge on the basis of a certificate of poverty". She must have required this document in conjunction with her imminent emigration to Austria to rejoin her husband). The delay in getting married could have been caused by the Czech District Court of Praha which considered Emo and his first wife Felizitas to be Czech citizens, and dragged out the divorce until the 5th of December 1930, although it had been finalized by the Vienna Court in 1926.fggdoc187 I have yet to find out how, and when my name was changed from Farsang to Zwierzina, but frankly, I doubt that it was ever legally changed.

Kató's birth certificate obtained in 1922 provides food for other speculatation. On its back is stamped the name of the Royal Hungarian Ministry of Justice and three separate entries: 14 November 1929 (#H08129), 25 October 1930 (#07601), and the third "26305/1937)". What business did Kató have with the Ministry of Justice, or putting it differently, what other portfolios did the Ministry of Justice oversee? Were they the competent authority for social assistance? That would be the most logical explanation because the dates coincide with events in her life when social assistance would have been needed. In November 1929 she was 20 ˝ years old and four months pregnant. By the second date, October 1930 she was the single mother of a six months-old baby. In 1937, although married since 1931, she was again a single parent - her husband was in Austria, perhaps never to return, and she supported herself and her son by sewing for other people.

After my birth Kató was learning how to be a mother, and it is logical to expect that she was also learning to be a wife. Although I am convinced that she applied herself to both challenges, subject to natural priorities imposed by her mothering instincts, I really do not think that she succeeded all that well in either department. She nursed her baby, but it caused her much suffering. When I was already a middle-aged man, she would relate to me how I had bitten her nipples which had then become swollen and painful, how she had suffered, and how she endured - "out of love", and how she continued to nurse me with tears running down her face. When she told me, the way she told me, I had the distinct feeling that I was expected to feel terribly guilty for having inflicted physical pain on my mother, and very grateful that she continued feeding me instead of throwing me into the Danube.

She had nothing in common with her husband who tended to look down on her humble origins, calling her family proletarians. This wonderful husband of hers was not very well equipped to find lucrative employment - certainly not of the kind that he found acceptable in view of the way he perceived his social status as a former officer. Consequently there were things lacking, and whenever there are things lacking, a couple starts fighting. They moved around frequently, and it may have had to do with the rent being too high, or overdue, or both. The places they lived in were never plush or even particularly comfortable. These were the cold-water flats common in those days, and usually rather bare. A young couple very much in love, rejoicing at having a place of their own, might have thrived in their combined efforts to battle the challenges Kató and Emó had to face. Unfortunately I do not remember my parents as a loving couple. I wish I did.

Kató with Felix c.1937
Kató with Felix circa 1937
Kató found herself alone most of the time while Emó chummed around with people he considered more his equals. He also tried all sorts of entrepreneurial experiments to make money. Whether it was the domestic disharmony, or the hopelessness of making a living in Hungary, one day Emó left and went back to Austria. Kató started sewing for people, and because it was always in the homes of those people, she left her son who was only six or seven years old unattended most of the time. It worked out because he was self-sufficient and dependable. Today the Childrens' Aid Society would pick up a child like that, but it may not have been against the law back in those days to leave children unattended - although it certainly would have been against common sense.

The third entry on the back of that second birth certificatefggdoc98 shows that yet another contact, with what were probably the social assistance officials, took place in 1937, at a time when Emo was in Austria, and perhaps was not really expected to be ever seen again. Kató earned a bit as seamstress, but it could not have been enough to support herself and her son, so it would be logical for her to seek some sort of social assitance.

Some communication came from Emó in 1938 which caused great happiness. Kató took me with her on a train trip to Pázmánd to gather documents, and the next thing I knew, we were on a different train bound for Vienna where Kató and Emó were re-united. He had found all sorts of opportunities during the era of the Anschluß, and certainly was able to keep us living in a hotel for several weeks, after which we moved out into the country.

Kató suffered through the agony of meeting her husband's relatives in Vienna. She was a very attractive woman, so that part was easy, but she probably felt that they also wanted her to be intelligent, charming and entertaining. She did not speak any German; not a word, and she could only converse with Adolf Birman, who was a Slovak Jew and spoke Hungarian fluently. The rest of them were treated to big, toothy smiles to their faces and catty comments about them after the meeting. She felt very ill at ease and decided to dislike them all. Emó was often running after some business or other, and parked his wife and son in places where they were neither particularly wanted, nor the least bit comfortable. Emó's sister Gretl Hablé was elected more than once to baby-sit her brother's uncommunicative family. During one of those visits Gretl very innocently gave some dog biscuits to her splendidly ugly British Bulldog. Not knowing that biscuits for the exclusive consumption of dogs even existed, Kató considered Gretl extremely insensitive to offer her dog a "cookie" without also offering one to the little boy watching it all. After that incident there was nothing that poor Gretl could do right.

Kato 17
Kató circa 1940
Kató was now Mrs. Zwierzina, the wife of a former officer, and she also had much novelty value because none of that huge migration of peoples, which became commonplace during the war, had started yet and a foreigner was a curiosity. It must have been frustrating for Kató not to be able to converse, or even know what other people were talking about. It took several years for her to master German well enough to get along, but she never spoke the language flawlessly. In Gmunden, where the family settled, she became simply known as die Ungarin (the Hungarian woman).

Emó was away most of the time, which was good and bad. It was good because it afforded fewer occasions for getting into fights, and bad because it left Kató too much on her own at a time when she needed coaching and support to overcome the rough spots of integrating into Austrian society.

Kató with Schloß Ort in back
There were a number of things which were quite different from Kató's previous life. First of all, she had been a big city girl. In Budapest she had known how to get around using public transportation. She always found somewhere to go, something new to see, been able to mingle with the masses whose language she spoke. Gmunden was a small provincial town of 12,000 inhabitants. There was only one street car which went back and forth to meet trains at the station. In Gmunden you had to walk which involved navigating some very steep cobbled streets, not suited to the high heels Kató felt to be obligatory because they made her legs appear more perfectly formed, and because they made her fallen arches less visible. As far as mingling with the people, there was not much point since she could not understand them, which made her paranoid because she thought they were saying things about her. Besides, unless one wanted to go hiking, there was no place to go in Gmunden. There was one cinema that played whenever it had a film. There was a library, but it would be years before Kató was far enough advanced in German to be able to use its facilities. Any other place of diversion or entertainment, restaurants or dances, would have required her husband's presence. And he was not around or not inclined. (Looking back, I wonder if one or both of them could not dance well enough; I never once saw my parents dance).

Kató circa 1941
Kató now had a nicer home than she ever had. A spacious apartment on the second floor of a two story villa with parquet floors and French doors, furnished with lovely, dainty Biedermeier furniture and Persian carpets and heated by those nice-looking Kachelofen. She did not have to go out to sew for people, and would have been able to spend a lot of time with her son, if she had been so inclined. She continued to sew at home for herself and her son. She appeared to have a genuine liking for things cultural, and kept nibbling at the 10 or 12 volumes of Schopenhauer's philosophy, and kept playing the few phonograph records we owned over and over again with the effect that I knew every bar of Cavaradossi's aria from Tosca, and the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt. She attended every stage play that came to Gmunden, and generally tried to associate with people who had the capacity for intellectual conversations. It is probably fitting that among the papers, which came into my possession after her death, there was a page of scribbled extracts from the popular Hungarian poem Szeptember végén by the famous poet Petőfi Sándor.

Excursion to Steyrermühl. Kató looks exceptionally happy and pretty in Laci's company (Felix at left front)
When Emó joined the German Wehrmacht in 1939, it was again a mixed blessing. He was happier than he had been for a long time, and he did look good in his uniform. Installed at his old rank of captain, he immediately made a very favorable social impact on everybody he came into contact with. All of this rubbed off on his wife, who was now addressed as Frau Hauptmann, but also still referred to as Frau Zwierzina or die Ungarin. They had no social life to speak of. Emó had no friends because he did not know anyone in Gmunden, which was at least partly a result of him considering most locals as somewhat below his status. The war (World War II) had started in the meantime, and the male population was thinning out noticeably. When Emó was posted and seldom came home on leave, Kató being a more social animal than Emó, went back to what she knew best: she accepted sewing work again. Her status was quite different now from what it used to be in Budapest. There she was treated, and behaved like a servant, being very subservient, and politely calling her customers Sir and Madam. In Gmunden, being the wife of a captain, and surrounded by his expensive furnishings, she treated her customers as friends and confidantes. Part of Emó's military pay came in regularly; money was not a problem. Now when she sewed, it was more the desire to have social contacts, and later, when food and merchandise of all kinds became difficult to obtain, she asked to be paid with ration coupons or pounds of sugar, butter, etc.

Kató: "To remember the unforgettable"
Kató was comfortable from a material point of view, but she had no marriage. The husband was rarely home, and when he showed up periodically it was evident that his health had started to deteriorate. They still had nothing in common. With his officer background and his tendency to snobbishness he had always considered her and her family to be of an inferior class. Where they could have, and should have found a common interest, was in the raising of their son Felix, but instead, in 1940 they agreed on a way to have him out of their hair. For the next four years he was sent to a boarding school for boys.

A document dated 1 January 1942 indicates that Kató had been employed on 17 December 1941 as a war-replacement employee at the gross pay rate of 160.74 Reichsmark per month. The document is called a contract between the General Medical Insurance for Upper Austria in Linz, and Katharina Zwierzina. No employer is named, and her signature is missing. It is entirely possible that this was a mere formality needed to make her eligible for medical coverage while she functioned as a self-employed seamstress. But if she was self-employed, how can they state a precise monthly wage? Or was this the amount sent to her from her husband's army pay?

38-ish Kató
38-ish Kató
Being an attractive woman, Kató got to know a number of men during the next few years, and entered into prolonged relations with some, although never cohabiting with any of them. During the war, the State Opera from Budweis (now Budjovice, Czech Republic) used to come to Gmunden every summer and stay until the fall. One of the French-Horn players became Kató's paramour and conduit to many cultural events. Kató loved the theater and reveled in the many excellent productions of Lehár operettas and Puccini Operas presented by the Czech troupe. This fellow was also very kind to Kató's son Felix, and taught him how to use a very small (probably jeweller's) lathe - this knowledge qualified Felix many years later to enter a government sponsored training program for apprentice lathe operators making automobile bearings. The relationship that endured the longest, however, was with an Italian/Croatian foreign worker, who later emigrated to Canada. This fellow was a warm, cheerful person with a great amount of joie de vivre. However both were fiercely independent, and eventually broke up. Kató's last long-term relationship was with a Hungarian machinist who had come to Gmunden as a refugee when the whole factory he worked in was moved to Gmunden towards the end of the war.

About the time Emó lost a leg to diabetes (June 1941) Kató was suing him for divorce. I seem to remember a slight change in the atmosphere at home, and it is possible that she felt sorry for him, and perhaps felt that her place was with him now that he needed someone, but the gestures of reconciliation soon dried up and the divorce ran its course to be finalized effective 24 Feb 1944. Kató had to share the blame (although the court found it necessary to add that Emo's guilt weighed heavier). Since both parties were considered indigent (im Armenrecht), the court denied Kató's claim for support. It is noteworthy that Emo is shown as Captain a.D. where a.D. means außer Dienst, in effect retired - although not necessarily in receipt of a pension.

1948-Kató with Gandi
In 1945 when Emó found himself on a refugee train heading west, Kató was confronted with the realization that her son Felix, then almost 15, had gone to pick up his father to bring him home to live with Felix in his room. So here she was sharing the kitchen and the bathroom with her ex-husband, who had mellowed and matured, and was by now a genuinely nice person with whom her Italian/Croatian paramour of the period enjoyed sharing the occasional bottle of wine. This was a difficult period for Kató the mother. Her son was at the age when he felt practically grown up and was not at all inclined to listen to her. She had not dared to oppose the repatriation of his handicapped father fearing to lose the son in the process. It was a very difficult period for everyone just after the war when getting the day's nourishment meant standing in line for hours just to get a loaf of bread made out of cornmeal. A teenage boy was an asset in those days, but here was Kató watching as her son's loyalties seemed to shift more and more towards his father. She felt jealous and betrayed, especially when Felix would give packages of American cigarettes, worth their weight in gold, to his father to have them go up in smoke. Carried away by these resentful feelings she forced the issue one day by challenging her son to choose between his mother or his father. There was of course no way that she could come out a winner from such a thoughtless outburst. First of all Emó needed help much more than she did, and secondly because the challenge in itself turned the son against her.

After the war the Austrian government began sorting out its population to try to determine who was really Austrian. On 11 January 1946 Kató obtained a typed transcript of her marriage certificatefggdoc101, and then had it translated into German on 16 April 1948.fggdoc102 Although these dates are two years apart, they most likely pertain to her attempt to obtain Austrian citizenship, which she did receive in January 1949.

Shortly after, on 20 May 1949 she had her second birth certificatefggdoc98 translated into Germanfggdoc99. Inasmuch as she had very recently obtained her Austrian citizenship, I can only surmise that she was applying for a passport to go to Budapest and establish the fate of her mother and sister who were still living there. It is also possible that, having reached the age of 40, she wanted to go there to recapture her youth, and perhaps meet someone from her pre-war life.

The sign says Kato Zwierzina, Made to Measure Ladies' Fashions
Then the pieces in Kató's world started first to unravel, and then to fall back into place. Felix left town to work in an other province, and then in 1951 he emigrated to Canada. Emó found some work in a cottage industry setting and moved out to live in the country. The old maid, who owned the villa where Kató remained alone in the apartment the family had occupied since 1939, decided to get married although she was over 70 years old. Since neither this old maid, nor her sister had any descendants, this was probably an attempt to ensure that the property would fall into deserving hands. Austrian law made it virtually impossible to get rid of a tenant whose ridiculously low rent had been frozen since before the war. She wanted Kató to vacate the second floor apartment. The owner offered a large sum of money which Kató could not resist. She was, however, clever enough to invest it in real estate and built herself a small house where she hung out her shingle as Damenschneiderin (taylor of ladies' fashions). The house was quite an achievement for her at the time, but since she could not afford first class tradesmen, much of the construction and finishing was done by moonlighting self-proclaimed handymen (known in Austria as "Pfuscher") who could tell her anything and she would have to believe them. I do not think that she had ever decent stairs leading down into her basement because the man who was engaged to built them just did not know how to do it, and started both from the bottom up and from the top down, and when the two pieces did not meet, and Kato became angry, he simply packed up his tools and left never to come back.

Kató's Graduation grin
She took courses, and in 1952 at the age of 43 passed the examinations required to obtain masters papers, which among other privileges allowed her to keep apprentices. The little house at Traunleitenstraße 17 in Gmunden has since been improved by the present owners, who enlarged the building and put a proper roof on it and did a creditable job of landscaping. It looked like a nice little house in 1994, and is located in a pretty residential area.

After Felix's departure to Canada in 1951 and until Emo's death in 1956 correspondence was carried on between Felix and his father, but there was never any doubt that Kató received all the news about her son's life in Canada, albeit second-hand through Emo. Starting in 1956 Felix and Kató were exchanging letters regularly. These were always civil but not necessarily friendly, and there was every indication that they both had their own concerns and very different priorities, and they, consequently, often talked right past each other.

Felix was intensely aware that he was an only child on whom the responsibility would fall to look after his mother when she could no longer fend for herself. He suggested that Kató move to Canada where it would be feasible to care for her. Kató on the other hand did not envision herself in need of care yet, and was fiercely independent and did not want to fall under anyone's control. So she kept on complaining about financial difficulties of which she was the chief architect. Her son was more than willing to care for an aging mother when the time came, but he was not prepared to invest in his mother's projects or property in Austria. Thus the exchanges continued with Felix inviting his mother to Canada and offering to send the plane tickets, and Kató saying she would rather have the cash.

In a letter dated 25 April 1959 Felix explains to his mother that he should not be thought of as the "rich son from America", and that the plane fare he had offered would have been purchased for her under the "fly now, pay later" plan. He enumerated his obligations towards his own family, and in the same letter, proudly announced that he had been promoted to Branch Manager by HFC (Household Finance Corporation), and would be opening a new office in Richmond Hill (Ontario) four days hence, on 29 April.

Kato at Niagara Falls
Kató sees Niagara Falls with her grandsons
Kató knew that she had three grandsons in Canada and one year she made the journey to take emotional possession of them as grandmothers tend to do. Once again she was up against the language barrier she had experienced upon first moving to Austria, except this time the language was English. She could not speak to her daughter-in-law, nor could she speak to the two grandsons who were old enough to speak. That left the baby (Todd) who was not into speaking yet and was quite content with goo-goo sounds and slobbering. But he had already been claimed by Mrs. Pleschberger, Felix's live-in house keeper, an Austrian woman of Kató's vintage with whom Kató could converse. Mrs. Pleschberger had been looking after the youngest ever since he was born and felt very possessive about her baby and her family and her home. Cattiness between fifty-year-olds is only different in that it is more practiced. But both women had very real emotional stakes.

Kató happened to be present when the Olson family came to visit from New Orleans. Felix had met Otto Olson after the war when Otto was was still in the US army and stationed at Gmunden. Felix used to take him around along the river and show him the large fish that were easy to see a few feet away in the chrystal clear water.

Kató in Aurora when Olsons visit from New Orleans. Left to right: Angus Olson, Adrienne Game, Sarah Olson, Kató Zwierzina, Otto Olson.
No doubt, Kató had imagined that her arrival in Canada would be viewed by all involved as an event to be celebrated. It was a big disappointment to her that not only was there no big fuss made over her, but she also found already in residence the stout, and in people skills much superior Mrs. Pleschberger, who while smart enough to know her place, must have at least considered the possibility that her services may no longer be required with the arrival of a real, flesh and blood grandmother who might stay. Kató felt shunted off to the sidelines instead of being the center of attention. She was undecided about what to do. She felt hurt by her son's refusal to dismiss his faithful housekeeper and let her run his home. She did not want to go back, and she did not want to stay. She kept turning down her son's suggestion to sell out in Austria and move to Canada where he could look after her when she needed it, which was only a question of time.

Somehow she ran into a Hungarian physician who was in desperate need of someone to look after his two children. Kató took the job and became a live-in housekeeper herself. She earned good money and could visit her grandchildren on week-ends. She also explored Toronto on her own and in no time found more Hungarian districts and stores than her son, who had been living in the area for years. She even took the ferry and visited Toronto Island, something else her son had never done. Her joie de vivre was still in place, and it should have been a good time for her.

Kato in 1960s
Kató in the 1960s
Having stayed in Canada about a year, Kató went back to Austria, and not long thereafter she sold her business and her property, and moved to Vienna - but not before she had her oldest grandson Mark for a visit during the summer of 1968, when it was his last chance at flying half price before turning 12. Her oldest grandson's visit in Gmunden should also have been a joyous occasion for Kató, but while some of her letters contained funny anecdotes, the general tone was more that of a beleaguered woman who did not cope too well. There was of course the language barrier between grandmother and grandson, and she also tried to keep on working at her business. And in all fairness, her grandson - as can be seen on the Niagara picture above, was at a rather sullen age, and probably bored to death.

Shortly before returning Mark, she wrote a rather funny letter, "warning me that his suitcase was full of murder weapons, and if he did not show up, I should first check with customs, who may hold him and who may have thrown away the key". I should especially watch for four live shells he was carrying. Then she finished by telling me that she had been unable to work as she had intended, and had to borrow money from the bank, which did not help her health either.

Then came several letters describing the unpleasant aspects of selling the house. When she needed advice, she remembered that I knew the assistant manager of one of the banks, and she went to him for advice. He told her how he saw it, but when she finally sold the house, she was, of course, not satisfied with the deal, and quickly blamed the free advice she had been given. She eventually extricated herself from the property that she obviously could not handle too well, and moved to Vienna. To Kató, who had grown up in Budapest, moving into a big city must have felt like coming home again. In Vienna she lived within walking distance of Schönbrunn Palace (shown at left) and if she craned her neck, she could see in the distance its Gloriette from her kitchen window.

In a letter of 16 April 1970 Felix again tried to persuade his mother to sell out, pack up and come to Canada. He also asked if she had gotten over her complaints relating to Mark's visit, and somewhat sympathetically told her how Mark memorized long passages from Merchant of Venice, but could not remember to take out the garbage.

Gloriette of Schönbrunn in Vienna
The possibility of sending Vance for a visit to Vienna was discussed. Kató is eager, and has plenty of time to devote to a visiting grandson. Felix is stalling because of a shortage of cash. The next year, however, the summer Vance turned twelve, he was sent to spent two months with his grandmother, and she really enjoyed him. Predictably there were complications when she again became jealous of another old lady, who lived one floor below, and who became friendly with Vance. The two women, who had been friends, competed for Vance's affections and finished up as enemies.

She wrote funny letters again about the exploits of grandson number two. Kató insists that "Vance was my best product", not only in appearance, but that he had also inherited from me some nice streaks of character. In a letter of 26 July 1971 she reported that (after hot debates - she had found him very strong-willed.) this was the first day on which Vance was allowed to go out without Kató. He was going out with his little Hungarian girl friend from whom he was learning words. Anyhow, that afternoon's episode ended when the girl came home alone. Kató could not stand the waiting and went out to look for Vance, and spotted him from afar ambling along, in no hurry at all to go home. When she met him, he swore like a trooper about the girl not showing up as agreed.

he letter was quite funny, and also had some elements of intrigue having to do with Kató's woman friend, who had begged that Vance should be told she was Kató's sister. To please the friend, she agreed to this minor deception, but it seems Kató was also planning a trip to Budapest, and was now worried about how she would explain her real sister there. Vance git a good deal out of this competition. The "Tante" was showering gifts on him, particularly a strange assortment of models he was expected to assemble such as the Battleship Bismarck, Apollo 11, planes, sail boats, etc. His grandmother Kató showed him all the places she thought would interest an 11 year-old boy. So he got to experience the giant ferris wheel called "Riesenrad" and Vienna's "Tiergarten" (Zoo), and of course the nearby Castle of Schönbrunn and the Gloriette. Vance also collected things from Kató that his father used to own when a boy. He came home with military medals, stuffed animals, a sheath knife and the Austrian flag which the Quo Vadis, our 28 foot keel boat, proudly flew off the port spreader until the day she was sold. Vance returned from Vienne in August of 1971..

Whether it was worsening paranoia, or just her personality, Kató not only considered the neighbor woman an enemy thereafter, but she also got into a feud with the building's superintendent whom she accused of stealing from her, of spying on her, and of having installed a pipe into her ceiling from which to watch her and from which to emit strange noises to annoy and frighten her. She even hired a lawyer to handle this dispute.

Son Felix, as he aged, was to her chagrin looking more and more like his father. He visited her twice in that apartment (1974 and 1979). Both times she started off, in good old Hungarian tradition, to force-feed him, but then their conversations became strained. At the end of the second visit in 1979 Kató told her only son that he should not come back any more because it upset her too much. She also stopped responding to his correspondence from then on.

Consequently when she started to have serious problems with her memory, her hearing and her goitre, and when she had fallen and broken a hip and was hospitalized, her son remained unaware of these developments. It was not until 1989, when Kató was 80 years old that her son Felix found himself in Vienna looking for her after his transatlantic telephone call had produced a strange voice on her phone, and the realization that her whereabouts were unknown.

Kató had been befriended by a practical nurse, Erna Masek, in the hospital where she spent time with her hip. This woman quickly assessed Kató to be a lonely woman with some assets, who did not seem to have anyone in the world. Erna started to take over Kató's life. She introduced her to a lawyer by the name of Wiesenwasser, found her a nursing home, moved and stored her furniture, and played along with Kató's inherent paranoia. Felix's unexpected arrival in Vienna threatened the plans Erna may have made, and Kató was quickly spirited away so that it took a week of running around before Felix found her again in a different nursing home in the opposite end of Vienna. When he did find her, Kató was unkempt and disoriented, or at least she acted that way. Although she took an instinctive liking to Felix and called him a nice gentleman, she maintained that he was not her son, could not be her son, because "they had told her" that her son had died years ago. She was frightened of Erna but had no one to turn to, nor did she seem to want to. She died six months later in yet another nursing home she had been moved to by Erna, who emerged as the sole inheritor of all of my mother's earthly possessions - most of which had already passed into her hands each time she moved Kató to a different place. At the time of my visit in 1989 there was little left apart from a closet full of custom made suits and overcoats. Kató's will, scribbled under pressure from Erna Maschek was upheld by the District Court of Hitzing. I was never more ashamed of the Austrian legal system.

My mother Kató Zwierzina, born Farsang Katalin  is buried in the cemetery in Ober St.Veit, a suburb of Vienna. The exact location of the grave is "Gruppe H212B".

Kató Zwierzina, née Farsang lies in the cemetery at Vienna
- Ober St. Veit, Gruppe H2 12B

End of Chapter 10 - End of Part II

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