[Previously I posted a poem by Jenne M. that related her mother’s line through poetry. Here is the same story in prose. I think it is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen that tells the same family history using two very different mechanism. After you read this version, go back and read (or reread) the poem. You will gain new insight into her family’s story. Hopefully, you will also consider a new way to tell your own stories. Poetry can be an incredibly powerful tool. – Don Taylor]
by Jenne M. (guest blogger)
I first knew I had to embark upon ancestry work years ago – back in 2001, after my maternal grandmother died of colon cancer. “The house of your ancestors is falling into ruin,” the dreams whispered, showing me visions of a ramshackle Cape Cod, with the stars and space lurking behind the rotted floorboards.
|Frank Bazsika and Marie Kocun on
their wedding day,
with Victoria Kocun at left.
With a broad face and a ready laugh, Marie Kocun Bazsika seemed to defy the circumstances life brought her. Born Mary but baptized as Marie, she had a twin brother, Stephen, who was a talented musician that died relatively early. A car accident, my grandmother told me once; illness due to a weakened constitution from drinking, my mother countered. He died at the age of 46, four years before my birth.
Marie, called Mae by her friends, was a small, merry woman, the daughter of Slovak immigrants. Swept up by the times, at the age of 16, she married a handsome Hungarian soldier: Frank Bazsika, one of many to bear that name in his family. Once, she told me that she and her husband were advised not to have children – ostensibly because Usher’s Syndrome, a form of deaf-blindness, ran in their lines. I haven’t been able to ascertain whether that was the truth, but half of her children ended up having the disorder.
But that was the least of Mae’s trials. Behind that long, handsome face of her tall, burly husband lurked the Fomhoire.
The beloved first son of his daughter-heavy family, Frank was heavily spoiled by his shopkeeper parents, who pampered him in every way, and looked aside when he beat his sisters with the fire poker. Violent and charming by turns, he dressed impeccably as a young man and, like so many of his generation, ended up drafted during World War II.
He served in Edinburgh in Scotland for at least some of the war, as a mechanic. At some point during his service, he fell in love with a Frenchwoman – named Marie, like my grandmother – whom he had to leave behind. Perhaps this ideal paramour made his own Marie seem so small and provincial, unwanted and vulgar. Perhaps this other Marie existed only in his mind, which danced on a narrow floor of sanity, dipping into periodic chasms of violence and despair.
When he returned, the darkness – the one that had always been with him, according to his sisters’ testimony – rose up and swallowed him, coloring his fantasies with rage. Gone were the smart suits and the smile, eradicated by a love of vulgarity and sadism. Continuing his work as a mechanic, he also dabbled in get-rich-quick schemes, running the gamut from gas stations to chicken farms, none of which he ever put his hands to; rather, his wife and children were the laborers. Parasites who didn’t earn their keep, he thought and had his wife shovel chicken shit the morning after giving birth. His family lived in squalor and fear, while he spent their meager earnings on himself and his pleasures: cars, sweets he wouldn’t share and, finally, the rifle that would prove his undoing.
He confessed to the priest and nuns that he had long smelled his flesh burning in the fires of hell, and gleefully shared fantasies of beating his wife and torturing his children – which he enacted daily, with creative flair.
Frank was, in short, a born psychopath.
Marie fled often, but to her husband’s family and not her beloved twin and parents, fearing that he would exact his vengeance on them. She left her children behind to fend for themselves. Following the advice of the nuns and priests, she always returned, until the cycle became unbearable once more. Frank and Marie existed in a strange dance of hatred and need, circling one another, lunging in for blows and pain.
|Frank Andrew Bazsika
served in World War II
The blast of a shotgun ended the dance.
Frank’s eldest son and namesake took his father’s gun and waited with a sniper’s patience for his father to return home from work. A flash of light, a blast, and the red blossomed from his chest, mingling with the mud. Marie ran to him, frantic. My mother – then 16, a year younger than the namesake – watched. Her elder brother fled, but was caught later by police, tried and sentenced for homicide and spent many years in prison. In those days, no one cared about child abuse and its impact on the generations beyond.
Marie never remarried, and sold off the chicken farm piece by piece. Eventually, she left the house on Iron Ore Road, living on the hillside behind it – and then, Iron Ore Road entirely.
While abuse shaped her life, Marie was more than the blow she received. During World War II, she worked at General Cable, testing field wiring for Army telephone lines, and later worked at her husband’s tire store. After selling the business, she then worked as a waitress, the first on the New Jersey Turnpike. She converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, enjoying mission trips and camaraderie. She greeted death – and the union with her God – as a friend.
[Jenne M. is a Guest Blogger. If you wish to contact her, please use the comments form below and I will forward your request to her. – Don Taylor]