97: A Song for Dedi

97: A Song for Dedi

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

A Song for Dedi

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.

~Maya Angelou

As soon as my husband, Andy, suggested we give Dedi a gift from the heart I knew exactly what I wanted to give her. I sat down and tapped out an e-mail to her son:

Hi George,

I hope all is well. I’ve been playing around with my ukulele, trying to write a few songs of my own. Andy mentioned that Dedi loves gifts from the heart. I thought it might be fun to try writing a song for her. I know the basics of her life story, but maybe you could help fill in the gaps? Please don’t tell anyone, in case I can’t come up with anything. If I do it would be a nice surprise for everyone, me included. :)

Marla

I smiled when I read his reply later that day.

Sure! Would be happy to help. What tempo calls to you? Happy, whimsical, a ballad? Like the theme of The Beverly Hillbillies with a Hungarian twist?

What did I want to say to the lady who was like a grandmother to my husband? Who had welcomed me into the family with open arms? I knew she had an interesting story to tell. More than once she had picked up and moved on, starting over.

A few days later a line popped into my head as I thought about Dedi as a young mother rocking her newborn. You don’t know what the future holds, the miles you’ll travel, or the places you’ll call home.

I e-mailed George a few questions.

Hi George,

I was thinking maybe something reflective — a toast, somewhat sentimental but hopefully not too sappy.

• When (and how) did they leave Hungary to come to Canada?

• Why did they move from Montreal to Kelowna?

• What jobs did Dedi have?

His reply gave me all I needed:

Hi Marla,

• We sneaked through the Hungarian border into Austria in the dark of a November night in 1956.

• We crossed the Atlantic in ten days (which she spent most of throwing up) on a really old ship.

• Had an interesting encounter wondering what Jell-O pudding was.

• Arrived in Canada in Saint John, New Brunswick, wondering if we’d made the right decision.

• Were given a total of $10.00 to start a new life in Canada. No further contributions were received.

• Arrived by train in Montreal on Christmas Eve, in the middle of a snowstorm and -20 degree C, again wondering if we’d made the right decision.

• She found employment as a maid in Westmount, Montreal.

• Learned how to prepare poached eggs that didn’t run and cook bacon crisp.

• Worked hand-to-mouth (manicurist hahaha) at the Ritz Carlton Hotel beauty shop until retirement.

• Packed all the furniture (cat included) on a bought mileaged out Hertz truck and came to Calgary in 1979 to escape exploding mailboxes (or more precisely the continuing political tension and separatism).

• Five days later moved to Kelowna, BC, and found paradise.

• Paradise consisted of buying a motel and going back to being a maid.

• Finally settled down to the good life when the motel was sold.

Don’t know how this helps, but you are the creative one. When you get it set to music, send me the chords. We’ll do a duet.

George

The weeks that followed were full of researching, writing, revising, playing, and singing. I read stories about the Iron Curtain, the Hungarian revolution, Hungarian refugees, and the October Crisis in Quebec. Slowly and surely the story became a song.

A few days before Christmas I slipped my ukulele into my suitcase, hidden amongst clothes and other gifts. I carefully slipped the printed song lyrics into my carry-on bag. I had already e-mailed George a copy, but it still seemed too precious to risk losing.

On Christmas Day, after enjoying a traditional family breakfast of Icky Sticky Ooey Gooey Buns and crispy bacon, I announced that I had a special gift for Dedi.

I pulled out my humble ukulele and George sat beside me with his twelve-string guitar. Knowing how difficult it can sometimes be to understand song lyrics the first time through, I read it first, my voice shaking.

Tanks are back in Budapest

ending revolution

with a crushing iron fist.

You sneak across the border

in search of better life

on a cold November night.

Ten dreadful days to cross the ocean,

ten dollars to start again.

Welcomed to Montreal on Christmas Eve

by a bitter winter snow.

Another tense October,

endless talk of separation

Twenty-two years of Quebec politics,

the truck is packed and headed west

for paradise

across the Rocky Mountains.

You don’t know what the future holds,

the miles you’ll travel or the places you’ll call home,

how you will get there or if you’ll grow old.

When I am old will I be wise?

Will my life story be worth being told?

How many tears will I cry?

How many smiles?

George and I strummed while I sang my heart out. Dedi dabbed her eyes with a tissue while her grandsons recorded the moment on their smart phones. Everyone joined in on the chorus. Afterwards, the family huddled around Dedi to listen to stories we hadn’t heard before. I hadn’t hit every note with perfect pitch but I knew that the song and this moment had been a very special gift for everyone, myself included.

~Marla Lesage

Lincoln, New Brunswick

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