73: Making the Best of the Worst of Times

73: Making the Best of the Worst of Times

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Making the Best of the Worst of Times

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.

~Albert Einstein

I was eleven years old when my grandparents, who raised me, and I fled our Soviet-occupied country, Hungary, in the fall of 1947, landing in a refugee camp in Austria. Our only worldly possessions were the clothes on our backs. We had lost everything because of World War II, but we were alive. And for that, we were grateful to the Lord.

The refugee camp housed hundreds of destitute refugees like ourselves. Although dismal and cramped, we were provided with a roof over our heads, donated clothes to wear, and soup and bread to fill our hungry stomachs. So what did it matter that we didn’t have a penny to our names?

But it mattered a great deal to my grandfather. He hated living off the charity of others, hated not being able to provide for his family as he had always done in the past. Feelings of helplessness overwhelmed him, and he spent a great deal of time praying, or “having conversations with the Lord,” as he would call his prayers.

Just beyond our dismal camp was a beautiful natural world of mountains, a crystal clear river, and farms dotted with grazing animals. The river was the Drau River, and Grandpa and I discovered it on a summer day while taking a ramble through the countryside after Grandpa said he had a dream directing him to take a walk.

“You can enjoy the water, while I get busy with something else,” Grandpa suddenly announced with a gleam in his eyes.

So, I splashed around in the shallow, clear water while Grandpa walked up and down the bank. Then I noticed he was cutting some branches from the river willows growing profusely along the bank. Soon, he had a large armful of them and we headed back to the camp.

“What are you going to do with them?” I asked him curiously.

“I will make some baskets,” Grandpa replied.

“And what will you do with the baskets?” I asked, suddenly remembering his hobby used to be weaving.

“I will try to sell them to the Austrians.”

Soon Grandpa found some old boards and bricks, and set up a worktable in front of our barrack. Then, after laboriously peeling the willow branches, he began weaving his first basket. A large crowd gathered around to watch him, and some boys volunteered to get more willow branches for him.

“Thank you. And when I sell my baskets, I’ll pay you for your help.”

Within a week or so, there were six beautiful baskets ready for market. Grandpa hung them on a long stick, flung them over his shoulder, and off he went to town, looking like a hobo peddler, much to Grandma’s embarrassment. He returned just before dark minus the baskets. He had sold all of them! Then reaching into the bag he was carrying, he pulled out something for me. It was a new storybook I had longed for, that I had seen displayed in a book store window on one of our walks through town.

“Oh, thank you, Grandpa,” I shrieked as I threw my arms around him. “I can’t believe you were able to buy it.”

“You are very welcome. And never forget, with the Lord’s help, and some will and determination, you can make the best of the worst situation.” Then he reached into the bag again and pulled out a ball of red yarn and a crocheting needle, handing it to Grandma. “I remember how you always liked to keep your hands busy, Terez. This will help.” Grandma had tears of joy as she fingered that ball of yarn! Then, just before he went off to pay the boys who had helped him, he announced proudly, “And I have orders from people for many more baskets.”

Grandpa continued with his new venture all summer and even gave free lessons in weaving to anyone interested. After he sold the next batch, he bought himself a fishing pole and a large frying pan. Then, building a fire in the rock circle he had arranged, he cooked up a large batch of fish he caught in the river and shared it with our neighbors. It was most unusual to have the aroma of frying fish wafting through the camp—where barracks were lined up like soldiers and helpless people lived their lives in them, hoping and praying for something better.

My dear Grandpa was a wonderful gift-giver. He gave me the book I had my heart set on—along with a lesson for life about making the best of the worst situations. And that lesson has served me well in my own life.

~Renie Burghardt

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