Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are You Blessed... Merry Christmas

As we celebrate Christmas Eve today, are you truly thankful for all that you have? You have more conveniences and blessings than you can count, a warm shelter to find comfort in, some degree of healthfulness, food in the home and most likely, loved ones surrounding you. People over the years have not been as Lucky as we are today. Many struggles with War, starvation, lost and missing family, and a steep price to be paid for even attempting to celebrate the birth of Christ.
The card shown here was sent to me by Baby Luci, Nonna's precious cousin, who lives in Russia. We are excited to learn that some of Nonna's family managed to survive Stalin and Hitler, and with thanks to " The Secret Holocaust Diaries" we have come into contact with some of her relatives that are still alive! The fact that Nonna's loved ones from a world away could be located after so many years is astounding. My nephew Zach and his friend Bob, made a trip to Konstantinovka this summer and left a few books with Vladimir, a local newspaper reporter, and searched as best they could for links to Nonna's family. After Zach left to come home, Vladimir ran a story asking for anyone with information about this family to please come forward, and with God's guidance someone did and now we can learn more about my dear mother's past life!
Through distress, grief, War, Communism and survival, more of Nonna's life will soon be known. I believe that this is truly our family's Christmas miracle for 2009 and I only have sympathy that for all of those years Nonna was left remembering and wondering what happened, that she did not live to find out and seek out her loved ones. I also believe that God knew what was best for my mother and although finding out this information may have been wonderful for her kids, it very well might have not been good for her.
So my friends, have a Merry Christmas and remember that you are blessed and take a moment to say a little prayer for Nonna.
Love John

Friday, December 18, 2009


Of all the holidays we observe, the Christmas Season was Nonna's favorite. She would look forward to this time of year and loved to decorate her home with beautiful arrangements. Picking out a tree was always a family event, which us children loved to do. Southern Louisiana can be fairly warm in December, but it always seemed that on the evening we went to get our tree, it would be cold and most years, raining. I remember that mom would walk around the lot several times looking for the perfect tree, then we would load it up and head home for some hot chocolate. Several years, Henry would have to trim the top just to get it inside and us kids hated that the tree had to stand up for at least a day before we could start decorating.
Nonna took her time with the lights, she had the old fashioned type that were round with Styrofoam coating, then painstakingly put her special ornaments in just the right places. When she was finished with the decorations, our turn came with the Icicles. We loved the Icicles. but had to lay them very carefully over the ends of each branch. The end result I always believed and still do, was the prettiest Christmas tree I had ever seen.
One year, Nonna came up with a brilliant idea that would add to her enjoyment of the season. She went to a department store named Goudchaux, which was owned by the Sternburg family, in search of a nice Santa suit. Home she came and opened up the bag and pulled it out, to which Henry asked," what is that?" Nonna said "its your Santa Suit and we are going to have fun with you dressing as Santa!" Henry laughed a little, but put up no argument.
Nonna's plan was simple, Henry would get dressed on Christmas eve and she would drive him around town to friends homes and they would knock on the door and surprise the kids. Henry practiced his HO HO HO and was ready to go! After they had been to a few houses, Nonna decided to spread the joy, so if she saw a party going on , she would stop and take Henry to the front door and ring the bell. She got a kick out of the entire charade and Henry was beginning to enjoy meeting strangers as Santa!
After getting back home late one year, Nonna told Henry to walk across the street and get a bike that they had been hiding at Grandma's house. Without even thinking, off Henry went across the street, Santa suit still in place. As he was walking the bike back home, along came a gentleman who had obviously been parting in much spirited celebration. He drove past Henry and slammed on his brakes and got out of his car. His first words were " Santa? now I know I've had too much to drink, cause I'm seeing things". "Did you bring me that Shetland Pony I asked for?" to which Henry answered, " yes I did and you had better get home and tie him up, cause he is running loose in your living room!" Henry said the old drunk staggered back to his car, falling as he tried to get in, and off he drove! By the time Henry made it back home, he was in tears laughing as he tried to tell Nonna what had happened! They remembered that night for the rest of their lives, and relished the memory.
I ask you, what are you going to do this Christmas that will make lasting memories? Give it a try, for Nonna's sake and may you enjoy the Merriest of Christmas's and think of Nonna!
Love John

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do Setbacks Increase Your Determination?

Often in life we are faced with setbacks and at times things just don't go the way we had hoped they would. Things happen that stop us in our tracks and change our direction. Many times these changes are not what we had thought of and maybe even never considered that we might face. When these events affect you, how do you react? Are you prone to freeze up and get frustrated or do these times actually increase your determination? For Nonna, there was only one way to cope with setbacks, and that was to be even more determined to move on. She faced what many would consider as being past the breaking point many times in her life. Being forced to be separated from first her brother, then witnessing her father being destroyed for no reason. The separation from her Grandmother and the loss of her mother at the hands of evil minded people. The loss of her homeland and traveling thousands of miles to start over, on her own. To adapt to a new culture and language, to find a way to fall in love and carry on. None of the above things that happened to Nonna was how she thought her life would play out, but she always kept her faith and was determined to find happiness in some way. I guess it can become habitual to keep going, no matter how tough things are.
I am sure that my mother felt abandoned at times in her life. She had many chances to question her God on what he was doing with her, but she remained steadfast in her belief that bad times would soon pass and that she just had to remain strong, to stay determined and see it through.
Nonna would tell you that at times she felt angry about what happened to her, but she did not dwell on it. She would tell you to pick up the pieces and move forward, that this was the only way to survive, and she knew all about surviving. So when you face a setback, think of Nonna and smile for her grittiness and determination and draw strength from her.
Love John

Monday, November 30, 2009


As we approach the Christmas season this year, I am blessed that my mother was thoughtful enough to leave a very special gift to her children a few years ago. She gave us all a handwritten account taken from her diaries of her Winter Vacation spent with her Ba'buschka at the Dacha in 1932. What a treasure it is to have these memories from Nonna to cherish long after her death. The following is an excerpt from Nonna's writing. " We heard Babuschka calling, Petrovich, get the horses and the Sleigh out, we are going for a ride! While we were being dressed in our warmest clothes, caps with ear flaps, scarfs, mittens etc. my Uncle Szenya and Anatoly were already outside opening the gates. Now I could see the bright colors of the Sleigh and I could imagine why it had been called the most "important thing" in the Family. It had been in the family for several generations and was a very large Sleigh that could fit at least twelve people in it. All three horses had bells on their harness and it was very exciting. After everybody was seated and everything was in order, we took off. What a glorious feeling!! It was a very good day for a sleigh ride, as the Sun was still out, but it was very cold, about 25 below zero. When you breathed, you could see your breath turn into particles of the beautiful glitters. When we were far enough and Grandmother's house could no longer be seen, Petrovich took a road that was close to the woods. It was Grandmother's idea so we could spot some Rabbits or other animals. By the sound of bells and children's noises, the furry creatures would scatter back into the woods. " Not too close to the trees Petrovich, Grandmother was saying, We don't want to see any Wolves or wild Boars! It seemed that she really enjoyed to put a little fear into us and see that anxious look on our faces. After the sun went down and everybody was getting hungry we were ready to go back to the Dacha. For us, there was still plenty of day left, even though by then it was quite dark outside. The best times were still to come!

Nonna wrote all about that special Christmas and it was a time that she remembered for as long as she lived. My wish for you is that you too will have a special Christmas that stays inside your Heart for all of your days!

Love John

Monday, November 23, 2009


As we begin this week of Thanksgiving, each and everyone of us has much more to be thankful for than we probably realize. Here's a few things to list. Our health should be number one as we lift our heads up in prayer. Although you may be struggling with health issues or pains, it could always be worse. Number two is a bed to sleep in and a roof over our heads, some people do not have this often unthought about convenience. Number three should be loved ones in our lives. Whether it is family or friends, it is comforting to have caring people around us. Number four, we should be thankful for having food, often too much to pick from, each and everyday. Number five should be freedom, the fact that we can come and go as we please and that we live in a country that allows us to worship as we want to.

Nonna was a big fan of Thanksgiving, spending hours preparing and feeding her family. It was a special day to her for many reason, including those listed above. We may not be able to choose what happens in our life at times, but we all can choose how we react to each situation. We have the ability to shrivel up and wither away or we can bloom where we are planted. We can all choose to be a positive influence on those we come into contact with and make a difference in their day. We may lose every person or material item that we know, but as long as we keep our Faith and Soul, we can survive. I am thankful for my mother and although I miss her very much, I will choose to keep her spirit alive inside my heart. Be thankful for your blessings this week and carry that feeling with you each day of your life.

Love John

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Kind Of Seeds Are You Planting?.....

Some people have a unique ability and way about themselves to make those around them feel special. It is a God given talent that comes very natural for them. They have a way of radiating a room with their presence that can be hard to explain, but it is easy to feel. Nonna and Henry's Aunt Faye, were both these kinds of people. In the picture are Nonna and Faye, and if you take a good look at them, you see the warmth they created. I could give them both a huge hug about right now, and I know from experience that things would seem better almost immediately.
Nonna would really look forward to paying Aunt Faye a visit and I believe that they shared a lot of close talks and memories during those times. Faye had witnessed enough of life to be able to relate to Nonna and they loved to spend hours just sitting and drinking coffee and talking, catching up on the kids and grandkids, what was happening in the world and planning a good meal. I have a lot of pictures of my mother and my Aunt Faye, but I like this one the best because they both look so happy and vibrant in this shot.
I want you to think about a certain someone in your life that can make the pains and problems disappear, to make you feel good about yourself and to make you feel loved. I pray that you have thought of such a person and that you have had this experience of Joy. What makes them so priceless is that they put others ahead of themselves. They are not greedy and rarely show that they have needs. It is always about making you the focus of their attention and affection. Its about loving you enough to give the best gift possible, themselves.
Are you lucky enough to be this kind of person? Do you ever make an extra effort to be someone else's rock? Do you share your eyes, ears and heart openly with others? I ask you what kind of seeds are you planting in your garden of life? It is never too late to sow a garden of memories that will last well after you exit from earth, memories that give others a warm feeling when you come into their mind, memories like those Nonna and Faye left behind. You can do it!!
Love John

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Drinking Tea With Nonna.....

The patches to the left were drawn by Nonna to depict those that victims and prisoners were forced to wear by the Nazis. These were worn to allow the Germans to identify the prisoners that were being targeted for both labor and extermination. I am deeply moved by the "tears" that Nonna added being drops of blood. Think hard about what this must have implied in mom's memory. Tears representing all of the sadness that wrought that part of the World during WWII. The loss of life along with the separation from loved ones. The lack of food and nutrition that caused sickness and death. The tears for the sounds of War and it's effects on living. Then, there is the blood. Yes, Nonna added the blood to each patch to show the brutality that thrived in conquering innocent people and dehumanizing those that were targeting. First, remove their weapons so that they may not up rise, then kill their spirit by the lack of food and savagery acts. Separate the women from the men so that each would feel weak and suppressed. It worked for a while, as most of the World stood by and watched.

The fact that this was allowed to be carried out with such little resistance really makes me wonder why. Why was this annihilation not stopped sooner? What kind of person could survive these most unspeakable acts and live a normal life? How do you overcome the total loss and separation from your family? Only God and those who managed to do this can have the true answer. My mother was one of these special people and she found a way to regain hope within her heart. You see, once you lose hope, you have nothing left! You must believe that all tides will turn, that the storm you may be experiencing will not last! You must reach deeper inside your soul than you ever have and find a little corner to find comfort in. Nonna did this and she is to be commended for doing so.

If you could sit down with Nonna over a cup of Tea and lay your burdens out to her, what do you think she would say? Nonna would tell you that you have much more to be thankful for than you have to worry about and that you should remain steadfast in your hope. Don't lose hope! She may also give you a hug and comforting smile. I bet things would begin to improve for you at that very moment. Life is good, no matter what besets us along the path, and if you believe in yourself just a little, you can begin to see just that! Enjoy that cup of tea and little talk with Nonna and make the most of your days!!

Love John

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Are You Free??

As we celebrate Veteran's Day on this November 11th 2009, all who live in freedom should be thankful. Thankful to all of the brave and mostly young soldiers who have answered the call over the years to capture and retain freedom. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice by spilling their blood on foreign soil so that people in America and around the world could be free. This fact was never missed by Nonna, after all, she had witnessed just how valuable being free really is and she knew what not having freedom was all about. She lived being held against her will, and being exposed to true inhumanities being carried out by those that want to extinguish the very core of moral aptitude. Nonna understood what it was like to seek refuge from bombs falling and to watch helplessly as evil plodded on. She also knew what it felt like to see freedom fighters come in and rescue others, to witness barbarism being defeated. For this reason she held a special place in her heart to be a Patriot to her new homeland, America.
The day that Nonna earned her citizenship in America was a day of deep felt thanks and a true understanding of just how priceless freedom is. She knew that, although priceless, it came at a huge cost to those who served to allow her the privileges she now enjoyed. Because of the Soldiers that served in WWII, she could live without bondage. She never forgot what this meant to her.
And so the World moves on and evil exists, it is because of the brave men and women that protect us today can we live as we wish. That, my friends, you must never forget and most of all, you must never take for granted. May God bless America and keep his watch over all of Freedom in the World, and may God bless and keep our troops safe.
Love John

Friday, November 6, 2009

Magic Happens Around The Fireplace....

It is true that magic happens around the fireplace. Nonna loved being near a roaring fireplace and having her loved ones nearby. My Guess is that however symbolic this may have been to me at that time, it meant a whole lot more to her. I'm sure that memories of her youth and happy times in Russia flooded her mind when she would look at the fire. She could sit for hours and enjoy her tea as the logs burned away, remembering stories that she had been told about old Mother Ruskia and her grandfather, Jacob the Cossack. Smelling her Babushka's homemade bread and special meals as the cooked. Perhaps hearing her mother sing or play her Violin, as the family was gathered around. The fire served multiple purposes, to cast a warmth over the house in the deepest and coldest winters that hit that part of the world. Cold enough to make Chicago in January feel tropical in comparison. The fireplace was a central point of gathering where grandmothers and dads would share stories of yore and teach children about life...... I can only imagine what mom could recall as she enjoyed her fireplace. It must have seemed quite magical to Nonna as a young girl, yes magical.

The fireplace creates warmth, comfort, safety, light, tales and magical memories that last a lifetime. My question to you today is are you seen as a fireplace to those around you? Do they thaw out and seek you for warmth and comfort? Do you offer someone the light that they can not find from anyone else? Are you creating magic in someones mind that they will carry memories of for a lifetime?

We should really try to be this way towards those that we love and care for, to make a special effort to be like a fireplace in their lives, to be magical when they look back on you later in life. We do have a choice how we want others to remember us once we are gone. and you must not allow everyday burdens to cast a "douse" on your flame. Do you think that whatever bad has happened in your life in the last week will have any lasting impact on the future? So go out and be a Fireplace to those around you, what are you waiting for?

Love John

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What's An Extra Hour Worth To You??

As October ends we find a great gift waiting for us to take advantage of. Yes, today we move our clocks back one hour, essentially giving us a 25 hour day. What is an extra hour worth in your life? Just think if Nonna and Anna knew that they could have one more hour to talk and be with each other. What value would a mother see in having this time to tell her child how much she is loved and to pass on motherly advice that could be carried for a lifetime? To tell about past family members and what their lives were all about, what made them stand out and what made them special. To share maybe a few family secrets that need to be told or to just hold each other and be together.
Time is the most important element that makes up our life on Earth, and it is probably what most people least appreciate. What do you think an extra hour is worth to family when facing the loss of a loved one? What about more time to complete a task or to enjoy a special moment, would you consider that valuable? What about spending an entire hour praying or reading your Bible?
It is a fact that time stands still for no one, yet today we have actually gained a free hour to do with as we want. I want you to find something of worth to do with this time. Call an old friend that you have lost contact with and catch up on things, or call your parent and let them know what they mean to you. Spend this time to write a letter to someone dear to you, yes, using paper and pen, I can imagine that it may very well be a treasure for them to keep.
It is up to you to decide how you will utilize this remarkable gift that you have been given today, but I encourage you to make the most of it.
Love John

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are You Feeding Your Loved Ones???

Nonna was well known for cooking and feeding her family very well. She was such a talent in the kitchen and really had some award winning dishes. Even to this day, when I have a great meal, my thoughts go toward my mother.

I asked you if you are feeding your loved ones because if you are not, you are missing out on one of life's greatest treasures. Yes, Nonna was a great cook, but she also excelled in feeding her loved ones much more than food. She also fed us love, understanding, commitment, laughter, sympathy, dedication, and everything else that makes up a great mother.

The nourishment that you offer to those around you should become your best gift. Be kind, when it may be easier to be mean. Be considerate, like you are when you try to create a good impression on strangers. Show sympathy when your loved ones are struggling with something important to them. Make a commitment to be the best person you can for those who care about you. Laugh as much as possible when you get the chance, laughter is great medicine.

Nonna was all of these things and much, much more to those she cared for. It was a way of life for her. It all comes down to making a sacrifice sometimes, to be this way, but the rewards that you will receive will far outweigh those sacrifices. Ask yourself this, am I putting as much effort into my personal life as I put into my career? It's totally up to you to decide!

Love John

Monday, October 19, 2009

Did You Make The Most Of Your Gift?

As the sun sets on another day, did you make the most of the gift that you received? That's right, we were all given a gift from God by having another day to live. It seems too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday living, trying to just get through another day and impatiently wait for the weekend to arrive, that most people overlook the most precious gift we have been given, the gift of now.

For way too many people, now is all they have. They are suffering from illness or maybe nearing the end of their lives. Most have few regrets when asked would they change much in their lives if given the chance. Most would take more time to reflect on the little things that occurred day to day and most would relish the time spent with loved ones as the most important. Not many would mention the career that they pursued or the money they earned. Why is this? My guess is because they rate low on the list of memorable times when compared to the little things. I'm not telling you to quit chasing that rainbow, just understand that the purpose of the lives we lead should be in a particular order. God first, family and loved ones second and money third. Any deviance from this will get you out of sync, and you can not be totally fulfilled.

When Nonna was on the Cattle-Car leaving Russia, she watched as the sun began to set over her homeland. She spoke of how it was the most amazing sunset that she had seen up to that point in her life. Nonna did not know what was going to become of the situation that she found herself in, but she talked later about that sunset, and down inside she felt like she would never again go home. It was the closing of a chapter in her life, filled with many good and many painful memories and the beginning of an unknown future. What Nonna came to realize was that every day was a gift, no matter how it came wrapped. She decided to trust in her faith and live each day going forward to the maximum, thanking God for each new sunset that would come her way.

I hope that today's sunset finds that you made the most of your gift and that you will continue to find blessings in your future sunsets!!!

Love John

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Your Eyes Are The Windows Into Your Soul

There are things that can be seen in a person's eyes. I want you to take a close look at Anna's eyes in the picture above, so warm and loving they appear to be. The eyes that saw too many horrible deeds in her lifetime to mention. The eyes that saw love that was deeper than any ocean. The eyes that nurtured and loved her children in the best and hardest of times. The eyes that offer you a window into her soul.
Nonna would spend countless hours sitting in this window, gazing out and wondering what was next for her. She longed to see the eyes of her mother, to feel her embrace and to be together once again. She also knew that her life was to be forever changed, not knowing what each day would hold for her as she sat in this window and prayed silently for answers.
Nonna had choices to make, choices that could not have come easy for her. She had to reach deeper inside her being than at any time in her young life, she had to find strength to pick up the pieces and move on. This strength Nonna found was in her Faith, her inner most belief that God was good, no matter what she had faced in the past.
If you are at a moment in your life when you are looking out of the window, wondering what is next for you, try Faith. Nonna was correct that her God was a good God, that by allowing him to lead her next steps was the best answer. It is only human to wonder about our future, just don't doubt what God puts before us, for he truly has a plan for us all. You see, through adversity comes wisdom and strength that goes all the way into our souls. When you grasp this faith like Nonna did, God will walk with you in every step of your life.
May you open your eyes so that others can truly see your soul!!!!
Love John

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Who Would You Die For....Who Would You Live For...

We have all probably loved so deeply before that we have thought we would do anything for that person, even die for them. I'm here to tell you that that would be the easy way out. Yes, if you love someone or something as much as to be willing to die for them, I have a question for you. Why don't you live for them instead. That's right, the hard part is the living.

As I was walking down the beach this afternoon and the sun was beating down, I was caught up in watching the waves continuously come in and recede back out to sea. No two were alike as they rolled upon the beach, leaving little crabs and shells behind as they disappeared. The thought hit me that people are just like these waves. All of us are different in some manner, and although we sometimes seem similar, we are all unique. At that time is when I wondered how many of us truly dedicate our all to the ones who matter in our lives? Do we just sort of appear with the tide, then fade in with others? Or do we place family and loved ones above everything that seems to be important in each life?

When death was an easier option for Nonna, she chose to live instead, to carry on and create a lasting impact on those that she met. Nonna picked the hard road when faced with the loss of all that she knew and started over, determined to live on. She lived her entire life for her husband, children and loved ones, so that she would make a difference to them. And what a difference she made for us all.

The lesson that can be learned by Nonna's life is the secret to true happiness. We must chose to LIVE for the ones who matter to us. I ask you, are you living to those you care about?

Love John

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nonna Learns How To Drive........

The year was 1959 and life was going good for Henry and Nonna. They were getting settled into their new home, had welcomed John into the world and Henry was just starting his new job with H.J. Heinz Co. With this job, came many benefits, including a company provided car. Henry owned a 1957 two-toned Chevy that was just sitting in the garage. He tried to talk Nonna into learning how to drive, to no avail, so after a couple of years, he sold his car.
Nonna was perfectly happy calling on neighbors when she needed to go somewhere, which in those times was the norm. People knew their neighbors very well and visiting over coffee and talking was a part of everyday life. Nonna saw no need to drive, after all, milk was delivered fresh to your front door and the Fuller Brush man took care of any cleaning supplies that you needed, the kids walked to school and home each day, so everything was working just fine for her.
As time moved on and the kids got older, Nonna began needing to go more places and she came to the conclusion that it was time to learn how to drive. When Henry came home after a week of traveling, she told him that she needed a car, so dad went out and bought her a 1946 four-door Ford for the grand sum of $100. That's right, a hundred bucks!
The next Sunday, after church, we all loaded up in that old car and headed to the Baton Rouge Airport so Nonna could learn how to drive. I remember this day as if it were yesterday. Back then, most airports were closed on Sunday's, so you had a lot of room in the parking lots, and this made for a great place to teach someone how to drive. There we were, Henry in the passenger seat, teaching Nonna how to use the clutch, and the three kids in the backseat, being tossed around, but consistently hanging out of the windows. What a sight this must have been. After about three hours of lessons, Henry was done teaching and said " Ok Honey, now drive us home" to which mom replied " but I can't drive yet" and Henry said " oh yes you can!", and off we went!
For the next couple of years we went everywhere in that old car. The neatest thing to us, as kids, was that the back floorboard was rusted out and we could lift the rubber mat up and watch the road go by as mom drove. This was cool to a kid!!
Nonna loved the independence that having a car gave her and that was a good thing. I think most of us can relate to this feeling and although we take this ability for granted, it gives us freedom.
Love John

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hug Your Mom Today..........

The picture above is Nonna and her dear Sister-in-law Rosa. Nonna loved Rosa like a soul sister and they shared many happy times together and, for them, the focus was always on the family. Nonnitchka and Rositchka, as they fondly called each other, were very special moms that their children were lucky to have.

I can remember once when Nonna had back surgery, which at that time, was a very invasive and painful procedure, coming home from the Hospital and starting her recovery. I had come home from school a couple of days later, and I went to her bedroom to give her a hug and to see if she needed anything. Mom was sitting at her sewing machine, in obvious discomfort, but steadfastly working the peddle. There she was, making a dress for Elizabeth. I told her that she should not be up and she had better get back in bed, when she replied, " No, I have to finish this dress for your sister first, I've been sewing on it all day". One word comes to my mind all these years later, Sacrifice!

I was lucky to have a mother that was willing to put herself behind others in her life. Her husband and children always came before her own interests. Doing this seemed to really satisfy her and we just reaped the benefits of her loving ways. I miss talking to my mother. I miss hearing her calm and wonderful voice. I miss giving my mother hugs. I miss Nonna.

If you would be so kind as to remember Rosa in your prayers today, as she struggles to recover from a stroke, I will be grateful, and Nonna would thank you. If you are lucky enough to still have your mother with you, Give her a big hug today from Nonna!

Love, John

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Little Get Away

The war was all around, bombs were screaming down, death was all around and Nonna was trapped in the worst possible way, she was trapped both physically and mentally. Her mother had been taken from her and her world had been turned completely upside down. She must have felt totally lost during these times. Although her spirit shook, it did not break. How is this possible, you ask? There is but one answer and that is when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable state, is when God's presence is cast upon us like a warm light.
When times are good and things are going well, most of us don't give God much thought. We may say " thanks" to God, but not in the same way as we call on him during a crisis. But the good news for us is that God understands us and he will provide comfort to those who are suffering. The postcards above prove that God was with Nonna and he did give her a haven during her storm.
This little Gazebo, or as Nonna calls it, Apollo, was her place to get away. She spoke about this spot many times and it was there that she felt safe. She would spend hours dreaming and writing her thoughts in her diary in this location. As I look at the picture of the Gazebo, I can almost see Nonna sitting there, pondering her life and expressing her fears and thoughts on paper, writing each sentence in a different language so that few could understand what she thinking. That was a pretty profound idea for a young girl, don't you think?
God gave Nonna this Gazebo as her place of refuge, and he was right there with her. He offers the same to us today. God will protect you no matter what you are dealing with, you just have to have faith and call on him. Take a moment now, when things are going good in your life, and really let God know that you feel his presence and are thankful for his love. Let him know that you feel it!
Love John

Monday, September 28, 2009

Honey, I don't think you should do that..........

Many times during my mother's lifetime, laughter played a large role. Not just small tee-hees, but rather big, old belly laughs. I will share with you one of those times below, and I am doing this with Henry's approval, since I would not do anything to cause him embarrassment.

If you are over the age of forty, you will remember a fashion trend known as " shag carpet". Now I ask of you, who would ever be attracted to carpet that came with a rake. But back in the early Seventies, it was a hot item to have in your home, and it matched the "rain lamps" very well. The problem with this style of carpet was that it picked up and held almost anything dropped in it. We would vaccum and rake, and vaccum again, and it looked nice, so we believed. Well, due the popularity of shag carpet, someone was genius enough to invent a machine that would " steam clean" your rugs, and the best part was that you could rent these at the supermarket and do it yourself!

Henry was not afraid of work and actually enjoyed taking on projects, so home he came with this new, wonderful machine. It had a dome on top that held all of the dirty water and grime that came out of the carpet, this was done so that you could see how well it worked, sort of inspiration for all of the sweating that you were enduring!

So Henry began cleaning the carpets, and although the instructions were not returned with the previous renter, he figured it out. Clean and clean, back and forth, room to room. I even offered to help, but he was having too much fun to share, so mom and me just watched and were marveling at the great job he was doing. The carpets had never looked and smelled so nice before. We were proud of dad for doing all this work and thought " look at him, he is having so much fun doing this". When he finished and brought the machine into the kitchen, we were all looking at the filth that was staring back at us from the dome, thinking, man, did all this come out of OUR house? Henry was preparing to empty the machine by unlatching the clips that held the bubble in place, when Nonna uttered those now famous words, " Honey, I don't think you should do that ".

After much discussion between the two of them as how this machine worked, Mom asked me my opinion. I was enjoying this entire event up until this point, but somehow I was now unsure about being home at this moment, that maybe I should go outside and find something to do. Not wanting to take sides, I thought my reply was a smart one as I said " I'm not sure dad, but the carpets look good! Mom and me watched as Henry unlatched the bubble thing and all of that dirty, filthy crud flowed like a current onto the kitchen floor. Being a Bannister, I can fully understand what was about to come out of my father's mouth, as mom and me stood there with nothing to say. It was then that Nonna started to laugh, and laugh so hard, I thought she was going to bust. You know, laughter can be catching and as I looked at my dad's red face, I could not help myself, so I joined in. We were laughing so hard that Henry got the bug and joined in with us. I felt safe at this moment and will always remember this situation for as long as I live.

Allow me to say that I have put myself in Henry's spot many times over the years, and I appreciate him being the kind of man he is. But Nonna knew when something was hillarious and she certainly expressed herself during these moments. I want you to find something that you can laugh about, and laugh really hard, if not for yourself, then laugh for Nonna!!

Love John

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kill Them....... With Kindness

Do you ever wonder why some people have to be so cold, bitter, and condescending when they react with others? I believe that we must try extra hard, to reach deep inside ourselves, to find a way to have sympathy for them. This is important because we all should have a forgiving heart, but equally important is that anyone who acts this way, must be missing something in their lives and must feel that pain daily.
Nonna's attitude was to "Kill them with kindness". She not only talked this talk, she also walked this walk. You see, Nonna had learned all about people's behavior and she could see straight through any mask. I have never known anyone who was as perceptive as my mother. She learned the hard way about other's actions and knew how to deal with it. First, she would forgive them, not for them, but for own conscious. Then she would feel sad for these types and would try to be as sweet as she could when dealing with them. She also would remember their hurting when saying her prayers. Nonna believed that life was a gift, but some had not taken the time to open the pretty paper and see what was inside. She took the time to enjoy her beautiful grandchildren ( Picture of Nonna holding her third grandchild and her first grandson, Zach ) her wonderful family and the simple things. Things like her sense of smell, her ear for soft music, sipping her hot tea, and having a clean house.
Nonna did not have time for bitterness or hard feelings, because she knew that it will destroy, not the target aimed at, but the deliverer, and she chose to be happy in life. I encourage you to smile upon someone else by giving them a complement or reach out to an old friend you haven't seen in a while. You may never realize what your kind word or deeds mean to others, so wake up tomorrow and " Kill Them With Kindness"
Love John

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom

September 22, 1943 was a day Nonna never would forget. After all, don't most people have vivid memories of their 16th birthday? It's cake and presents and well wishes for most of us, but it was a little different for Nonna. You see, that was the morning the Nazi's took her mother from her and she never saw her again after that morning. The Germans called for Anna to appear before them in the Headquarter building, a building that had two concrete Lions guarding the front steps. The prisoners referred to this building as the Lion's Den, because anyone who was called to this place, did not come out alive. All because of hatred, a hatred that cuts all the way to the bone, a hatred that manifests and grows with evil. To truly hate something is much different than to not like it. Hate means that it's detested, that it turns your stomach, that it controls you from deep inside.

Nonna had every reason to feel this hate, but she chose a higher ground. She knew that to hate would only make her a bitter person and would literally poison her soul. Now I know that sounds extreme, but my friends, it is a fact. Forgiveness was the only road Nonna could take and she learned this lesson early in life from her father. He must have been a very wise man. Nonna used to say " No one is perfect, and we all have our faults, but make the best of things that you can, and remember, don't hate anyone!"

If you are having problems dealing with hate, you are in chains. Forgive those that you harbor these feelings towards and think about Nonna. If she can forgive those who took the only person in the world she had left, don't you think that you can? Happy Birthday Mom!!

Love John

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lesson's In Life From Nonna # 2...Face Your Adversity !!

Lesson in life from Nonna #2 deals with Adversity. It is much easier to find blame for things that do not go our way, than it is to face the reality that we must deal with those things. Sure, the fast way out is to say " oh well, if this had not happened or if that person would have done things differently, I would not be facing this issue now". This is simply a bad way to deal with problems, sort of "Stinkin Thinkin" and we should all be stronger than this.

Nonna developed a degenerative back problem early in life. She was in constant pain and suffering with pinched nerves. To anyone who has had these issues, we can understand about the difficulty moving, walking and at times even sitting. In 1967, she underwent numerous tests and eventually, two surgeries at Oschner's Clinic and spent over 13 months in the hospital. Nonna recovered and began living her normal life again, until her back condition appeared once more. More pain and sleepless weeks, until she was placed in the hospital once again. After several weeks with no improvement, doctor's advised Nonna she could not be helped and that she may have trouble walking again. BIG MISTAKE! Nonna knew she had faced situations much tougher than this and no one breathing would make this decision except for her. She prayed and reached deep with-in herself and chose to fight, something she had experience doing, and once again got better. Nonna's attitude was, this is my life and I chose to make it the best life I can for myself and for those that I love, so, adversity, you better get out of my way!!

I can hear some of you saying, "Yeah, it sounds so easy, but it will not work, not for me, anyway. Well, it is not easy and Nonna knew this, but she was taught from an early age that giving in was not the answer, that when times are tough, you must have faith and a sense of perseverance, and most of all, to hang in there when others give up. That my friend, is called GUMPTION!

With God on your side and your own effort, no mountain is too steep, no river is too wide, no wind is too strong and no problem is to large. Nonna was a big believer that our Creator will never put more on us than we can handle, so face up to your adversity, and no matter what it is, be strong.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lesson's In Life From Nonna # 1...Good Luck !!

As I look back on Nonna's life, I recall that my mother was full of wisdom, determination, love and laughter. I will be sharing some of these times in a series called Lesson's In Life From Nonna. So I ask you to read along with me and enjoy this special woman.


Nonna had a great sense of humor, which she loved to share with those around her on a daily basis. She believed that laughter had a healing power all on it's own, that it could change the dynamics of most situations almost instantly. My mother was a fantastic cook and everyone who enjoyed her treats and meals always raved about them. One of her specialties was a southern treat know as Creamy Pralines. She had many people begging her to make Pralines and to give them the recipe, which she gladly did.

As Nonna aged and her health began failing, Kathy, my wife, told me that she was going to have Nonna teach her how to make Pralines. Kathy called Nonna and told her that she was willing to learn, only to have Nonna put her off because she did not feel up to it. This went on for a few months and anyone who knows Kathy, knows that she is persistent. Kathy told me that she was determined to have mom teach her how to make those Pralines and would not take no for an answer! I laughed and thought, this will be good, because Kathy will not win this battle. I was proved wrong again, as Kathy said we were going to Memphis so she could learn how to make Pralines! I said " I thought mom was ill and wasn't up to this" to which Kathy replied," No, I'm going to buy everything we need before we get to the house, and she is going to teach me!"

I was stunned when mom came into the kitchen and said " OK, I'll show you, but you have to do all of the work" Nonna sat on a stool and told Kathy each step of the process, patiently watching and showing a little chuckle occasionally. She was enjoying this more than she thought she would, as Kathy was knee deep in concentration, holding on to Nonna's every word and taking notes. The Pralines, after much work and teaching, turned out beautiful and tasted just like Nonna's.

As Kathy was cleaning up the mess, Nonna gave a little snicker and said, " Baby, I've given that recipe to a lot of people over the years, and almost everyone of them would call me and complain, because they were totally frustrated that the Praline cooking turned into a disaster!" " You know, I shared the recipe with them, (snicker)but I never told them the secret!" Kathy almost fell over laughing and had to beg Nonna to tell her. Kathy said " Mama, when something happens to you, I will be the one who makes your Pralines, SO I HAVE TO KNOW!!!!" Nonna agreed and said " the secret is in the pot", and told Kathy the details of her success making Pralines.

Nonna's Creamy Praline Recipe.

2 Cups Sugar, 1/2 cup Karo Syrup(white), 2 tsp. Vanilla Ex., 1/2 can Sweetened condensed milk, 2 cups pecan halves, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 stick butter.

Mix together sugar,karo syrup,water and milk. Bring mixture to a boil. Cook on medium heat until temp. reaches 245 deg. remove from heat. Add vanilla and butter, beating by hand with wooden spoon lightly until mixture becomes thick and bubbles form. Fold in pecans and stir several times. It is ready when mixture becomes very heavy. Drop a spoonful on wax paper and let cool before storing. Never refrigerate. GOOD LUCK!!!

Nonna ending her recipe with Good Luck was her sense of humor coming through. She knew of the struggles that awaited those who tried to duplicate her Pralines. Nonna knew that when we take ourselves to serious, and have a negative effect on those around us, we are depleter's. When all seems wrong, find a way to laugh at ourselves and ask, will this situation have any lasting impact on my life? The answer is almost always no. As far as to the secret Nonna shared, you'll have to ask Kathy!

Love John

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review written by Alter Wiener, Survivor

I was born in Poland about the same time as Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister was born, in Ukraine/Russia. I come from a very religious, loving, warm, wealthy and close knit family; so was Nonna. Both of us became victims of Hitler's war of conquest, caught up in the horrors of Warld War II. Nonna miraculously survived the Holocaust; so did I. Her life story was written on scraps of paper. Being a captive in slave and concentration camps, I could not record my experiences. I had no access to paper to write neither a pencil nor pen to write with. I am glad that Nonna, a victim of Stalin's communism and Hitler's fascism, had the courage and the ability to write and keep her diaries. Thus, enabling contemporary and future generations to learn what prejudice may lead to. Any student learning the history of WWII, or individual, who remembers or witnessed the events of that tragic war, will benefit from reading this unusual book.

I had been subjugated to the Third Reich's occupation of Poland. As a teenager I saw the Germans looting, expropriating, beating, torturing, shooting, hanging, burning alive, starving innocent people. However, being enslaved in concentration camps for three years, I had no access to a newspaper or radio. Ergo, I could not have been aware of the many phenomenal events that took place, in and outside Poland, Russia or Germany, which the above book transmits. Nonna saw a Jewish woman tossing her baby into Nonna's mother's arms. Later on that Jewish baby was taken away from her mother and Nonna watched a Nazi soldier killing the infant. What a traumatic experience for a young child as Nonna was.

I still have nightmares about the murder of my father when I was thirteen years old. Although I have, after the war, read many books about WWII, I find The Secret Holocaust Diaries, very informative, compelling and obviously authentic. How ironic and painful it is to read in (9/1/2009) NY Times, the seventieth anniversary of WWII outbreak, that Hamas leader, Yunis al-Astal had said "Adding the Holocaust to the curriculum would amount to marketing a lie and spreading it." Nonna Bannister a Christian, impacted by and witnessed atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, kept a diary of factual events in her life; it is obviously not fiction. I am grateful to Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister for her efforts to keep her diaries and to the editors, Carolyn Tomlin & Denise George, for the compilation. The atrocities that Nonna had experienced and witnessed had been committed against defenseless civilians from numerous nations. It corroborates that every Jew was a victim but not every victim was a Jew. Racial prejudice is contagious. As a Jew, the Nazis categorized me as subhuman, (untermentch). So were all Slavs, denizens of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and other European countries. Hitler's imposition of a pernicious regime would not have stopped in Europe if the Allies had not won the war.

Alter Wiener, Author "From A Name to A Number"

Monday, September 14, 2009

How did she hold back the Tears?

As I reflect on my childhood, I can not help but wonder just how my mother held her pain inside for so many years. There are times that I feel lonely and miss hearing Nonna's voice. I have to believe that she had times of grief and thoughts of her lost family that almost surely overwhelmed her mind. The longing for her mother and father, the longing for her brother, the loss of her loved ones. Death is hard to accept in most cases, but when someone has lived a long life and dies in old age, we can at least acknowledge that their time has come. To move on with her life and never express outward emotions about her loss, Nonna possessed an inner strength that I am not familiar with. Yes, God carries us all when we call on him, but in retrospect, I have much feelings of loss and sadness for my mother, almost as if I want to suffer for her. This may be why she kept her thoughts to herself for so long, and was so forgiving of others. Nonna knew what many of us struggle with in our lives, she knew that to not forgive evil, to not try to be your best everyday and smile upon the world, would only lead to a less than fulfilling life. True lessons we can all learn from.
John Bannister

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Remembering Nonna

Nonna loved classical music and would listen to it almost daily. It seemed to relax her and put her mind at ease. I now wonder what she may have been thinking about as she listened. She may have been thinking of her happy childhood, or wondering about her brother and if he survived, or thinking of her father and missing her family.

As most people go about their daily lives, caught up in the rush of the world we live in, how often do we stop and give thanks for the small things that are in our world? Things like the freedom to eat when we want to or that we have a comfortable bed to sleep in. How often do we truly feel loved by those that we have around us? A lesson my mother taught me is that life is short, so make the most of every day. That you can not dwell on the past, but rather learn from it and live for today, because it is ours to enjoy.

Nonna had many reasons be a bitter and lonely person if she chose to, and after learning about her trials in life, few could blame her. Instead she chose to be as happy as possible, to forgive those who did her wrong and to keep her faith in God. This is what allowed her to live her life to it's fullest and to be such an inspiration to others. We can all learn from this sweet lady!

John Bannister

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Welcome to The Secret Holocaust Diaries Blog

Welcome to The Secret Holocaust Diaries Blog. My name is John Bannister, Nonna's son, and I will be sharing pictures of Nonna and information that hopefully will interest the readers of her book. My mother spent several years near the end of her life organizing and translating diaries she had written as a young girl in Russia. She struggled with having to relive these painful memories and it took a toll on her health, but she was commited to getting everything she chose to share on paper, so that as many people as possible could read about past atrocities, with the prayer that they would never again occur. Nonna started her life over in 1950 when she came to America, and with the help of divine guidance, she was lucky to meet Henry and spend the next fifty-three years with this loving man. I hope to share with you things about the Nonna I knew, the strong mother and wife that never quit when faced with adversity. Her attitude towards life and the strength she showed is continuing be unveiled even after her death. May this special woman touch many lives as they learn more about her.

Love John