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