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Zsofi Sebek Returns to Cleveland

My Mother Before She Married

My Mother Before She Married

My mother was actually born in Cleveland, Ohio, but was raised by her grandparents, Daniel and Lidia Toth. Her own mother and father were too feckless to be trusted with the care of a child, and the mother eventually became an alcoholic and ended up at the State Mental Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan. Daniel and Lidia decided that it would be best to bring up their little Zsofi in the Old Country, so they went back to their little farmstead in Felcsut, just southwest of Budapest.

It was not until 1937, when Zsofi was nineteen, that the three returned to Cleveland. Hitler was threatening, and Austria had already fallen. So the Toths and Zsofi sailed on the Queen Mary from Cherbourg to Southampton, England, and from thence to New York. Below is the cover of the passenger list for that sailing:

The Title Page of the Passenger List

The Title Page of the Passenger List

And here, below, is my mother’s name on the passenger list:

Not Quite Spelled Right

Not Quite Spelled Right

The Cunard Lines people who signed her in misspelled her name, as if she were German. In Hungarian, the letter “s” by itself is pronounced as if it were “sh” or “sch” if you’re of the German persuasion.

One would think that my Mom was able to hit the ground running, inasmuch as she was born here. Not quite. She didn’t speak a word of English, and neither did my great grandparents Daniel and Lidia. She had to work as a maid and take night school classes in English before she was able to get hired for a better job. Years later, Mom got a professional certification by a humorous white lie on her application. When asked about her college education, she penciled in, “University of Hakapeszik.” That’s Magyar for “School of Hard Knocks.” P.S.: She got the job.

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