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Profile Of Mathilda Schwartz Triff Deiss Triff Balong by Barbara Padgorski

My grandmother, Mathilda Schwartz was born in Hungary on March 7, 1901. To be an only child was unusual back then, when the majority of families had as many as eight or ten children. Seeing photos of her with her parents showed no signs of hardship or suffering. She never spoke of being deprived in her childhood and the once or twice she mentioned her mother to me, it was endearing. Once she sang a song to me that her mother taught her. The words were so positive. It was about having everything you need when you have the sun in the morning and the stars at night.

It was never made clear to me when Grandma came to America, although she was old enough to speak and write five languages fluently. She had a cousin in Bloomington, Illinois and that is where Gram and my great-grandparents settled when they arrived here. It appears that my grandmother did not have much of a young single life because after she met Grandpa she gave birth to my father at fifteen years old and then had three more babies by the time she was nineteen!

Mathilda’s colorful life was just about to begin.

From what I have been told it was common knowledge among family members that Gram had one boyfriend after another during her marriage to Grandpa Triff. That was my maiden name as her first born was my father.

After Gram was divorced from Grampa Triff, she married Mr. Deiss. That union must have been very short lived. I never saw Mr. Deiss and to this day I don’t think any of us know his first name. Strange too was that she never spoke of him. Growing up, I addressed her as Grandma Deiss.

Now, as an adult, I’m puzzled as to why it did not seem strange to me that her name was not the same as my father’s since she was his mother? Well, no doubt, I concluded that it was probably for the same reason that my mother’s name was different from her mother’s. I had to have been confused.

I remember clearly hearing various family members calling her, “Madam Queen.” As a youngster, I couldn’t imagine what it meant.

Grandmother was single throughout my childhood. She would ride the streetcar to our apartment and baby-sit for me and my sister when my mother and father went out for the evening. She would frown upon my father for picking her up and driving her home. I guess it made impromptu stops at her favorite tavern impossible.

We would squeal with delight when we knew she was coming to visit. We loved having our nails polished with bright red polish on our tiny fingers and our fine fair done up like big ladies. Learning poker was fun too Wearing her stinky perfume was the living end and taking sips of her beer was something! Since we were only 6 and 7 at the time, it took quite awhile to figure out why Gram did sit for us anymore. We missed her dangling earrings and sparkling necklaces. She used to let us wear them for the evening. Her jewels were so enchanting to us and why not? She certainly was a gem herself.

When I became a teenager my parents told me Grandma was marrying Grandpa Triff again. How cool I thought, they remained friends throughout the years. I guess I didn’t really know how friendly they really were! Grandpa Triff moved into Grandma’s apartment without even having to exchange wedding vows. Now, she was Grandma Triff again. They were “married” for five years when Grandpa passed away. It was a sad time but the memories of him are sweet. I remember when my mom and dad took Grandpa for a ride, we would sometimes visit his lady friend, “Maude.” Looking back now I must’ve had some swinging grandparents!

Two year after Grandpa died, imagine our surprise when we found a wedding invitation in the mail. Gram was 72 and about to marry Frank Balog in a big event at St. Steven’s Hungarian Church on Augusta Boulevard. Now she was our Grandma Balog.

Mr. Balog was seventy years old and was her friend from the corner bar that Gram frequented. His wife had passed away around the time that Grandpa died, so they became friends when they each needed comforting. The wedding was a huge extravaganza and they were devoted to each other for twenty-five years. They died within months of each other, both in their nineties. Grams final resting place is with my grandfather and Frank is with his first wife.

Mr. Balog was by Gram’s side when she buried three of her children. It was such a sad time for her. Cancer took two of her sons and one daughter, all in their fifties. Her last born son lives in Florida, now in his eighties.

During her marriage to Frank Balog, they moved closer to our neighborhood. Gram enjoyed having her hair tinted blonde and done in an updo. So every week she would come over for me to fix “them,” as she would say.

My children enjoyed their great-grandmother just as I did when I was their age, but because she not as promiscuous when they knew her, they missed much of the fun and excitement of this vibrant woman.

I learned how to crochet, cook a great Hungarian goulash, drink schnapps with my tea and make Hungarian sausage from this lively lady. Grams favorite saying was, “with garlic and paprika, you can conquer the world.”

My great aunt tells me to this day that when she sees me walking down the street my walk reminds her of Mathilda. I can feel her spring in every step I take and hope my steps stay springy like her for many years to come. We all need a colorful person in our lives and I certainly am fortunate to have known Mathilda Schwartz Triff Diess Triff Balog.

Originally Posted (Jul 02, 2002)


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