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To Be Honest



and beyond

Can we go down to the railroad tracks and watch the train go by,
Shining like silver
I hear the whistle, the train is on its way;
Hold me over your shoulder so that I can see the light
Over the pine trees,
How I would like to go riding on the train!
Tell me the story again about the time you went away,
You went to Chicago, no one knew where you were—
Why did you ever come back here after you had run away?
I'm so glad you did, sir!
Wrap me up in your winter coat,
Wrap me up so tight!
I never will feel the cold,
I'll be warm tonight.

                                                                         —Judy Collins, "Grandaddy"

Return to Part Two: Chicago       Proceed to Afterward



13   “New Horizons”

Martha majors in biology and student-teaches at local schools.  Graduating in 1941, she finds a teaching job in rural North Dakota—and a role-playing identity there as "Miss Ehrlich the Teacher."  Joseph, assembling George’s Scrapbook, suggests that his son might become an engineer.  George goes off to the University of Illinois in 1942; at the same time Martha returns to Urbana to teach junior high.  Visiting her classroom, Joseph always takes off his hat and speaks in whispers, as though he were in a sacred place.

14   “Left All by Ourselves”

Joseph and Mathilda are on their own for the first time since 1919.  From the family back in Europe they get letters that make Mathilda cry; then, abruptly, the letters stop coming.  Hungary, though a German ally, holds relatively firm against Hitler’s Third Reich until 1944, when the Nazis take over and subject the Jews there to the most methodical deportation and extermination of the entire Holocaust.

15   “A Strange Funny World”

In 1944 Martha meets and marries Murel Lewis, a sailor from Florida.  Joseph decides “even if it doesn’t last long, it’ll be a good experience for her”; but he has difficulty understanding when Martha gives up teaching: "I know your ideas are all different now and I hope you get what you want, but we live in a strange, funny world."  George, drafted in 1943, serves in the Pacific as a radar navigator.  He returns to college in 1946 as an architectural design major; on the same day that he graduates in 1949, Martha’s daughter Sherry Renée is born in Miami.  A few months later Sherry’s parents break up, and Martha brings her to Chicago.

16   “The Little Princess

Readjusting to single life at thirty, Martha goes back to Urbana.  While she gets resettled over the next year and resumes teaching, Joseph and Mathilda enjoy their first chance to raise a baby without money worries.  Mathilda keeps a record of Sherry’s early life, and in 1953 translates Martha’s Diary from Hungarian to English.

17   “The Little Postscript”

In 1955 Martha marries Nick Mlinarich; friends who predict the marriage won’t last four weeks are proved wrong.  George (after spending a year recalled to the Air Force and another working as a computer draftsman) begins teaching art history in 1954 at the University of Kansas City.  He marries Mila Jean Smith in 1956; a year later their son Paul Stephen is born.  Joseph and Mathilda can ask for nothing better than to see both their children teaching for a living, married and with children of their own.

18   “Fortitude and Delicacy”

In 1959 Joseph and Mathilda move to St. Petersburg, Florida, their longtime vacation haven, where Joseph tells people he is a retired teacher.  The Mlinariches and Sherry move to Mojave, California, in 1958; the elder Ehrlichs regret the family is spread so far apart, but enjoy occasional visits.  George and Mila Jean have a second son, Matthew Carleton, in 1962.  Joseph is diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s disease, stemming from his bout with influenza in World War One; he dies in 1963.

    He would not have viewed his fortitude in adapting to life as an accomplishment, because he had not been able to achieve the
    goals he had set for himself.  First and foremost he had wanted to be a teacher, and to a lesser extent a musician and an artist;
    Fate (as he saw it) had frustrated him in all these pursuits when he was a young man.

    To the end of his life Joseph wanted to go back to Budapest, if only to see the school he had taught at, to see if it was still there. 
    Otherwise he stopped dreaming of what he could have done.  Instead he dreamed for his children, hoping they would want to
    achieve what he had not, and be able to achieve it with his and Mathilda’s encouragement and support.  And the dreams came
    true—if not in the most straightforward manner—and that gave Joseph that great and deep satisfaction which is born of

Proceed to To Be Honest: Afterward

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Last updated August 22, 2009

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