THE OTHER SIDE
OF THE WAR YEARS
BECAUSE RIDING IN trains was my favorite occupation, I was disappointed that our vacation in 1915 included no travel. After a year full of the uncertainties of war, my parents took us to the mountains across the river; we were so close to home that we could look back and make out our apartment building. The only memorable aspect of that holiday was that Magda Hesz was with us.
Magda was a Hungarian girl who was born in a German region of southern Hungary (now Croatia) and raised in Chicago. Her parents died when she was in her teens, and she was sent back to Hungary to live with relatives. Shortly after the war began, my mother hired her to supervise Emmi and me and teach us English. She lived with us much as an au pair for seven years.
Magda, little more than ten years older than I, seemed more of a friend than a part of the management. She was a big strong girl, with long, thick blond hair, but she was in no way formidable. Missy, as we called her, never was angry, nor disliked anyone. She did the mending for the family; at her instigation, another wonderful device, a treadle sewing machine, came into our house. She had many other talents: She knew all the omens of good and bad luck and could tell the past and future by looking at the palm of your hand. And she told wonderful stories, most of them about Chicago.
My mother was very fond of Magda, in part because of her aptitude and willingness to work, but also because of her disposition. Magda's room could hardly have been ten feet square; its only window overlooked the back area of the building. Yet Magda lacked neither space to set up an easel nor light to