Re: Nagymama: A True Story

Wow, so the last week or so has been pretty amazing. I don’t think I have ever had so many e-mails in my inbox at one time! Because of YouTube, I have managed to connect with long-lost friends & family, as well as make a bunch of new friends that are helping me learn to read & write in Hungarian!

Originally, this video was shown to an English-speaking audience, so the scene with the bedroom was supposed to sound like a very upset rant from Nagymama! I took some audio I videotaped her, so if anyone is curious, here is the translation for the bed scene:

“Dollar! Smelly stingy pig, he got $50,000 that he shares with his Mistress, but you don’t get a thing.” I originally chose to use this sound clip because my deadbeat dad is probably the #1 thing my grandmother talked to herself about, even in her sleep (which is really sweet if you think about it – she’s just looking out for me!)

As for the end credit scene was translated as a joke since the other thing Nagymama usually rants about is gypsies and robbers watching her through the window, and her plans to chase them away with her broom. I used that particular clip because she points at the camera, but the subtitles were a joke based on things she has said in the past. The actual subtitles are: “I’m going to play the lotto, and if I win, I will put it in an envelope for you.” Also sweet and funny, but my animation class seemed to like the “joke” subtitles better.

So, here is the never-before-told back-story about this film. I was a senior at the Philadelphia University of the Arts and I had no freaking clue what to do for my senior project. I wanted to avoid the chaos of my junior year (2001-02) when I began production on a film called Fabian Fish, a tale about a clownfish and a yellow tang trying to escape from a fishbowl, but the clownfish keeps forgetting “the plan” every few seconds. Sound a little like a Pixar film that came out later that year? Yeah. I’ll tell you more about that Junior Film in another blog.

Anywho, it was well-known through my social circle that I had a pretty darned sheltered childhood. (Like…I didn’t know who the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel were until college, I still haven’t seen any of the Starwars movies.) As usual, my friends were giving me crap about how my family kept me locked in a cage, and I said, “You ain’t kiddin’; my granny basically tied me into the bed my fastening the blanket down with shoelaces because she was so scared I’d fall outta bed!” My teacher overheard the story and said, “Now THAT is what you need to make your senior movie about!” I figured, “What the hell?” My professors have always said, “Write what you know,” and I sure as heck know my family!

Thus began the tale of “Nagymama.” I really wasn’t sure which story to write about, but for whatever reason, the mirror & shoelaces fiasco seemed to be the most traumatic and life-defining. And believe it or not, the full-story is possibly WORSE than the movie. I had to drop out a few details just so it would make sense in the context of a 4-minute cartoon, so here’s what actually happened:

My entire life, Nagymama stayed up and checked on me. CONSTANTLY. She surrounded the bed with dining room chairs to make sure I couldn’t roll out, fastened the blankets with shoe laces, toted around a flashlight and mirror, closed all the windows in 90 degree weather, and then stacked pots & pans in front of the windows so she could hear the robbers and/or gypsies. God only knows, she’s unbelievably hard-of-hearing, so if someone DID break in, they could probably steal the very bed she was sleeping on without so much as a peep.

So here’s the kicker – I was actually 12 or 13 years old when I found out this whole thing was NOT normal.

I was at my first slumber party, and we were complaining about our parents. I said, “Yeah, and don’t you HATE IT when they come up to you when you are trying to sleep and check your breath with a mirror?”

My friends looked at me like I was nuts.

One quickly responded, “Uh, Steph, people do that to infants – that’s how you tell if a kid has SIDS. You check ‘em with a mirror to make sure they are still breathing with a mirror.”

I guess Nagymama just never stopped.

I asked my cousins if their parents did this and they confirmed that the ritual was a little excessive. I considered running away from home, but my cousin had an idea: Hold my breath, just to see what would happen. So, one night, I was tucked in, it was hot as heck, I had to go to the bathroom, my grandma was snoring like a beast, and I was generally pissed off. So, I rustled around a bit and she woke up….grabbed the mirror…walked over…and I held my breath.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m “mean”. I could have given the poor old lady a heart attack. Believe me, this was not my typical behavior – it was DESPERATION. So, what happened? Like the movie, Nagy pretty much ran around the room screaming, and called in my mom. And then my mom started freaking out, too.

Nope, they didn’t call an ambulance. They didn’t try to resuscitate me. They ran around the room screaming. In a way, it’s a little disturbing to think about because if something DID actually happen, I would have been a goner!

So, after realizing that everyone was genuinely upset, I opened my eyes and the covers had been pulled off of me enough for me to scoot out. I ran to the bathroom, not only to pee, but to escape two very, very, very pissed-off Transylvanians cursing and screaming after me.

God, what did the neighbors think?

So, this full story said, my teacher told me to cut it down – omit my friends, cousins, and mother, focus on Nagymama, and draw myself as a younger child so it wouldn’t be so…weird. I still think it’s pretty weird.

After this YouTube feature, what surprised me the most was the all-out race war this little 4-minute film started. Hungarian vs. Romanian. Romanian vs. Hungarian. Everyone vs. America. It might be naive for me to say this, but it never ceases to shock me whenever I see racist comments. I really thought more people were over that. Also, last time I checked, I made a film about a weird childhood moment, not social commentary or international border analysis.

After listening to my film a few times, do realize that I made a fatal error in judgment – I clipped out the words “old world” from the original script where I said “some unusual old world traditions,” and added “Hungarian” because some of my colleges were confused about how my family could be Hungarian, but from Transylvania, which is in Romania.

I was actually tempted to upload the uncut audio, embarrassing as it might be, just so people stop thinking I hate Hungarians, hate my culture, and that I am a “terrorist.” But as I was trying to dig through the clutter of my old crappy-crap-crap computer that my original animation files are on, I came to a startling revelation – I am wasting my time. You can’t make everyone happy.

People are going to think what they want to think, regardless of the innocent intent. People will post “You suck” and “FU” all over blogs, videos, hell, even public restroom stalls, simply because they want to vent some of their anger. It’s like being able to anonymously crap on someone’s front lawn – they get relief with the guaranteed that no one will chase them for having made a mess.

Mostly, I think people forget that there is a real person on the other side of that comment, and criticism that isn’t constructive is simply destructive. It’s hard enough to expose my most embarrassing moments to the entire world, so it’s a bit disheartening when people tell you that your life was not lived correctly.

I’ve always felt that in order have a fulfilling life, you must have the ability to laugh at yourself. As strange as my childhood was, I wouldn’t change a darned thing about it, because I am who I am because of the way I was raised. I am Hungarian-American, and proud of it.

Or as my mom would say, “Oh, Stephie, you are such an overly-sensitive American. Vhat is vit you people, you over-analyze everyting.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, mom. Pass the goulash, would yah? It’s really tasty.”