May 19, 2012 By Kim Brown Reiner
Now that she is 100, Sunnyside resident Ema Gheraszim-Mailath knows what is important: “stay in good health, love each other, be generous and be peaceful,” she said yesterday, at the apartment on 39th Place she shares with her daughter.
Gheraszim-Mailath celebrated becoming a centenarian at Bucharest Restaurant on May 12 with 70 guests, including relatives who traveled from Romania, an opera singer, her doctors and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who gave her a proclamation “for such an extraordinary life.”
And an extraordinary life it’s been.
Gheraszim-Mailath was born to a Hungarian father and Romanian mother in Banska-Bystrica, Slovakia two years before World War I began. The war caused her family to flee to Transylvania.
After the war, her family was able to travel frequently to Budapest, visiting her father’s side of the family. But World War II destroyed their freedom.
It also ruined Gheraszim-Mailath’s hopes of earning a university degree; instead she got married in Transylvania and had three children: Angela Pieter, with whom she lives, a son who lives in the same building and an elder daughter who passed away nearly a dozen years ago. Of that experience she said, “maybe God gave me so much joy to forget such a great pain.”
Thinking about her deceased daughter still makes her cry.
Otherwise Gheraszim-Mailath is joyful and thankful for the blessings she has been given. What happened 98 years ago is as vivid in her mind as what happened yesterday, she said.
After World War II ended the communists took over and nationalized private property. Her husband, who worked as an engineer in a British factory, lost his job and the family lost everything. Mailath went to work in a factory at the age of 45, rising at 4:30 in the morning to travel two hours and work an eight hour shift. Life continued like that for 16 years.
She eventually followed her daughters to Bucharest and then to Baltimore at the age of 77. In 2000 she moved to Sunnyside.
“I like it here very much,” she said about her adopted home. “I can take walks, go out to all the shops and buy things.”
When asked what type of shopping she does, Gheraszim-Mailath rummaged through a shopping bag near her living room couch and presented this interviewer with a purple scarf. “I give it to you to remember an old hag of 100,” she said.
In addition to shopping, she attends Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church and St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church, prays, exercises and watches Turner Classic Movies, although she speaks little English. This summer she will be making one of her frequent trips to Romania.
Keeping active, she said, is the key to living a long life, which is why she cooks, but does not clean. “Activity keeps you healthy, cleaning doesn’t,” she said.
In fact, she is so healthy the only medicine she takes is an aspirin a day.
Gheraszim-Mailath keeps up with current events and marvels at the changes she has seen. “The pocket phone is amazing,” she said. “There were only horse-drawn carriages and now we travel by plane.”
Yet the changes she has lived through have not all been for the better. “There are so many things that could go wrong; the earth could easily be destroyed. There is too much fighting. It would be nice to have peace, but there will not be peace,” she said.
Still, she does not dwell on such dark thoughts. “Whatever I can, I still do to participate, to continue with this life,” she said. “I enjoy being alive and being surrounded by people who are so nice.”