Tomie dePaola

A tribute

The death of Tomie dePaola took way my breath. His presence through art and writing have been constant threads in my adult life. Before children, I emulated (read: copied) his drawing in order to learn illustration. I was, and remain, in love with the seeming simplicity of the lines and appeal of colors, In 1997 I was fortunate to be able to spend an entire half-hour in his presence at a workshop. Forgotten is the place where it was held, the name of the organization hosting it, and the names of others around me. What I do remember is the spontaneous artwork he encouraged:  my “Henry”, a young boy, with hair sticking straight up and socks fallen around his ankles. This sketch of mine has been discarded long ago, but not the memory of this encounter.

During the 1990s, which revolved around raising two spitfire boys, Tomie’s picture books were a constant presence. Read alouds over and over and over. Our weekly attendance at the Italian Catholic church, Holy Rosary in Washington, D.C., where I sang in the choir and hauled my sons up the circular steps into the choir loft with me, brought his Italian stories alive. Strega Nona was my own Nona incarnate. Big Anthony, well, we all have a Big Anthony in our lives. How could I not love these characters?

Never was his work two dimensional; never just paint on paper. His art was a good friend with whom one never feels out of sync; one who stands by you through thick and thin. And so, with his death, I offer a goodbye through the eyes of my Prudence, who he nurtured in me unbeknownst to him. A goodbye from a friend he never knew, but who was always there for him regardless.

De Paola, Tomie. Strega Nona. NY: Simon & Schuster Books for young Readers, 1975. Print.

One family secret


My mother-in-law kept loneliness close to her.

Born in New York City in 1924, it was only after her death three decades ago, at that age between what we consider middle and old – the one which has no name – this fact came to light for our family:

She was not an only child.

As we were told. As we believed.

A road trip to a New Jersey family grave site, and our pouring through its hand written archives revealed this: her mother gave birth to Celine in 1922. The girl died two years later.

I drifted away from those musty volumes with my thoughts spinning, with an ache in my heart. This one fact – one turn of fate – illuminated the life of this woman, Berthe. It offered a dimension to this woman who had a far-reaching impact upon, not only my marriage, but my self during our time together.

She loved to see me with my sisters. She loved tradition, our family, and was devoted to her husband. Yet, she carried this lost sisterhood despite these loves and devotions. She carried this loss alone.

My dear mother-in-law,

I wish I had known of your deprivation. We could have shared words and stories, I could have held your hand in mine and you could have sighed, perhaps even cried a bit.

Now, all I can do is this for you: create small art, and carry the quiet ache, from time to time.


Yes. My mother-in-law kept loneliness close to her.

Berthe is sorely missed by her remaining family, every year since her death. This year she would have been 95.

Small trips & Hope

Visiting the Eastern Shore of Maryland & more

One cold and blustery morning in early November, the hub and I packed our warm jackets, some snacks, then headed out on the road for Easton, Maryland to the Waterfowl Festival. Please. Understand. I did not grow up in a rural area, so any trip like this is a peek into my husband’s childhood. Yes, even after all these decades together I am still amazed by his roots and his knowledge of a bucolic life.

Gotta love those dogs!

A scenic drive led us through the quaint areas of this historic town. After paying our somewhat substantive entry fee, we walked among the streets, and in and out of tents, getting a feel for the area. Taking a bus to several other venues smacked of a senior citizen outing, but we were game! Exhibits of guns, rods, hunting and fishing gear unsettled me a bit, but the addition of the retriever demonstrations softened my apprehensiveness. It was also good to know that many of the proceeds for events were slated for the Chesapeake conservation funding. In fact I met a quiet, but smart young man who, representing the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory, gave me a detailed explanation on chemistry, toxicology and the effects on local aquatic life. It was astounding, to say the least. Yes, I will go on a summer tour of their facility!

Needless to say, it was prospect of seeing art that truly nudged me, emotionally, for this unusual destination. There was a plethora for artists from all over the U.S. and North America working in a variety of media and formats. George Raab’s art, an award winning printmaker (Ontario, Canada) left me breathless. His landscape, Catalpa, made my heart ache. The longing persists, as some images imprint themselves upon one’s soul.

Sculptor, Tom Ahern

The spouse’s particular interest in decoys, both contemporary and antique, not only evoked interest but presented a most serendipitous event. Squirreled away among dozens of vendors was a gentlemen, Tom Ahern (Bethlehem, PA) who works and lives where I was born and raised. Following a brief “hello” and chat, we discovered that we had more in common – “Was I related to “Snookie?” Lo and behold! I was. My uncle Snookie was his high-school athletic coach many, many decades past. I promised to visit his studio during one of my hometown visits. And, I will.

I love these small trips with my husband. Sharing lives, works, and landscapes that are so integral to others opens my narrow view of the world. Sharing words and smiles.

Whether with a spouse or stranger, sharing itself, is the solid foundation for hope.

black and white newspaper clipping of a man

Dedicated to my Uncle John “Snookie” Hudak, the eldest and most elusive uncle.

Poetry from the porch #5


My sons were both born in the season I cherish.

Nature’s rhythms begin to slow.

Irish sweaters, worn in so many places, are pulled out to air. Thrown carelessly, but with love, over the old chestnut banister.

It is the time to pull in and hunker down, anticipating winter’s gift of solitude.

Oh yes, late blooms still remain on the shrubbery’s branches, where pale reds and violets preen themselves.

Outer foliage dies. But roots, deep down, refresh themselves.

This is the season where what was once nimble, even spirited in spring, allows itself a graceful decline. Where new life is nurtured within the strength of what was once young.

My sons, I remember holding you in my arms while the gentle, autumn light blankets us.

My sons, it is a good season for birth. 

When the boys were young, the beach trips were during the autumn months.

© 2019 Tina Hudak Dedicated to Sam & jack

Writing my small truth

“What is the truest thing you know?”

I panicked when this question was put to a group of us during a writing workshop,* months ago.

“What is the truest thing you know?”

I know that “I know little of life”, but this answer, standing alone, seemed too trite, too thought-less.

“Ahh,” I thought to myself, “There are too many truths to know the “est” of them.” When stumped, I begin to make a list – it is the librarian in me.

The truest thing I know is that I know little of life, except the small one I am living: Italian and Slovak families with pasta and pierogis served at church dinners, and with bear hugs & ciaos and loud voices in foreign tongues from dozens of relatives; I know my stalwart spouse with rugby football and engines in cars, and his tender heart; my sons who make me smile and sigh as I reminisce about scraped knees and the endless rounds of sports seasons, and now, with open arms towards the women in their lives; I know my two sisters who share DNA and prosecco, and our cheap rings from a museum gift shop, and with a treasured history that eternally binds us.

The core of it all – the truest thing I know is this:

” I feel deeply about this small and wonderful world of mine.”

*Juncture Workshops with Beth Kephart

An American photographer

Several years ago, during Christmas, I opened a small package from Son #2. Inside was a framed, gelatin print.

This very one.

I was astounded.

He had managed to research my hometown, not far from where he was born through happenstance, and found this 1935 Walker Evans‘ image. It is the view from the hill on the South Side where a Roman Catholic cemetery resides. Unknown to Son #2, many of my and his Slovak relatives are buried there.

And, far in the distance across the Lehigh River, lies Moravian College. A world unknown and foreign to these laborers in the steel mills. In 1955 my parents had the gumption to move to the North Side, where my sisters and I would grow-up, leaving the South Side boundaries behind. Yet, it would be here – on the “other side” of their hometown – that their granddaughter would attend that very college, meet her husband and the father of this very son.

What is so striking about this image is that it captures all the central points in the daily lives of the European immigrants, be they Slovak, Italian, Polish, or Hungarian. The Bethlehem Steel, the Church, and the neighborhoods of row homes, loomed large. This was the “poor side” of town.

It holds my roots and those of my children. I treasure the image and my history.

Evans, Walker. A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, Farm Security Administration. November 1935.