Family Tribute:Family Tribute: Alena Sesinova
In Loving Memory of Alena Sesinova
Do not stand at my grave and weep:I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow.I am the diamond glints on the snow.I am the sunlight on ripened grain.I am the gentle autumn rain.When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.I am the soft stars that shine at night.Do not stand at my grave and cry:I am not there, I did not die.
- author unknown
At a memorial service for Alena Sesinova, bags were passed out to guests.
Momentos of Alena
In this bag are a few items that symbolize the things that Alena loved:
The flag:because she loved America and all it’s values.
The shell:because she loved P-town, Puerto Rico and the ocean.
Red Hots:because she loved hot and spicy foods.
The computer:because that is what enabled her to pay for everything she loved.
and last but not least.
The Vodka:Well…just because.She Worked Hard to Live Freely in America
Though she had only been an American citizen for 25 of her 57 years, Alena Sesinova had a fierce and passionate devotion to her adopted homeland.
'You couldn’t say anything about America,' said her close friend, Barbara Cattano of Brooklyn. 'For her, this was the country of freedom.'
It was a freedom that Sesinova worked long and hard to partake of. At age 25, she left her native Czechoslovakia -- and her family -- because, Cattano said, 'she hated communism.'
Young and intellectual, Sesinova had completed a degree in communications, Cattano said. Under the communists, however, 'she couldn’t get the books she wanted. She couldn’t get the papers she wanted.
'She vowed at the time that she would come to live in freedom, and she did,' Cattano said. 'It was the freedom to be who she was, and to become what she wanted to become.'
But Sesinova’s path was a difficult one, to say the least. She left home without telling her family where she was going, for fear they would be subjected to harsh questioning. Pretending she was going on a youth group trip, she boarded a train to Paris.
She supported herself at first as a hotel chambermaid, and then as a housekeeper with a family. 'Which is kind of funny,' Cattano said, 'because cooking and cleaning was not her strong point.' After a year, Sesinova had learned French and saved enough money to fulfill her dream of going to America.
But life was no easier when Sesinova arrived here, in 1971, with no English and very little money. She shared a room in the Bronx with three other people, and worked at a factory, attaching handles to ladies handbags.
Still, Cattano said, Sesinova fell in love with the freedoms of her new country. 'When she came here, she could hardly read English, but she would buy every newspaper anyway, just to have them,' she said.
Sesinova took English classes offered by a Junior Women’s League and eventually took a job at Macy’s luncheonette counter. Then she scraped together enough money to enroll at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in computer science.
And it was up and up from there. At 57, when she was lost in the terrorist attacks, Sesinova had a beautiful seven-room apartment in Brooklyn Heights. She loved her job in information technology at Marsh USA on the 96th floor of Tower One. And she was looking forward to retirement and buying a house with Cattano near the ocean.
Cattano attributes Sesinova’s success to her mother, Johana.
'Her mother always said she could do or be whatever she wanted to,' Cattano said. 'She really instilled that in Alena. And she was completely fearless, because she never saw any obstacle that she couldn’t surmount. She didn’t see anything she couldn’t do.'
It was five years after she left her homeland before Sesinova was allowed to return, but since then she had gone two or three times a year to what is now the Czech Republic, to visit her mother and brother, Petr. With Cattano, she also traveled widely for pleasure, across Europe, Latin America and Asia.
But, Cattano said, 'Everywhere we went, she would say, ’There’s no country like America.’'
(c) 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission. www.newsday.com
Alena Sesinova: When in Doubt, Serve Tuna
Alena Sesinova never fully mastered English, a trait that her friends found endlessly endearing. She dispensed entirely with certain articles of speech, like the word 'the,' and when she had had a glass of red wine or two her Czechoslovakian accent would grow thicker still.
When she arrived alone in New York in the early 1970’s from Prague and landed a job at the Macy’s cafeteria, she would serve a tuna sandwich to any customer she couldn’t understand.
'She was a survivor — she’d made it in America, and she loved this country,' said her friend of 25 years, Nanette Shaw.
Ms. Shaw said she sometimes kidded Ms. Sesinova for always having an American flag in her car, and always the response was the same: America, Ms. Sesinova would say, was the land that had given her her life, and that was not to be forgotten.
Ms. Sesinova, 57, had been trained as an engineer under the Communist regime, and made the transition to computer work in the 1970’s, and later information technology at Marsh Inc.
She lived in Brooklyn Heights and after many years had attained what she considered the highest symbol of making it in New York: a seven-room apartment.