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Get Your Goulash

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Get Your Goulash imageWe’ve all got a crazy family story, the ones we pull out when a party gets dull to stir up a round of belly laughs.  People might not even believe that Uncle John burned down the garage or wrenched an old lady from her burning station wagon, but they beg you to tell it over and over again. 

Stephanie Yuhas has a blog’s worth of these stories.  Since 2007, she’s been posting several stories a month on American Goulash (shinygrape.com/americangoulash), mostly about her Romanian mom (Anyu) and grandmom (Nagymama), their views of the world, and their unique style of child-rearing.

In a recent post called “Bath Time,” Yuhas explains that she had to sneak showers as an adolescent because Nagymama believed that excessive bathing led to: “Red Hair (which makes you look like a whore), All your hair falling out (well, at least it won’t be red anymore), and Kidney infections (resulting in death).”  Digging into the archives we learn about the time Nagymama (at 97) chased away a purse-snatcher, or the time that Anyu was so plagued by neighborhood cats she needed to take sardines with her just to get into her car.  In one of my favorites, “The Medusa Costume,” Yuhas describes that Anyu, unlike those mothers that like photos of their children in graduation garb or confirmation outfits, wants “A Sexy Photo” of Stephanie.

“I’m quite certain that my mother would prefer a photo of me airbrushed, bikini-ed up, and straddled over some kinda sports car or bear skin rug,” she writes. 

The stories are outrageous to the point of unbelievable; and nearly all of them are completely hilarious from beginning to end.  The dialogue is spot on, and the Transylvanian accents hit the page just as they would hit your ear, a feat at which some of the best writers fail miserably.  What’s more, Yuhas insists that all of the stories are 100% true. 

An animator and filmmaker, she was born and raised in Central Jersey, but her entire family is from Transylvania, Romania.  The American Goulash stories grew out of a successful animation, “Nagymama:  A True Story.”  The short film, which you can watch on Yuhas’ website (shinygrape.com/americangoulash/videos), received a standing ovation at the Philadelphia Arts Bank; was featured on the front page of YouTube and several other websites; and was broadcast internationally on cable TV as part of the Nicktoons Film Festival.  Yuhas says it was the hate mail she received in response to the film that inspired her to continue chronicling her unique family.  “A lot of people didn’t believe that this family could exist, so I started filming them to prove it and to continue the story,” she explains.  “Then some jerk stole my video camera, so I started writing it as a weekly online series.” 

Despite the seemingly endless stream of stories about Anyu’s and Nagymama’s antics, you never get the feeling that Yuhas is getting laughs at their expense.  There is no doubt that these stories are as much homage as they are humor.  In fact, Yuhas has made it part of her personal mission to encourage others to collect stories from their own grandparents.  With a grant from the Leeway Foundation, she’s giving the world a new challenge:  “Get off your fanny and talk to your granny.” 

This month, she’ll bring that message to the First Person Salon, sponsored by First Person Arts, at the Philadelphia Arts Bank, June 10 at 7:30 PM.  She’ll show the Nagymama film and read a few of the stories from American Goulash.  “I want my stories to inspire other people to write down their own stories,” Yuhas says.  “These days, we are so focused on microblogging about the type of sandwich we're eating that we frequently forget where we came from and how our family even came to be. I want people to ask those questions--before it's too late.”

What you need to know:

Stephanie Yuhas shows her film and reads at the First Person Salon at Philadelphia Arts Bank, June 10 at 7:30 PM.  Can't make that, read Yuhas' stories at www.shinygrape.com/americangoulash