As my book on “Nikola Tesla – Scientific Rock Star” continues to grow in volume and excitement I’ve had a chance to explore Tesla’s early life and family. He adored his mother’s intellectual abilities, at one point declaring that she was “an inventor of the first order.” And as might be expected from the son of a clergyman, his feelings for his father were a mixture of admiration, awe, and fear. But overall, Tesla had an immense respect and esteem for his family.
Tesla’s memories of other relatives are not so admiring. In fact, he tells a story of his two aunts that is downright irreverent. These two aunts were, well, not exactly the local beauty queens. They were old, at least in young Nikola’s eyes, and quite wrinkled in their faces. One of them had “two teeth protruding like the tusks of an elephant.” That vision must have been ghastly enough, but she had a habit of burying these tusks in Tesla’s cheek every time she kissed him. Which in traditional Serbian culture is a lot. Certainly too often for Nikola’s liking. Being quite affectionate and adoring of their young nephew the aunts kissed and hugged to their heart’s content. To Tesla this was a fate worse than death. “Nothing could scare me more,” Tesla later said, “than the prospect of being hugged by these as affectionate as unattractive relatives.”
One day an occasion arrived that likely brought Tesla’s family more than a modicum of embarrassment. Tesla’s mother Duka was carrying Tesla in her arms, and perhaps not anticipating the lack of political correctness of the young lad, unfortunately decided to ask Tesla which of the two aunts he thought was prettier. Already the diligent observer that would later became the famous inventor, Tesla studied the faces of the two aunts intently. After careful thought he pointed to one of them and proudly declared, “This here is not as ugly as the other.”
While we don’t know their reactions, we can assume young Nikola was not so warmly hugged after that.
More on the book on my Nikola Tesla page.