Sometimes my grandmother took me to an exciting journey into her past. Together we debauched in her memories, watching the carefully organised family pictures in a red box. Maybe she wanted to give me the feeling I would have some roots. So I grow up with false memories (making them my own) keeping the picture of a strange family for my life. On one of the yellowish, half ripped daguerreotype-like photogaphy showed four children, side by side, strung like a xylophone. They were paltrily dressed, the picture must had been done about nineteenhoundred-fifteen. From the left stood as the first, as the oldest Johanna (my grandmother). She was born nineteenhoundred-four on March 24th in Bela Crkva (today Serbia) during the monarchy. Next to her, her sister Rosa, she was exactly (for the day) two years younger than her. Followed by Joseph, the only brother, and Hilda the youngest sister. Fourteen children had been born, but only those four survived. Their father was a strong man, a civil servant, a true Hungarian. Their mother was a frail German woman. She never learned Hungarian, as well as her husband couldn’t speak any German. She was washing the laundry for the troops, Johanna ironed with an coal fired iron, since she was ten years old. After the peace treaty of Trianon the family had to leave their home overnight just because the father was a Hungarian. They lived in railway waggons for months, but at least on Hungarian Earth, till finally they did find a new city to live nearby the Rumanian border. There they moved from one sublease into the next. Joseph was underfed, Hilda had a good voice to sing, but only the two oldest sisters got an education, both as kindergartner.
Johanna felt in love only one time in her life (she said) with a much older handsome custodian, she got pregnant. Her father was forced to clean the family’s honor. The custodian died (still before the child was born) /allegedly/ due to a pneumonia, anyway he had a noble character /to die/, he was a blue blood aristocrat with “y“ at the end of his name. My grandmother brought her child (a girl) unmarried /brave!/ into the world in nineteenhoundred-twenty-five, on August 6th or on 28th? (my mother celebrated her birthday every year two times), called Lenke Hella Maria Eva and moved in a hurry to the other (west)end of the country, two-houndred-fifty miles away. Ever since then she hated all men forever.
Sister Rosa worked later hard in a factory, she earned (relatively) pretty much money. She studied English, fencing, and to cap it all, she bought a radio. Otherwise she lived sparingly, but then came the inflation, and took all her money by the boundle till to the last cent. She married but did not have a child, they got divorced soon. She moved to her ex-mother in law, where she lived for the next fourty years. She did not have a fridge, the house was kept cool by the earth floor.
Sister Hilda married a drunken railroader. She got five children, she was a chain smoker, and she kept herself away from the funeral of her husband, as the day came.
Brother Joseph was widower, he got married for a second time, he did not have any own child. He got easy through the II. World War as an instructor (on the wrong side). He had to escape to West-Europe when the Russians were coming, so he saw half of the world.
Lenke (my mother) had a cloudless childhood, my grandmother protected her. Her life could be saved from a deadly children disease thanks to a third shot of serum, which was one too much and stopped her growth. She remained five feet tall and suffered a life long from inferiority complex. She studied during the II. World War in a convent of nuns. Later she did not pray anymore, as it was prohibited. She was spending her eventlessly young girl years in the small village. There she later met the handsome country boy, Nicholas (my dad). After a nine year engagement period finally they could marry, kneeling in front of the altar. On the sole of the shoe of Nicholas yawned a huge hole. Johanna was never forgiving him that.
Hail Szálasi! – was the official salutation during the „Fifties“ in Hungary. „on bred and water“ whispered Lenke quietly to it and was almost shot dead from a military man, who heard that. Yet the family did well, aside from the numerous anonymous complaints. Johanna was the only kindergarten teacher in the village, she was also the director and responsible for hundredforty kids. The family of three (Lenke, Nicholas and Johanna) lived very well in her official residence in the kindergarten. Sometimes they slaughtered „ black“ some pig there. Without permission of course. (I always must think of the first scene in that grandiose hungarian movie „ The Wittness“ which plays in those times during the „Fifties“. You hear „Dezsö must die.“ Dezsö is the pig. During they slaughtered the pork in the basement a troup of pioneers were singing beyond, to drown out the screams of the pig. That was a true story in many households.) Agitators were coming, with them the year ’56, one couldn’t trust anybody anymore. Johanna said „ugly things are happening, we should escape to the West, the border is right here, and open now.“ „Just go!“ said the father of Nicholas, I’ll keep your fat pig. But they stayed, even if only due to the pork, and dreamed from a better world, during they were listening to the prohibited radio channel called „Free Europe“.
Although the two brothers from Nicholas visited short the Promised Land, they took the next ship to come back. All brothers worked lifelong as railroader only Nicholas worked there in an office as accountant. He looked most likely similar to his short-lived mother. He never allowed to take photos from his kingly, roman profile. He loved Lenke in his own quiet way very much, he was longing for a motorcycle and for many children. But he just had a bicycle and Lenke couldn’t get children. She had lost nine times in a row the embryos. 1964 they gave up trying to get a child finally, instead of that they bought in the village a house with a big backyard and garden and moved in there to third. They didn’t know, that I was born already.
THE PLATTERS • SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY