CHILDHOOD

                                                               

 

The whole family shared one bedroom. my baby-bed was next to the wall. A  small blanket hung on it alongside the bed protecting cheap lime-based yellow-ochre paint, which could be easily rubbed off. In winter, the hanging blanket also kept me away from the cold wall. On weekends and holiday mornings my parents didn’t have to rise early and work and they enjoyed staying in bed. They had a chance to play with me and my kid brother in bed. These were times for hugs, kisses, and other enjoyments.

On mornings like this, when I woke up, my mother would say, “Georgie, come to Anya’s bed.”  For some deep-seated reason that I could not understand, I would climb over my mother’s blanket-covered body and burrow myself next to my father. I still remembers the overflowing warm feeling I had being next to my dad. Yes, it was a feeling of perfect peace and security, a warm feeling of belonging and being protected. It was so lovely to nestle my neck into my father’s stretched out arm, feeling his muscles as I rolled my small head back and forth.

This quiet strong man, my ‘Apa’, did not make any fuss like my mother. He did not hug me and did not flood me with wet kisses; he just accepted me. I was simply his beloved son. As a child, I felt a deep-seated sense of belonging, of total welcome by my father. His bed was a nest of perfect delight.

“Apa,” I used to say after I settled into this nest, “tell me a story.”

“What kind of story?”

“Real stories. When you were a soldier in Italy.”  

My father never had to be nagged for a story. A magic world of imagination swept me away into foreign lands, listening to the horrors of war, of personal hardships, friendships between comrades, bravery, and tragedy. My fantasy took me right there and I became witness to the events. I saw my father in the Italian mountains of Doberdo, marching in pairs, fumbling along bomb craters. I saw the ruined narrow slippery mud-paths and the soldiers marching into the night, toward the front line. I heard the crackling sound of the rifles, the deep booming blast of guns, and the eerie siren-like sound of bombs flying above the marching soldiers. I felt the tension as the explosions came nearer and nearer and the marchers kept walking on. 

      I knew my father’s stories by heart, yet this part always made me sit up.

         “It happened while we were marching in the mountains, my comrade, Zima, and I."

A bit later Suddenly, Zima said, "Dezso, let me walk on your side for a while, this path is rough."

    "I said, sure.  I didn’t want to argue and we changed footpaths. But faith and luck have a lot to do with lives in a terrible war. We only marched on for a few steps when Zima stepped on a land mine.”

“Oh!” slipped out of my mouth as I felt the unfolding of terrible events, but I remained quietly tense listening to my father’s story.

The blast was deafening. The pressure of the explosion lifted me up into the air.  To our great fortune we both landed in a latrine. At that moment, I couldn’t even notice its awful smell.  I felt relief for I escaped injury. When Zima, lying next to me, asked me for a cigarette, I stuck one into his mouth, and only when I struck my lighter did I see the blood gushing from his torn feet and injured hands.”

I was terribly taken by the events. I didn’t want Zima to die. My imagination saw the life-saving aspect of the latrine, but it turned his stomach In spite of his revulsion, I took hold of myself, for I wanted to be strong like My Dad and Zima. "What happened after? What happened to your friend?” I asked and I became quiet, waiting for my father to tell the rest.

“That I will tell you next time,” he answered.

And when the stories continued, the horrors of war unfolded. The real events of bravery, sacrifices, comradeship, terrible injuries, sickness, and death, carved a deep impression in my young mind and heart. They had a marked influence on me throughout my life.

The cigarette fell out of Zima’s mouth and he slipped into death quietly in my father's arms. My father was taken to the hospital in an Italian city far behind the front line. Shortly after his recovery the war ended. At home, in Hungary, a revolution was raging. It was a different war, brother against brother were fighting. A civil war was raging between hastily organized armies of communists, the 'Reds,' and the 'White' troops commandeered by the supporters and aristocrats of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It was a short three-months’ suffering—human cruelty against other human beings. It was a clash between two opposing political ideologies. It was the first attempt in history in which oppressed urban factory workers and rural serfs were fighting in hope for a better life.

“Apa, tell me about Bela Kuhn and the revolution. Were dead bodies floating down the Danube where we swim now?”

“Yes,” continued my father. “First, the reds that took revenge on their oppressors. Many were hung without a trial by the mob, and they were left hanging on lamp posts and trees for days.”

“And, did the whites get even when they defeated the reds?”.

“Oh, Yes. With a vengeance.”

“Apa, what’s vengeance?”

“It is merciless and cruel reprisal. When the whites captured a red, they took him into an interrogation chamber. Only a few of those escaped to tell the horrors of their torments. After their victims couldn’t take the torture any more and broke down, they had to confess who their comrades were.

“What happened after?”

“It was done all in secret. At night, a squad marched the victim to the embankment of the Danube and shot them in the head. In daytime the people saw only the corpses floating down the Danube. They only got to know about the tortures and secret executions much later when the escapees dared to tell the real story.”

    The war stories continued for many years that had a formative influence on my outlook on life.