By John C. Gyorki
Now and then in our walk of life, we encounter certain triggers that give birth to inspiration or remind us of a memory of our past. A certain melody in a song playing or a scent that reminds us of a person or an event that has taken place. I recently had such an occurrence.
I came across a news article about Syria’s brutal war, which I have been following for some time now. The image I saw provoked and prompted a thought about my Grandfather (My mother’s father). The imagery was so compelling and evoking to me that I had to write about a memory that came to mind.
I have included the news link if you are interested in the story I read; it also shows the picture that influenced me.
I MISS MY HOMELAND
My Grandfather sat with his right leg crossed over his left, leaning forward in his old worn recliner chair. It was a familiar pose he struck while lost in his thoughts. I sat on the couch to his left, watching him take long draws from his cigarette. He held his right hand to his mouth while his left hand cupped his right elbow.
He would inhale deeply, pause, and then exhale forcefully with his lips pressed together until all smoke discontinued from his mouth and nostrils. Staring off into space, he would quietly weep to himself, then repeat his agonizing anguish over again.
Violin music echoed heart-wrenching, soul-piercing sounds from his wooden console stereo while his old vinyl album spun on the turntable. I sat quietly watching every move he made. The intense sun rays saturated the living room we occupied through the picture window. The brightness enhanced the odd shaped dust particles and swirling cigarette smoke whimsically dancing in the air. I listened intently with him to his favorite music from his homeland of Hungary. On this occasion, it was only the two of us in the room together.
The melodic stringed instrument gently wept to feed grandpa’s continuous sobbing despair. While the music played in the background, he would describe in haunting detail his account about the fateful day he fled his homeland, as he wiped tears from his eyes. I never made a sound. I eagerly thirsted for more details, and I drank every word he spoke.
It was the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a time that changed the course of my grandfather’s life. These yearly ritualistic events between Octobers 23rd thru November 10th were observed diligently in my grandfather’s home.
He always mentioned how proud he was of my dad (his son-in-law) for being a freedom fighter. My father escaped from Hungary on a separate journey than my grandparents and mother. My parents met in Detroit Michigan at a church function. My grandfather always praised my Dad for his boldness and bravery.
ON THIS DAY
Grandpa continued to talk about being in Budapest one day, the capital of Hungary, while running some errands. As my grandfather spoke to me, he would unexpectedly stop in mid-sentence as if his memories carried him back to that very moment in time. His finger would point up in the air as if he were telling me to wait a minute, but then, I realized he couldn’t speak his words because the emotions of his memories overwhelmed him. “The annoying sound of roaring Russian tanks,” he said while cupping his ears and gritting his teeth. “They came out of nowhere rolling aggressively into the city; their mission, a hostile military government takeover.” He explained how the deafening sound of chaos and warfare erupted all around him.
He went on to say, “Some of the citizens of Hungary (Freedom Fighters or Rebels) refused to live under communist oppression, so they fought back against the Soviets. My people were trying to gain the world’s attention, especially for the U.S to help.”
In that turbulent moment, grandpa contemplated fleeing the country, but he did not know where to go. One thing he was sure of, He had enough of the oppressive communist propaganda.
He continued to tell me about the challenge he faced on how to convince his family of defecting from their country, but my grandfather was unsure of how to formulate a plan to do so. When he returned home to his wife (my grandmother) and daughter (my mom), he shared with them the day’s events, which placed fear and worry on both. My grandfather was unable to bring himself to reveal a plan about leaving everything they owned behind and start a new life elsewhere. He remained silent.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
A week had passed since the Russians moved into the country. The turmoil escalated to catastrophic proportions in Hungary. Bloodshed ran rampant throughout the city streets because of a civil protest that went terribly wrong.
One evening, while my grandparents and mother were in their home preparing for dinner, the front door of their home burst open, three Russian soldiers forcefully entered the house holding everyone at gunpoint. They demanded food to eat. As one can only imagine, my grandmother and mother screamed in fear for their lives. My grandfather offered them all the food in the house in fear of them hurting his wife and daughter. God only knows what they may have done. Emotionally distraught, they watched the Russian soldiers eat and drink from the corner of their house huddled together. Once the soldiers finished, they left.
After being scared half to death, it wasn’t hard for my grandpa to convince his family to move. In that fleeting moment, all of them crying hysterically, decisions were made to flee the country. They grabbed what little money they had, and left their beloved home, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
It was a cold November evening when they parted with their home to start a new life. The air was bitter cold, and their snow-covered feet nearly frozen. They ended up on a journey crossing the border from Hungary to Austria by whatever means necessary. They had to avoid border checkpoints which forced them to walk through the thick of the woods, or under the camouflage of a horse-drawn hay wagon. Finally, all of them arrived at a refugee camp in Austria, which was set up to take in all the Hungarian refugees that fled their country.
Never in their wildest dreams did they think they would have to wait two years before they were able to obtain sponsorship into the United States from a distant cousin of my grandfathers, whom he had never met. This era did not have modern technology. Letters had to be handwritten and sent back-and-forth, which took months.
IF I GO BACK, I WOULD…
I sat there for ten minutes in silence not moving a muscle. Grandpa appeared to be in a distant trance. He looked stressed; his face laser focused on the floor with his mouth hung wide open, as if he were reliving those moments all over again. I started to feel a little uneasy, when suddenly, Grandpa startled me when he continued to speak again, this time expressing how grateful he was for living in the United States, but he also went on to say how very bitter he felt about the iron-fisted oppression of the Russian government. I chuckled at him for sharing one of his goals to return one day to his homeland and relieve himself on all the Russian and Hungarian political figures’ burial plots that were responsible for the implementation of communism. He didn’t think my chuckling was amusing, based on the glare I received from him.
Grandpa again stopped sharply; he faced me with eyes pooled in tears. He looked straight at me and began tapping me on my fourteen-year-old forehead. He reminded me how fortunate I was to have been born in a free country. He praised me for not only being able to read, write, and speak English, but also for my comprehension of his native language. “Junny” he would say to me, “I wish I could speak English as well as you can speak my language. I was born in 1910. My education ended by the time I was in the third grade. I was almost fifty years old when I came to this country. I’ve only been in America 17 years, and I can’t seem to grasp the English language. I made a choice to leave to be free. Life is hard when you cannot communicate your thoughts to others who cannot speak my language.”
Most times when we sat and talked together, it was always about historical facts. Topics would include information about WWI, and up to the present day. Grandpa would speak his mind about how the turn of events took place from his perspective but would be frowned upon by others listening to his political dialogue. He liked to indulge in heated debates of current events. I, on the other hand, did not. I was an excellent soundboard for him. To me, what he had to say was remarkable.
Grandpa was not a very tall individual. He was a small framed man who stood maybe five foot five inches tall – about one-hundred-twenty-five pounds. He wore his thick gray wavy hair groomed back. Most of my childhood I worried I would be short like him, but thankfully I grew to the same height as my father, which gave me six inches over grandpa. However, I lost in the hair retention department. That’s ok, I’ll take height over hair any day.
Every time we had our talks, it would provoke my thoughts about how, if I were in his shoes, I would have started my life all over again in a foreign land at fifty years old. I saw the pain on his face when he spoke of home. Every year on his arrival anniversary date to America, he would revisit this place of despair, and celebration; both had equal parts of emotion all wrapped up in one snowball journey we call life. He lamented over the loss of his homeland, yet he celebrated his freedom in a new frontier which held its arms wide open for opportunity and allowed him to earn a living.
He always drilled into my young, naïve, fourteen-year-old head saying, “You were born into freedom by choice of your father. Relish every day you have your freedom, and do NOT squander how blessed you are. The American people have no idea how good they have it!”
John C. Gyorki
John is currently an Electrical Skilled Tradesman for the University of Michigan. He has over 32 years experience in his field. He resides in Southern Michigan with his wife, Maryann. He spent four years in the Marine Corp as a 7011 (Aircraft Launch & Recovery Tech). After his tour, he completed a four-year Inside Wireman Electrical Apprenticeship with I.B.E.W. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).
At a very young age, John developed a love for reading and hoarding books and has continued to do so. It wasn’t uncommon to see him writing notes about something. John believes inspiration comes from an intentional reading of the word and following the Lord. He feels it encourages better living and thinking.
When John is not working, writing, and reading, he is trying his best at being a husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, friend, and uncle. On occasion, you’ll see him making sausage and jerky or fermenting cabbage and pickles. He is always put in charge of making Hungarian Goulash over an open pit fire. No one else is allowed!
“My goal is to foster traditional family community and common sense thinking.”
“I enjoy reading books about personal life experiences. When people are at their lowest, broken point, and then making a victorious comeback.”
John C. Gyorki
You can join him at ThinkerMe.com or email at john@ThinkerMe.com
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