Freedom to Choose

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.  

TIME Magazine: The Man on the BED


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.


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.


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.


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!”

Monthly Contributor


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 or email at

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  1. Wow John, what an amazing post.

    I lived in Budapest for 3 months at the end of 2002. It was such an amazing experience. The country is so rich in history and culture and I would absolutely love to go back there one day. This post has truly enriched my memory and experience of Hungary, as a whole, and I’m really grateful that you wrote it.

    • Anel, sorry I missed your comment. It’s been many years since I have been their. I have one living Uncle and a bunch of cousins who live in Páks. If you don’t mind me asking? Were you on vacation over there? Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate you. John

  2. Wow! This stirred in me many emotions. You are indeed fortunate to have these memories. That you had that kind of relationship with your grandfather is amazing to me. My grandparents immigrated from Europe and I know so little. I don’t know why they chose to leave and don’t remember much of what my mom had told me. So much trauma.

    Your grandfather opening up and sharing is a precious gift he gave you. I cannot imagine the trauma inflicted on him and his family’s hearts and minds. You conveyed it so well I had to emotionally recover before I could comment. Trauma is indeed personal and when people open up and let others see and feel with them amazing things happen.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Danielle! Thank you for your sincerity! It inspires me to know I struck a deep cord in you. I did have a close relationship with my grandparents, but I wont lie, I had some huge challenges with them too. They were intense people. I also hope to write about my father in the future. He was a Hungarian Freedom Fighter in the heat of the battle. He fled his country December of 1956. Without giving out to many details, I will say this. He did not like talking about it too much, however, I prayed enough out of him over his life time to verbalize his story for him. It should make a good read in the future. Again, thank you!

  3. I only recently learned that my family roots extend from Ukraine. I have never met a person with my last name. I have been blessed after all these years to come into more family information than I’ve ever had before. This article inspired me to keep digging for connection and belonging. Thanks, John!

  4. Wonderfully written. Capturing your family history, keeping their spirit alive and documenting their journey, is admirable. My parents both emigrated from Ukraine in the early 50’s, met in Canada, wed, and the rest is history. And on a side note, I have no love for the communist regime of old, nor the one in power today. Beautiful post!

    • Mike, appreciate your comments my friend. I kinda figured our backgrounds were similar, your last name gave it away for me :). Ironically, you and I are neighbors again with a border between us minus the communism. Your side note is well taken because I share the same view as you do. If we are not careful, into our lives it may creep.

      I think you and I could share some good stories about our parents. Maybe some day. I’m not to far from the border? 🙂

      • My pleasure John, I love to hear of similar stories, struggles, the sacrifices our parents/grandparents made to start their new lives. Yes, perhaps we can compare notes one day. We’re close to the border as well (30 minutes). Cheers!

  5. […] 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. Continued at Two Drops of Ink… […]

  6. John! I love this story! I also love that you found your inspiration through a picture which drew you in to your memories. That is how inspiration comes…when you least expect it, in the most unusual ways. You just have to pay attention and go with it when it shows itself. Bravo for capturing this beautiful story in such a powerful way. Keep looking for those moments…I can’t wait to read more.

    • Michelle, I love imagery! Yes, when I saw the picture of the old man in the war torn room, it gave me chills. Immediately, I was transported back to that moment with my grandpa. A lot of stories were passed down to me. Hopefully, I can pen them to paper at some point. As always, your encouragement inspires me. Thank you.

  7. John, thank you for sharing a poignant part of your family history. Many of us have grandparents who immigrated here and blessed us with the freedom North America gives us. It’s important to record and share these stories so we better understand the struggles newcomers face when they arrive on our continent. You brought us right into the room with the two of you.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Wendy, my soul, was immersed in poignancy the day I was born! 🙂 You are right! Recording and sharing stories give you a sense of identity of who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing. I took on the challenge of offering myself as the family scribe. Thank you, dear Wendy, for your comments, and encouragement.

  8. Congratulations on this fine piece, John! Historical, raw, personal verbal documentaries such as this are essential reads for all Americans and those striving for citizenship. Your writing is skillful, expressive and delivered with obvious enthusiasm. I salute your courageous family lineage!

    • Slug my friend! Your words resonate inspiration to me! I appreciate your comments and compliments. Your feedback motivates me to whip up another story! 🙂

      My father’s story is fascinating. He never bragged about what he did. Some of the memories he carried weighed on him deeply. Again, thank you, John

  9. What a beautiful piece John! Coming from a similar oppressive background and leaving motherland because of the oppression of theocracy, I totally related to your grandpa and his emotions. I also deeply understand his point of being lucky to be able to live in a free country like America. People need to hear these stories. Thank you for sharing this very meaningful memory!

    • Hi, Shabnam, you expressing coming from a similar background makes this post all the better! My heart goes out to you and your family for taking action. I appreciate you and your kind words.:) Welcome to America!.

  10. Thank you Shelie! As always your kindness to comment means a lot to me.

    Yes, I loved to listen to their stories. It gave me a sense of purpose. I always felt privileged because of there sacrifice. I always lived by, ” if they survived that my life is a piece of cake”.

    My father had his own traumatic experiences. I hope to bring his story to light one day.

  11. You’re right, this is a remarkable story, you did right by him by just listening. I think your grandpa would be proud of the way you wrote this story. I’m happy they got away!

  12. Hi, John. Once again, you’ve taken us back through your memories with wonderful descriptive passages. Your grandfather’s lessons were hard-fought, life-altering, and painful. Too often, people do not have the opportunity to understand those lessons from the individual who experienced them. They stay bottled up, or are swept under the rug. You were fortunate to have the kind of communication with your grandfather that you did – regardless of language barriers. What a fortunate young man you were. And thank you again for sharing this with us.

    • Thank you, Marilyn, my grandfather talked to me a lot. In fact, even though I was born in the U.S. I could not speak English until I entered elementary school. No one in my family could. Later I became everyone’s interpreter. My parents finally picked up on the language after ten years in country. My grandparents, not so much. From the stories I have written so far you may start to understand why my Mom led a destructive live. They all went through hard times, and because of it I was given my freedom through them.

      I must comment on the image you assigned this post. It gave me chills! That picture spoke volumes to the story. Thank you for that perfect pick.

      • John, what a compelling and touching read! You vivid descriptions made me feel as if I were right there in the room with you and your grandfather listening in on the conversation. I could feel your grandfathers mixed emotions – such grief over leaving his homeland and everybody and everything he had known and loved – such gratefulness at finding freedom for he and his family here in America!
        The picture is indeed haunting and shows so candidly the horrors of war. Your story reminded me that we shouldn’t ever take our freedom here for granted. The world needs more grandfathers telling their stories and mor grandsons (and granddaughters) listening to them. Your grandpa would be proud!

        • Thank you Terry, my heritage was penetrated into my heart by my parents, grandparents, aunt, and uncle. My grandparents only had one child, my mom. Grandpa treated me like his own son he never had. He was a emotional man, but very stern.

          My father was involved with the freedom fighters. I hope to tell his tale one day.

          I appreciate you and your comments Terry!

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