H is for Hungarian

Dsc_0023 On my Mom’s side I’m 100% Hungarian.   It makes me feel a bit exotic, in an eastern European sort of way.  My great-grandfather and great-grandmother came to this country in the late 1800’s.  They were an item back in the village but came from opposite sides of the tracks so her family disapproved of the relationship.  He came to America and she defied her family and followed him.

They settled in Rockland County, New York.  My great-grandmother died before I was born, but I do remember my great-grandfather.  He always wore a dark suit, white shirt and tie (think Spencer Tracy in "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner") and had a leather glove on his hand.  In the early 1900’s he lost his hand and part of his arm in a quarry accident so he had a non-functioning, carved prosthesis.  As a toddler I was fascinated by it.  After the accident my grandmother and her sister were sent back to Hungary to live with relatives. 

The family feud continued in the village (not surprising considering there was money, social status and religion involved) and each sister went to live with a set of grandparents.  I remember my grandmother telling me that she and Julia were not allowed to socialize with each other and they had to sneak off in to the woods to spend any time together.   Years later, after they returned to the States, my grandmother helped my great-grandfather make bath tub gin during Prohibition (shhh, don’t tell the Feds).  She married my grandfather whose family had come over from Hungary around the same time.

During and after WWII they lost touch with the family back in Hungary.  Up until then, they corresponded and we still have some letters written in Hungarian.  Unfortunately, the language died out with my grandmother and great-aunt.  My great-grandfather apparently never allowed it to be spoken in the home (they knew it from their years living in Hungary).  He was an American now and the family spoke only English.  So we had these letters, but couldn’t read them.  There were rumblings about the Soviets changing the name of the town and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. 

Several years ago, one of my cousins moved to Budapest for 2 years and tried to find the family. Dsc_0032 He took several of the letters and sent them on to the Post Masters in various towns, asking if anyone knew of our family in that area.  Eventually he received a reply.  It came from a town in Slovakia.  After some correspondence back and forth, my cousin and his family decide to go for a weekend visit.  They drive several hours north of the Budapest, cross into Slovakia and find themselves in a very rural area.  This is when the panic set in.  WTF is he doing?

They pull up to the castle.  Yes, they live in an old, battered castle on the farm.  Introductions are made and my cousin is invited in.  Then he sees it.  Hanging on their living room wall, over the sofa was a photograph.  A photograph of my great-grandparents 50th wedding anniversary taken at my grandparents restaurant.  You know, the kind of photograph where everyone is posed around the couple.  The place settings are perfect, the cake is magnificent, the flowers are everywhere and everyone is in their Sunday best, grinning at the camera.  And there, in the back of the photograph, a little to the left is my uncle.  He’s holding his eldest son, my cousin.  My cousin walked up to the photograph, pointed to the cherubic face which was only a few months old at the time and said, "that’s me."  The panic he had felt subsided and much plum brandy was consumed.


So why is there a photo of Liberty Square at the top of this post?  Dsc_0027_1

Dsc_0024 Because Liberty Square honors the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.   

How many folks knew that tidbit of info?


~ by Kat on May 5, 2006.

6 Responses to “H is for Hungarian”

  1. Wow. Good story!

  2. excellent story!

  3. I did not know that — thank you!

  4. I didn’t know! Wonderful story.

  5. That’s a great story! The same thing happened to my great uncle when he returned to Italy for a visit. The ties between us and our old family are not as fragile as we think!

  6. Great story, but it sounds like a beginning, not an end. How are the relatives in Slovakia doing? Do they have any interest in their American relatives? Etc., etc.

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