General’s uniform from World War I, the best fairy tale improviser in the world, endless walks through Budapest, past director of the Hungarian Veterinary Academy, a true gentleman from times long gone, infinite patience, then exploding with ‘Kuss!’ to my Grandma’s endless complaints, a survivor in three different worlds-these are my main memories about my most favorite grandparent, my paternal Grandpa.
He was a legend to me even during his life-time: a leftover from the Hungro-Austrian Empire.
Somehow, he survived World War I and the World War II, and the first decade of Soviet-imposed communist dictatorship in Hungary that followed.
He died in Budapest at the age of 85, prior to the anticommunist Hungarian uprising in 1956, when I was 10 years old.
My birth in 1946, the first year after the World War II, landed me in the brand new Soviet installed communist state in Hungary.
The new regime wanted to have a complete break with the past; it was to be a socialist state of the peasants and the workers.
My doctor father, classified as a member of the ‘intelligentsia’ was seen as a ‘class enemy’. My grandfather, who was a general during the Hungro-Austrian Empire that dissolved in 1918, was regarded by the state as an even greater anachronism. However, since he was long retired, the regime completely ignored him.
Outwardly, until the age of 10, I was almost completely caught up in the communist indoctrination by the regime, which was not at that time very different from the current North Korea with its cult of personality of the dictator, total censorship and ruthless punishment of dissent. Being a young pioneer at school, I also regarded my dad as a reactionary and my grandpa as a curiosity from the past. Nevertheless, in the absence of any free information about the world and having been daily fed the communist party line through every communication outlet, it was interesting for me to be in contact with family members, Dad and Grandpa in particular, to hear about their experiences of a past world and their dissenting views about the regime, expressed in the strictest confidence, privately in our homes.
My grandpa did not say much about politics, but I remember him talking fondly about the golden-age-like ‘peace time’ before World War I. In his cupboard hung his general’s army uniform from the Hungro-Austrian Empire, which I remember him putting on for my entertainment once. With lots of sparkling silver buttons on his coat and as he wore his cap with its shining black shield, he was a sight to behold.
Grandpa was small in size, but no one seems to have cared, as he was held in high esteem by everyone who knew him. He had seven siblings and came from a country town, from a poor family. He was bright in school and earned enough for his fees by tutoring other students throughout his schooling, including his university studies in veterinary science. On our many walks along the streets of Budapest, I remember his pointing out proudly the Veterinary Academy, which he directed after the World War I.
Though he was very knowledgeable, he was a humble man, unlike my grandma, who never tired of praising herself. She came from a family, that was wealthy, before getting impoverished after the First World War and she never let my grandpa forget the differences of status between her family of origin and that of my grand dad’s.
Heks Miksa, my grandpa, was a very patient man. Although he could spin any number of elaborate fairy tales for us children, when he was with Grandma, she did the talking, mainly complaining about her endless stomach troubles. He just listened in silence, often for hours. But even his patience had its limits. Now and again, as he sat in his armchair trying to read his newspaper during his wife’s monologues, he would yell out loud: ‘Kuss!’ (Shut up!)
This would give him a few minutes of respite, before Grandma would start her raves again.
Although it was my grandpa who was my most beloved grandparent, I also have a very fond memory of my grandma. After they got up early in the morning when I stayed over their place, I climbed into their spacious double bed and she used to serve me my favourite breakfast: poached egg with toasted garlic bread, cut into crisp slices, which we called ‘soldiers’.
After brekkie, Grandpa and me, took off to one of our many long walks, often passing through the Heroes’ Square (Hősök Tere).
There were glorious bronze statutes of past kings and heroes there, including King Mathias, about whom Grandpa often told amazing tales.
There was only one modern statue there: that of Stalin.
During the revolution, the protestors tore down the statue, only Stalin’s boots remained in place.
Grandpa could not witness this as he died before the revolution. But I kept returning to the Heroes’ Square as a growing boy and I would imagine his statue among the heroes:
He, in his general’s uniform, surrounded by a menagerie of animals, which he helped to heal during his illustrious veterinary career.
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