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Post WAISers: "Grandpa Tells His Story" (Steve Torok, Thailand)
Created by John Eipper on 06/14/09 7:07 PM - waisers-grandpa-tells-his-story-steve-torok-thailand

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WAISers: "Grandpa Tells His Story" (Steve Torok, Thailand) (John Eipper, USA, 06/14/09 7:07 pm)

Steve Torok writes: I am going in for my second five-day chemotherapy session on Monday: apparently more tough then the first! I spent the last few days at home writing something for my grandchildren (for their parents to tell), since they arrive on the 20th, the day after I get out of the hospital. WAISers might be interested, since I intend to expand this to a full-fledged memoir after I come out and some of the follow-up stories can be found as WAIS postings this past year. Grandpa Tells His Story Some five dozen years ago Grandpa lived in this magic castle that you are visiting now with his parents and sister Ilonka. His father Ferenc was a well-known lawyer, his mother Palma knew several languages but liked French best after Hungarian, since she studied in a convent school run by French nuns in Budapest before she married. Then, she studied cooking in a French cooking class and secretarial skills, shorthand to support her young husband's work in his Budapest office. That never happened since my father was too successful: he was one of the highest 50 taxpayers in Budapest around the time in 1941 when my sister was born (three years after me), and my mother was busy with us children while my father could hire helpers and secretaries for his office. He bought this "magic castle" the year before my sister was born. There was also a war: my father had to serve during the recovery of Transylvania as an officer and he ordered the furniture in this magic castle from Korosfo, Transylvania at that time from an old craftsman Pentek Mihok, who brought the pieces and assembled them here without any nails! Then, of course, Hungary lost the war, and the Russians occupied Hungary for the next 44 years (1945-1989). Since the Russians were communist, they installed a communist system. My father lost his law practice and our Budapest office with our apartment there. Consequently, at the end of the war we lived in the magic castle that my father managed to save only by bringing 3 families to live with us: my grandfather and grandmother, who lost their estate and home to the communists, his estate manager's family with two children, Peti and Eniko, similar age to us and the brother of the wife of the estate manager who lost his job and place in Southern Hungary where he was a bank manager before. They had four daughters, Ildi, Reka, Emese, Agnes--again, of similar age to us. My father was soon put under police surveillance by the communists, so my mother had to work: she managed to find secretarial and then laboratory assistant work with the Professor of Insectology at the Hungarian Agricultural University that was established in Godollo, in the old Norbertine College taken away by the communists. My grandmother had the task of looking after the 8 children while our mothers (and, after a while, our fathers) were at work. She was a grand old lady who soon lost her husband (my grandfather ) who could not really survive the loss of everything in his life that he created before as a successful lawyer. My grandmother taught us to appreciate helping in the household...everyone, except me who as the boy was always an exception . My grandmother lost a son after the First World War and a second in childbirth, so had only daughters, my mother the smallest. All this yearning for raising a son she showered on me: after my father bought me an air-gun when I was around ten and taught me how to hunt, my grandmother cooked and prepared all the sparrows I shot in the woods behind our house for me to eat. Never point your gun away from the earth unless you aim at a possible source of food: don't hunt just for pleasure, my father taught me. I did not quite follow since I was very proud I shot a beautiful squirrel also that , then, my father proceeded to get stuffed and prepared so that I could keep it as a trophy it decorated the closet in my room for many years to come My Sister Ilonka I remember when my sister was born as one of my first memories. Similar memories from the same time I only have of a large, dark vestibule in our Budapest apartment where I was playing on the floor with a large, green toy car (it must have been only a small toy, but I was small then at 3 years and it appeared big compared to my hand). My mother kept on telling me that soon I would have a little brother or sister, then she disappeared from home in Csomor from our grandfather's house where she was spending the last week of her pregnancy. Soon my father came for me: you want to come with me to see your little sister? I was very excited we went in a taxi to the Redcross Hospital in Buda, where in an upstairs room my mother was lying in bed, pale but happy, cuddling a little baby with a shock of dark hair peaking out from her wrapper! This is Ilonka, my father said, do you love your little sister? I looked with big eyes, went closer to my mother who stroked my head with her free hand and said: don't forget to always love, protect, and take care of your little sister. It did not always turn out like that: these past sixty years she took care of me more than I took care of her. But, I digress: my little sister was a lovely girl, the apple of my father's eyes Soon we were in Besnyo, where she ran to meet my father who was driving his Fiat Topolino, up the wagon road in front of our house, with such dancing steps at the age of two, that my father said: this girl will be a ballerina! That was not to be around that time they did some excavations on the hill where our winery was being planted behind our house and near the little wooden rest house (fillagory) on the top of the mound that looked like ancient Celtic (or Avar?) burial, they dug up some old pottery that they proudly presented to my father. My mother soon threw the shards out, since my sister contacted polio (bacteria that sometimes survive in the earth for many years) just then; a minor epidemic was starting. We only realised that something was wrong when in the living room of the magic castle my sister was running toward us, as she did in the garden to my father before and, suddenly, she tried to turn left and sat down Soon, her left side became paralysed and the doctor, Gal Bela Bacsi, with a big epidermic needle tried to give fresh blood plasma to her and to me too, trying to stop the disease that they did not know how to handle at that time. The polio vaccine was many years away, The doctor only hoped the blood plasma contained some immunising material I did not contract the disease and because of this I am now, perhaps, immune to it, but my parents had the task of trying to rehabilitate my sister. Again, at that time, methods for this were not well known, though the then US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt has gone through such rehabilitation, so my parents never lost hope. My sister remained my father's little sunshine as she bravely went through electric massage treatment, gymmnastic exercises and, later, a series of pioneering operations that allowed her to walk again at the age of 16. In the meantime, for me she was no different: I was always able to tease her, since she had a quick temper and reacted to my teasing quickly. I helped her when I could, she was always my little sister and playmate, when she was home from her long bouts of hospital stay and rehabilitation again I am running ahead, but 60 years later after her career (comparable to Roosevelt, in Pharmacy, and Science, always taking care of my parents, and now me), I still tease her! Then, of course, the war made things even more difficult The War, Communism and Revolution There are some stories about the war I remember. The Russians were attacking Budapest and, first the allies, then the Germans (once the Russians took it ) were bombing it. Whenever there was a bombing raid, sirens sounded and we went to the little cellar next to the house (now next to the other half where Zsoka lives) and I was pointing a little toy warship at the airplanes, firing away with sparks at them as they were trying to avoid the anti-aircraft guns and reflectors aimed at them in the night sky. I did not shoot down any, and my father ordered me back to the back of the cellar and closed the cellar door. We had to wait until the siren sounded again and we could come up into the house and turn the light on again. We were about 30 km-s from Budapest, not in real danger of being bombed (in fact, that is why we moved out of the city in 1944). But we still had to follow the protocol of air defence. Later, when the land front came through we were in real danger, so we moved underground into a fortified agricultural fodder storing cistern that had a roof and fortified top put on it and became a real shelter. There were Russian troups and tanks coming down the vineyard behind our house, then there were 5 mortar bunkers at the top of our garden put there by the attacking Russian troops to cover them as they were attacking the Germans on the hill across the valley (Fenyves, now built up entirely, including the Valley in between, but then with only few summer houses ) Later, these mortar bunkers served as our secret underground house with Peti and some neighbourhood boys at the time I was hunting in the woods around (there, that has grown huge by now!). We told the girls stories that it is a huge underground complex. So, they sneaked in when we were away and found out that it was only an L-shaped tunnel covered with a makeshift roof, with a fireplace at the end with a makeshift chimney where we made some illegal log-fires, stealing matches from the kitchen, since the old Indian fire making methods of rubbing a stick against a hole in a wood we could not quite make work. I was Winnetou, the Great Indian chief, a hero from Karl May's wild-west books that I was devouring at that time sitting in the wild chestnut tree branches over our hut. My grandmother knew I liked to read, so she bought me adventure books in German that at age ten I read fluently after she (and our nanny Tante who only talked to us German, tought us spoken German. At that time my parents enrolled me in the Norbertine Highschool (Gymmnasium) that is now the Agricultural University, so from September, 1948 I was walking across the hill with my school bag for a half an hour, each way, every day. Since it was a Licee Francais I learned to read and write and speak French the next two years, that I could use some 40 years later to pass the UN French language exam. The Russian exam I also passed, on the strength of the Pushkin and Lermontov poems I learnt while studying the only possible foreign language available for us the next six years of state schools, once the Norbertine's were closed in 1950. I continued my high-school education in Aszod's Petofi Gymmnasium where I obtained a Maturandum (High School Certificate) with distinction in June, 1956. This all sounds very easy, but it was, indeed, difficult: we were considered class enemies by the communists and my Father and Uncle had to spend quite an effort to get me in high-school already: I had to work the summer of 1950 at minimum wage in our former vineyard that my father had to offer to the State the year before . My Uncle was, fortunately, in the ministry of Education, so he could informally help by sending a word. This procedure was even more difficult for University: after being refused in Budapest in spite of my high distinction Maturandum Certificate, there was a new program starting in Debrecen that fall in Nuclear Physics by Professor Szalay . There were some 200 applicants for the 16 places: the ones who got in had some Distiction medals. I was one of the 16, again thanks to a timely phone-call by my uncle Tivadar, KisTiti's father. We are racing ahead a bit: I joined University in September, 1956 and was enjoying the challenge. I continued with sports: gymmnastics (where I was 3rd in Pest Prefecture that year, and 36th in the National Youth Competition in the National Sports Arena that took place that year. I was sixth in Pest Prefecture in Hungarian Combined skiing (downhill, slalom, and jumping) in February, organized at the Borzsony mountains. I had a good coach at the Agricutural University' s Haladas team (where my mother worked now, since 1950), a former 1936 Olympic Team Member, Speci Bacsi. In Debrecen to this I added target shooting with small calliber (20/20) rifles. In fact we had a shooting competition on the 20th of October (a Sunday) while the night before we had the opening Grand Ball of the year in the Aula of the University where I had the distinctions in being one (half) of the 20 couples that waltzed though the hall diagonally on the marble floor to the Blue Danube Waltz of Johann Strauss, to great applause. Then, I drank too much, and didn't do too well on the shooting competion next day, but managed to save three unused shells in my pocket.. as if preparing for the revolution that was upon us on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, starting with student meetings, continuing with demonstrations, marches. By the 23rd in Budapest they were shooting at us. In Debrecen, the student Committee managed to control the situation and we were patrolling the University with the weapons of our reserve officer school, but no ammunition (except I had 3 bullets in my pocket!) I have written about this elsewhere, it is published in 56 stories, that you can read (Lauer Learning, 2006, Hungarian America Coalition). Suffice it to say that I still had these bullets in my pocket when I approached the border on the night of 24 November, 1956. I threw them away then, since if I would have been caught with them by the Russian border guards, I would have been shot. I was not caught, we reached Austria safely where I could breathe freely finally This reminds me : when the Russians came down the hill in 1944 and tried to flush us out from our bunker by firing into the chimney and ordering us out, I, oblivious of danger , was the first to walk out up the stairs. They were looking down at us with drawn tommy guns, and then started laughing: Malenkij klapec, Malenkij Klapec (small boy). Then, they took my watch. My mother had the presence to take out the bullets from my father's service revolver in his jacket on a hanger, and throw them into the darkest corner of the room that the raiding Russians could not see: they were looking for Hungarian soldiers and officers and my father would have been shot if they find those bullets! Moral: never get caught with bullets on you... JE comments: These memories are absolute gems. Steve, I'd be grateful if you can follow up with a more detailed account of the events of 1956. On behalf of WAISdom, I thank you for telling your story. And Godspeed to you as you undergo chemotherapy next week. All WAISdom will be on your side, my friend. -- For information about the World Association of International Studies (WAIS), and its online publication, the World Affairs Report, read its homepage by simply double-clicking on: http://wais.stanford.edu/ John Eipper, Editor-in-Chief, Adrian College, MI 49221 USA


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