Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tribe

We share a cadence, a similar sense of humor.
~Judy Sheindlin

As clear as the memory is, it might as well have been yesterday. However, it was 38 years ago. I was ten years old when my mother (then 44 years old) met her brother for the first time. Actually, Rudi was her half brother. My grandfather left his wife and four year old son behind when he fled Hungary in the early 1920's. Not long after, his wife died and the son was raised by his maternal grandparents. My grandfather never returned to Hungary and never saw his son again. My mother knew about Rudi and they exchanged occasional Christmas cards and letters over the years, but it wasn't until 1972 that they set eyes on each other.

I'm not sure why I was the chosen child, out of the five of us, to go with her - I'm only glad I was. After a very long trip, and nearly missing our connecting flight to London, we landed in Budapest. Customs awaited us. I sensed that my mother was nervous. I'm sure part of that came from the excitement of meeting family for the first time and also from not knowing what sort of inspection we'd have to go through. The customs agent was wonderful though. He asked why we were there, and Mom, in Hungarian, explained that we'd made the trip so she could meet her brother for the first time. The agent was so impressed with her story and her knowledge of Hungarian that he slammed the suitcases shut and said, "What are you waiting for?! Go... GO!"

We made our way through the double doors, out into the sea of people awaiting arrivals. I looked up at my mother, who was holding my hand in a vise-like grip, and watched her anxious face as she quickly scanned the crowd. She gasped suddenly, "Oh. Oh... there he is!" Rudi stood there, wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in tow. Then the rush of tears, and embracing, and half completed sentences in Hungarian. I tried to do the shy ten year old gig and hide behind my mother, but regardless, I was hauled in and passed around in a series of hugs. There was no separation, no awkwardness. There was no distance. This was family. My cousin Marika had two daughters near my age and immediately took to me as though I was her third daughter.

I know there's the whole bit about children being resilient and able to adapt, but... I didn't at all feel like I was in a foreign country, a strange land. I didn't feel that there was anything to which it was necessary to adapt. It was more a sense of coming home, a feeling of explanation for who I was. Yes, I sensed these things even at that young age. I remember listening to my mother and my uncle talk. I had heard Hungarian spoken often - my mother and grandmother used it to talk to each other. To hear my mother talk to anyone but Grandma in that language was new. It was at once familiar and strange, but it was a connection. The food we ate, so like the food that came from Grandma's kitchen - only different, was at once exotic and comforting. It was, from the distance of 38 years, as if the parallel universe I sensed was there finally came into view and meshed with my own.

I felt as instantly bound to Hungary itself as my mother did to her brother, and as I did to all of my relatives there. Although it's been a number of years since I've been back, I still feel a strong kinship, a pull even, toward all things Hungarian. Whenever I see a Hungarian name in print, I can't help but think, "ahh... comrade!" In the rare instances that I hear a Hungarian conversation - this happened once on a subway and I rode 4 extra stops just to listen - I feel as though I'm hearing an old, but familiar, tune.

I have felt this same way at other times in my life. There are certain people I've met that I recognize instantly as fellow travelers (if I may). They are people for whom I feel an immediate affinity and familiarity - an Oh-there-you-are feeling. There are places that do the same thing for me. I remember the first time I found my way into the Northwest's woods. I breathed in the cedar scented air laced with the damp, earthy odor of mycelium and thought, "Home." Home is, after all is said and done, where the heart resides.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely story. And you truly are waxing poetic at us aren't you? So lyrical and rich...made me almost smell and taste things I've never been near!

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  2. beautifully told! i loved reading this. i, too, have been to budapest. i love when you travel to certain places (or perhaps it's the certain person i have been as i travelled in those places) people reach out their kindnesses to you. thanks for sharing this beautiful tale...looking forward to more. :)
    ~ amy/marina :)

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