Sunday, 14 August 2016

My father's birth and childhood

My father as a baby

My father would have been ninety-nine today. I have posted excerpts from the conversations I had with him after my mother's death both here and on Facebook. Those concerned the war but, since this is his birthday, I am posting a few paragraphs about his birth and early childhood.

I was born in Budapest, in a small clinic in Ferencváros, the IXth District, in 1917, the first child of my parents’ 
marriage in 1916. Two and a half years later came my sister, and two and a half years after that my little brother, who was to be killed in the accident. [He was on a school excursion, and was killed in a sand slide on the shore of Lake Balaton. – GS] That was while I was in summer camp. My parents, like many others, couldn’t afford a family holiday

At the time I was born my father was working in a leather and shoe factory in Újpest on the outskirts of Budapest where he had to travel about eight miles a day by tram. He had to be in the factory by 7 am so had to start off at 6 and get up at 5. He was a cutter, that is to say he cut up the leather. This was a skilled manual job. My mother did sewing at home to earn more money. She got work through friends, by word of mouth, never advertised. 

I was not brought up by them though but by my paternal grandparents and their two sisters – that is after my own sister was born. My parents had a very small flat and that is why they were quite happy for me to stay there, especially after the birth of my younger brother. It was pretty difficult in those days to bring up a family. My father’s salary was very low, and my mother could do less sewing once she had two children to look after. The arrangement continued until I finished school when I went back to my parents.

I didn’t mind, I loved the arrangement. My grandparents were old gentle people. Grandfather was a tailor and had a small workshop very near their flat. He had two men working for him and he himself worked there until he was seventy-three years old and could barely see. He loved the family and his grandchildren, especially me for some reason. I was very pampered. I was the little bright chap of the family and they spoiled me. Every day my aunties would go down to the confectioner’s to get me a bit of pastry or mignon to put on the table for when I got home from school at about one o’clock and there was always that bit of mignon waiting there for me on the plate. They were very proud of me because I had good school results. My name was printed in capital letters in the yearly report of the school. 

Grandfather was a tall man with white hair, moustache and beard. He looked like a nobleman. Grandmother was a small woman, usually dressed in the customary black. She was a very good cook. The flat was in Eötvös utca and consisted of two rooms, a kitchen, a little hall and an outside toilet. No bathroom. The rooms were pretty dark, on the first floor of a four storey house, looking down to the yard. They lived about ten minutes walk from my parents’ so I would often look in at home, but more often they would come over to visit me at the grandparents’ flat. 

It was my aunts who had particular care of me. Riza was born in 1884, Tini looked older but was the youngest of five. She walked badly but loved shopping at the local shops. They’d buy half a kilo of bread every day, and 5dk of butter, ½ kilo of cooking fat, and milk of course since there was no milkman to deliver milk. She’d carry the milk home each morning in a jug. The milk didn’t come in bottles but in big churns and it was all used up each day as we had no means of keeping things cool. There were refrigerators that worked on ice sold by icemen which consisted of a tin compartment equipped with a tap through which the melted ice ran out into a bucket but we didn't have one of those. 

I remember very little of my father and mother. They were both busy then. He looked like me, was never very elegant, wore a trilby and tie, dark suits and went clean shaven. He had dark hair, no moustache, a big nose (just like mine) and had had a bad operation when he was sixteen or seventeen and it left a two inch scar under his left eye. My mother was quite an attractive woman for the times. 

I visited her parents every couple of weeks.  Her father was already ill with cancer and couldn't move. I’d often sit by his bedside and he’d tell me stories from the Bible or the Torah. He was quite religious. He had a long snow-white beard and I found him a very attractive man. They had eleven children, but I didn’t very much like my mother’s sisters. They were mostly older than her. There were two brothers and nine sisters but by the time I was born only seven of the girls were still alive. They were all married bar one, and one was divorced and lived with her parents. By the time I was born Giza néni, the oldest, was about 45 years old.

The old man used to be a painter and decorator with a little business. I remember very well when he died – it was my first meeting with death and made a terrific impression on me. I was about 12. I attended the funeral at the cemetery. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t know what it was about, seeing people crying.

1 comment:

Gwil W said...

George, I like your father's words. I see the source and why you're a talented writer and translator. I can relate to much because I often visit what I call Hungary in Austria, that is to say the part of Austria known as Burgenland and the Esterhazy lands east of the Leitha River.