Bio Note: The daughter of Hungarian immigrants, I relive my wonderful bi-cultural childhood in my mind every day. Poet, short story writer, non-fiction writer, playwright, journalist, and photographer, I am also working on the fifth and final draft of an immigrant novel set in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania between 1910 and 1920. I returned to poetry when I was housebound with Covid and enjoy publications in journals such as Verse-Virtual, the Lothlorien Poetry Journal, and the Muddy River Review.
Searching for My Mother's Childhood
for my mother Margit 1906-1980 After her passing, many questions remain so I go in search of my mother’s childhood on the fields of the Great Hungarian Plain. In my lap, handcrafted wooden boxes contain photos of family and friends left on the fertile terrain. After her passing, many questions remain. In her village, a thatched roof covers every stucco frame hidden behind fences concealing each sheltered domain on the fields of the Great Hungarian Plain. Inside, handpainted plates, embroidered cloths, simple games, before sleep on the clay stove shelf listening for trains. After her passing, many questions remain. Her foster father, shoemaker and soloist, sang refrains while his wife taught mom to love and achieve her aims on the fields of the Great Hungarian Plain. I show the photos around, and everyone strains But attemps to recall the girl who left are all in vain. After her passing, many questions still remain on the fields of Great Hungarian Plain.
The Fragility of Film
I always knew I had a brother named Jozsef, although Papa told me I could call him Joey. He was from the first reel of Papa’s life captured in eight millimeters of silence. To avoid being drafted by the Romanians who were awarded his part of Hungary, Papa joined his older brother in America, to be followed by Kati after Joey was born. But Kati died in a long and difficult childbirth, leaving Joey to be raised by her parents in a section of Hungary, now Romania, which tried to expunge the Magyar culture by changing the names of people and places. Mama and I were from the second reel, set in America during the Depression, World War 11, and the Iron Curtain era, long after talkies and theaters were invented. Joey’s mustached, uniformed image framed on my nightstand kept him in my thoughts. I talked to Joey, prayed for Joey, and loved him with all my heart, as only a seven year old can. Unlike Papa, Joey was drafted in World War 11 by Romanians who mistreated Magyar conscripts. Papa decided to help Joey escape to America, but had to secretly send him money for bribes. Used garments made it through inspections, so like the director of a movie, Mama bought tattered items of clothing at the Goodwill store And sewed money into an old overcoat lining. Papa sent the package to his sister, also caught In the blurry existence of Magyars in Romania. She tore open the lining, gingerly removing bills as Mama had instructed. Now all we could do was pray. We repeated the same prayers over and over as if memorizing an actor’s dialogue while Papa anxiousy awaited Joey’s appearance, as one awaits the opening scene of a movie. A letter finally arrived from Papa’s sister, telling us Joey was captured at the border and incarcerated for five years in a prison in Russia or Romania. No one knew where. Papa was inconsolable, crying every night. Our life was never the same. After his release, Joey married, had a son, and sent letters, but never tried to escape to America again. Joey died at fifty, leaving a wife and teenaged son who spoke only Romanian we did not understand. It was as if the film of Joey’s existence had faded, along with his last name, leaving only faint images of a brother I never met, but continued to love.
Originally published in Culture and Identity, Feb. 2022, by THE POET in England
©2022 Margaret Duda
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