On a late autumn day in 1956, a young man gazes out into the city streets and sees that the political turn of events have left the country reeling in uncertainty. There is a change coming for the young man; he feels it in the very air he breathes.
Questions arise in his mind. What has become of his beloved home? What kind of future can he look forward to now — one of regimented toil and duty? Deep down in his soul he knows the answers are not favorable.
He has studied to become a mechanical engineer and disdains the uniformity of his life. Like that of the machines he tends to. He contemplates leaving his family, the only home he’s ever known in his short 19 years. If not for his youth, it would be difficult for him to ignore the possibility of an unfavorable fate.
He inhales deeply the heat of his cigarette and exhales the last of his indecision. He must leave, now. Crushing it under his feet, he turns to rally his friends because this type of journey cannot be accomplished alone. He needs the comfort and security of his childhood if he is to leave his family behind, especially his beloved mother, possibly forever.
Gathering his courage, and what is left of his already waning inner fire, he kisses his mother gently on her head and tells her, "I’m going to get bread."
Little did my father know that it would indeed be the last time he saw his mother.
8 years later, my grandfather came to visit my father in America, in an attempt to reacquaint himself with his long lost son and meet his new daughter-in-law (my mom) who was 2 months pregnant at the time.
“You came a long way to get bread.”
My grandfather wrote letters to my grandmother, back home in Hungary, telling her how lovely my mother was, what a wonderful time he was having, walking along the streets of Perth Amboy, boarding the bus to New York City, unhindered, or being bothered to show his papers and how the stores never seemed to run out of food in America.
My twin brother and I were born a few weeks before my grandfather’s 6 month visa expired and my grandmother died, 8 months later, a year before the so-called “Refugees of 1956” were pardoned and no longer deemed enemies of the Hungarian government.
I’m ashamed to admit that, growing up, I was embarrassed by my father working dozens of menial jobs, having to accompany him to the unemployment office every few months, not to mention his funny way of speaking.
My father was a very strict man (like his father) and when my grandfather died, when I was 10 years old (my son’s age now) I will always remember it as the first time I ever saw my father cry.
Then again, I don’t know of any child who fully understands that adults had lives once (before children) and perhaps carry their own set of unfulfilled needs, desires and sometimes even regrets, nor could I ever acknowledge the possibility that my parents were even capable of fear.
Until I had children.
"This is my Mama and Papa and they escaped Hungary in 1956 and they’re gonna talk to you about immigration."
My son had asked my parents to help celebrate Heritage Day by speaking with his 4th grade class about their experiences.
"What was the most scariest thing that happened to you?"
My father still has a colorful way of manipulating the English language and is very rarely known to be at a loss for words.
"Vell…you zee…vhut you keeds don’t know iz…I mean…eeet iz harrrd forrr me…forrr us…"
My father’s eyes began to glaze over, as he tried to speak, but I could see that he was getting all choked up and having trouble finding "the right words" and a few of the children giggled as he visibly began to shake.
"What Mr. K. means is, staying alive was scary."
I’ll always remember it as the first time I heard my mother speak for my father.
Only now, raising 4 young adults of my own, do I appreciate such things and believe what kept my father from going back to Hungary all those years was his determination to make his own way in life and to provide a better future for his children and his grandchildren.
Yes, I am proud to be an American; I am also very much honored to be able to celebrate our country’s freedom as the daughter of an immigrant.