On my visit today my mother asked me to bring her a book from another room, which she was going to read later. And then she pulled out something else and started to read to me in Hungarian, asking me if I understood.
I answered “parts”. I was listening to a poem in Hungarian. I wasn’t picking up all the allusions or meanings. When she starts remembering & storytelling I do my best to just listen, and try not to interrupt the flow.
She told me the story of the book.
During the siege of Budapest (at the end of 1944), my father used to visit her daily. She described the adventure, how he’d shelter close to each building, methodical, carefully finding his way over to visit her.
There was a bookstore that had been hit.
She described how he looked at the damage, books scattered about everywhere. Perhaps inside? Or outside. I don’t know whether this was a bombed out store or a place that was largely intact but with its windows destroyed.
As I sat listening to the tale, I realize I was like a 5 year old, my mouth agape, spellbound.
She held up a book for me.
He had looked at the books scattered about. And had picked up this one.
I saw the title, “Orosz Költök Antológiája”. This is the book she had quoted to me, a brief verse.
“Orosz” means Russian.
I confirmed: “so these poems were originally in Russian but translated into Hungarian”…?
At this time when Russians and Nazis were fighting over the city, perhaps it was a good omen, to find this? Yes, in time the truth would emerge, that the Russians could be every bit as rapacious as the Nazis. But at this point? no one knew that yet.
And so he brought it to her…
He’s been gone a long time.
But there it is, a prized possession, a memory that’s very much alive in her hands.