A Hungarian Saga
The title page was drawn in 1939 by a friend of my brother-in- law Gene. When Gene came to the US he kept a correspondence with his friends in Hungary. Gene asked me to add a line or two to his letters in my badly misspelled kitchen Hungarian. As a response to my efforts in Hungarian, one of his friends sent me the drawing you see on the title page. However the words on the original were: Order for the Master of the Hungarian Slang
Unfortunately this friend, along with Gene’s other friends, was a victim of the holocaust. The, original “Order” hangs in my living room. I, Fred Orbach, use my Hungarian pen-name, Ziga Janos, to compliment the title page and the stories.
The picture of my grandfather on the last page of ”My Grandfather’s Tree” was taken from a photo on the back of a two inch diameter circular mirror. If you look closely you can see the leaves of his maple tree.
A Family Portrait • Rule of Law • My Grandfather's Tree • My Grandfather Was Frugal • I Cry for My Peach Tree
It was mid-August of the year 1900. Imre was very despondent and depressed. 5 AM next day the family would begin a long trip to America At the ripe old age of seven, he had many fond memories of the little village, Parad, where he grew up Although his family were the only Jews, Imre had numerous friends. Parad is at the base of Matra Mountain, northeast of Budapest. Every night, for the last month, when Imre first learned of the move to America, he cried himself to, sleep.
The village consisted of about forty houses astride the dirt road from Budapest to Eger. Only two buildings were higher than one story, the church at the head of the road and his father’s inn in the center of the village. The walls of the small peasant houses were made of four inch thick light gray clay. The thatched roofs covered one fairly large room. The floor was well trodden earth. The furnishings consisted of a wood burning stove, sleeping cots and cooking utensils. One of the utensils found in every home was a Molnar Kaloch iron. This was made of two, three foot long black iron rods, with a five inch slightly concave iron dish at the end of each rod. The dishes had a design on the concave surface and were attached to each other by a hinge. The housewife would slightly coated each dish with lard and place a golf sized ball of a sugar dough on one of the dishes The rods were brought together and the dish end put on top of a hot stove. In two or three minutes for each side it was done. The finished product was a five inch delicious circular cookie, toasted on the outside with a pretty design, and hollow on the inside.
A year ago Imre’s cousin, Arpad, came for a three day visit. Arpad accidentally spilled water on the hot stove. A jet of scalding steam shot up into Arpad’s face almost permanently blinding him. He now wears thick lenses eye glasses. At times he falls asleep with his glasses on which he explains helps him see his dreams clearer.
The family consisted of eleven members as follows:
Parents: David and Fanny
Sons: Miklos, Eddy, Sandor and Imre
Daughters: Hermine, Bertha, Yolan and Irma
David was born in Gyongyos, Heves county, in 1851 and married Fanny Wise m 1871 He later bought a two story inn in Parad, a little village close to Gyongyos and on the road to Eger city. This move not only gave David a livelihood but provided room for his ever expanding family. David, in August of 1900, considered himself to be an old man deserving of retirement. Where could he find a better place to retire than in America? His children could find good jobs and support him. His sons were becoming of an age to be conscripted into the army and forced to eat non-kosher food. Although it was not a good time to sell his inn, as there was an exodus from east Europe to America, the advantage that the US held for him was too great to pass up.
Fanny would go wherever David went. Her reason for being on earth was to make a good and proper wife for her husband and a loving mother for her children. She was a wonderful cook, with the reputation of being the very best among her relatives and acquaintances. She taught her cooking skills to her daughter, Bertha, the only daughter willing to help her in the kitchen. Fanny lost four teen age children, two girls and two boys to illness.
Hemiine had recently married her cousin Bela and although they were leaving with the family tomorrow morning, they were going to Paris, not to America. It would be their honeymoon and possibly a permanent residence. Bela was an excellent jeweler and had colleagues in Paris. He had been an officer in the famous 32nd regiment of the Hungarian army and was more worldly than his in-laws. Hermine, 25 years old, the oldest of the eight children, was the resident hostess of the family. When company came she would greet them. offer coffee and an assortment of cakes that her mother and sister, Bertha, had baked. Hermine would monopolize the conversation and be a spokesman for her sisters and brothers. However, she contributed very little work to make the visit a pleasant one.
Bertha was 23 years old. She definitely did not want to go to America. It troubled her more than it troubled Imre. The inn and Parad were her life Bertha loved her father more than any of the other children. She was David’s right hand. She wore a chain around her neck from which a large silver Maria Theresa coin dangled. The key to the wine cellar of the inn was attached to the coin. Bertha was the workhorse Cinderella of the family. It was Bertha do this, Bertha do that.
Yolan, 19 years old, and Irma, 18 years old, were anxious to go to America. The idea so excited them they could not sleep. They compared the lack of eligible boys in Parad with stories of America, full of eligible bachelors and streets paved with gold.
Miklos and Eddy, the two older boys were also happy to go to America. They would escape conscription into the army and would also not have to finish high school (gymnasium). The US held more business opportunities than Hungary.
Sandor was also happy to go. He was the most intelligent of the children and knew he would be successful in the sciences.
linre was terrified going to America. In an effort to soothe him, David promised Imre that he would inherit David’s gold watch and chain. 1f for some reason or other, Imre did not want the gold watch and chain it was to go David’s favorite daughter, Bertha.
One week earlier, David decided to have the family go to Eger for a family studio picture. The photo is ten inches by fifteen inches and sepia toned. The photographer, with the help of Hermine, did an excellent job in arranging his subjects. The lower row of five family members are seated, except for Imre, while the upper row of six family members are standing. In the center of the lower group are Fanny and David with Imre standing between them. To the right of David is Eddy and to the left of Fanny is Mikios. In the center of the upper group, above Imre, are Bela and Hermine. To the right of Hermine is Irma and Sandor and to the left of Bela are Bertha and Yolan.
As the exposure was three seconds long the subjects could not hold a smile. Imre wears a dark sailor type suit with sparkling brass buttons. He holds a book in his hand. Like all the males in the photo, his shoes are highly shined. His brown hair is cut short He has a smallish mouth and thin lips. The pupils of Imre’s eyes, like the pupils of all the others are like two black pearls staring right at the viewer. This may be due to a touch up by the photographer.
David wears a black suit, with black buttons and out of style wide lapels. He has a long vest showing his gold watch chain, a narrow white collar and a black bow tie. His hands are closed and rest on his thighs. His eyes narrowly spaced are set in a stern round face with a mustache coming down to the corners of his mouth. His hair is crew cut about one eight inches long.
Fanny wears a long black satin dress. Her hands, in black gloves, rest on her thighs. Her left hand holds a white handkerchief, Fanny is stout, with a full face and a little double chin. Her hair, with a black bow, is dark brown and simply combed back and is set off by diamond earrings.
Mikios is to the left of Fanny, while to the right of David s
its Eddy. Mikios wears a black suit, the jacket is buttoned all the way up, and his legs folded at the ankles and his arms crossed at his chest. He sports a bow tie and his black hair is neatly combed back. Being the oldest son he looks out of the picture authority. Eddy the handsomest son also wears a black suit. His suit is only buttoned at the top, showing his long black vest displaying a gold watch chain. Both hands are on his right leg which rests on his left knee. He has a large white modem collar and a cravat tie. Eddy’s hair is well groomed and parted on the left.
Hermine is in the middle of the standing group just above Imre. Her hair is black and set in a large round bun. She is dressed in black with a long chain hanging from her neck. She has a chubby face. Bela is at the left of Hermine with his hand on her shoulder. He is a tall, well built handsome man. He is fashionably attired in a dark gray suit, small collar and a dark tie. He holds his head high and his well waxed French style mustache is pointed up.
To the right of Bela is Bertha and then Yolan. Bertha, the shortest of the sister, appears in a black dress with a high tight collar and two rows of metal buttons in the front. She also wears a long chin around her neck the end of which is tucked into a pocket of the dress. Hr waist line is very small.
Her left arm rests on the back of her mother’s chair, as if to support her mother. Yolan is the prettiest of the women. She is dressed in a fancy dark dress with a white lace collar. Her two hands have been placed on Bertha’s shoulder.
Finally the last two. Irma and Sandor stand to the left of Hermine. Irma’s dress, like Yolan’s, has a white lace border on the collar. The dress is satin and her hands are on David’s shoulder. Her eyes are close-set and her mouth is large with wider lips than her sisters. Sandor is to the right of frma. He is just fourteen years old. He wears a dark striped suit, without a vest, and the trousers come down to the knees. There is a medallion on his lapel and he also wears a bow tie. He has a strong determined look that seems to say “I will be a success in America”.
Now it is one hundred years since that cleverly posed picture was taken. The picture hangs on the wall of Bertha’s granddaughter’s apartment.
It was a good time, 1917, for Bertha, a recent Hungarian immigrant She had settled with her family in the Bronx suburb. Bertha had heard from neighbors of a wonderful park, in the middle of Manhattan. One Tuesday, after Bertha had finished her ironing, she decided to take her three and a half year son, Feri, to visit this highly recommended park.
Dressed in her best ankle length dress and fruit adorned hat she held Feri by the hand and walked four blocks to the now 10 year old Rapid Transit. Feri refused to walk up the two flights of stairs leading to the station platform. The subway was above ground in the Bronx. Feri screamed as if he was being kidnapped. Bertha, in order to avoid a scene, carried Feri up the two flights of stairs. Bertha was strong, having worked hard in Hungary. On the train Bertha and Feri sat down next to a priest. The ride was not smooth and the hard straw seats did not help make it more comfortable. Feri began to get nauseous. All of sudden Feri threw up, right in the priest’s lap. The train had stopped at a station. Bertha grabbed Feri by his arm and they quickly exited. They waited until the next train came along and continued on their safari.
Bertha and Feri finally disembarked at the 58th street station. The train was slow and it was a long ride. With the aid of hand signs and frequent use of the word “bark, they finally found their way to Central Park. It was a typical beautiful sunny June afternoon. The cloudless azure sky was brilliantly set off by the warm green of the grass. Women seated on benches, with Japanese parasols to protect them from the sun, were dressed in the most expensive and modem fashion of the day. They gossiped about their husbands’ mistresses while feeding peanuts to the pigeons. The children romped and played games, laughing, having fun. The boys were dressed in natty white sailor suits and the girls wore pretty pink outfits.
Young men, with their girl friends, rowed in a magnificent lake. The men were well-dressed; many wore bow ties, straw hats or bowlers. Bertha sat on the grass, under a large white pine tree, where she could keep an eye on Feri and also enjoy watching the rowers. Feri played by him self but kept annoying his mother by asking questions about the unusual surroundings. Feri was astounded by the statues of men on horses, the Essex House, and other very tall buildings, visible from where they sat. After a while Feri came to his mother and told her he had to make wee wee. Feri had been toilet trained and did not wear diapers. Bertha did not know what to do. She spoke only one or two words of English and there did not appear to be any Hungarians around. Feri kept on complaining and crying. In desperation Bertha told her son to pee close to the big tree where he wouldn’t be to visible. Suddenly, a big, stout, six foot tall, 250 pound policeman appeared out of nowhere. The policeman, twirling the tips of his handle bar mustache shouted, with an Irish accent, “What are you doing. Don’t you know it is against the LAW to urinate in the park?” Bertha and Fed were terrified. Fed stopped peeing, began to cry and ran to his mother who was also crying. Hungary was allied to the dastardly Huns who had raped Belgium. Hungarians were not too popular in the US, and Bertha was in deadly fear of deportation.
The policeman escorted the two criminals to 60th Street and Fifth Avenue where a Paddy Wagon was parked. They were driven, along with two female Bloomingdale shoplifters who had been caught earlier, to the 77th Street police station. The police station was dimly lighted, stuffy and filled with cigar smoke. The two shivering crying culprits were seated on an old worn mahogany bench in front of a police sergeant, sitting at a high desk, calling out orders to his men. After 30 minutes he was able to find time to talk to these two notorious foreigners. He did not know Hungarian and the desperadoes did not know any English. Fortunately a Hungarian interpreter was finally obtained. The two crying prisoners were informed of their crime. Bertha had the interpreter phone her brother-in-law, Gulya, who worked, as a linotype operator at the Hungarian Magyar Weekly paper. Gylya came running to save his relatives. The sergeant told Gulya that the LAW required a fine of $2.00 for Feri peeing in the park and a fine of $2.00 for Bertha allowing him to do so. Gulya happily paid the $4.00. Although Bertha lived to a ripe old age she never again stepped a foot in that Central Park.
The tree, a maple, came with the Bryant Avenue house. It was a fairly young tree and stood on the sidewalk about a foot from the gutter. The house was purchased in 1910, in New York City suburb, the Bronx, by my Grandfather and his family. It was a three story 20 room brick house with a small yard in front and a beautiful garden in the back. There were fireplaces on every floor and the electric outlets were combined with gas lights. The buildings in this area were of this type. The multitude of five story tenements came later, in the 1920’s. There were numerous lots, which we called fields. One of these fields was a grazing area for a flock of goats.
My Grandfather, Nagy Papa, in Hungarian was a 59 year old retiree when the extended family moved from Manhattan and occupied the Bryant, Avenue house. It was a little Hungary. My Nagy Papa loved the tree in front of the house and he took care of it as it were a baby. Horse drawn vendor’s wagons, at times stopped in front of our house. The horses would nibble on the bark of my Grandfather’s tree. This infuriated my grandfather and he made the vendor move. To heal the wound made by the horses he made a paste of earth and plastered it over the wound. My Nagy Papa would frequently go in the street with a dust pan and broom and scooped up the horse manure and place it at the base of his tree.
When my Grandfather grew older, on a nice summer day, be would sit on a chair on the platform at the top of the steps and enjoy looking at his tree. He usually wore a brown cardigan sweater and rested his left arm on the brass step railing. Neighbors would stop by and converse with him. The children gathered the seeds from the tree, removed the seed from the casing and stuck the tail of the seed on their noses One day our cat ran up the tree and was afraid to come down. No coaxing would get it to budge. I went to the second floor room facing the street and straddled the window. I pointed a broom, bristle first toward the branch that the cat was on. The cat ran down the broom handle nght through the window into the room. Street cleaners would eat their lunch, sitting on the curb in the shade of the tree.
The tree outlived my Grandfather, who died m 1921. I am told that the tree had been cut down. It was still there when the family sold the house m 1950. I try to imagine that somewhere my Grandfather is enjoying his tree.
Born 1851, Gyongyos, Hungary - Died 1921, Bronx, New York
My grandfather was very frugal, evidently a DNA factor which was passed down to his children, in particular the females. But in those days and in our neighborhood who wasn’t frugal? My mother would embarrass me when it came to paying the butcher, grocer or shops in the Jenning Street market. She would always ask in her broken English, “homsey any cheaper” The meaning of her question was obvious but I especially hated and was disturbed by the word “homsey.” It seemed as if she was begging and it hurt. Much later I figured out that the word “homsey” was a Hungarian version for the German or Yiddish “Haben zie”, have you.
My grandfather was really frugal. An example of his frugality was him giving me and my cousin, Gene, 2 1/2 years my senior, a penny each. However this extra ordinary good fortune was not without strings. We were instructed to go to the corner candy store and buy a stick of chungum (chewing gum). After we grew tired of chewing we were further instructed, not to spit out the gum but to return it to Grandfather. He would roll the well chewed gum into a spaghetti shape and stuff it into the cracks that had formed between the steps of our outside stairs. This would prevent rain water from damaging whatever had been stored under the stairs.
The outside stairs, about thirteen steps, lead from the front door to the sidewalk, a playground for as little kid. At first I was restricted by my mother, to the sidewalk. If I accidentally broke this restriction, my tattle tail sister, Elsie, would go flying, with her long hair streaming behind her, screaming to my mother at the top of her lungs “Feri is in the street. Feri is in the street”. By the time my mother came out I was innocently on the sidewalk. I was never called Fred or Freddie, it was always Feri, or at times, when I was good, it would be Ferika, or little Feri. Feri is short for my Hungarian name Ferenc, like in Ferenc Molnar, who wrote Lillium which became the Broadway hit, Carousel. Some of my American friends, hearing Feri, would call me ferry boat. I didn’t mind, at least it was American. I would, at other times be called “Yo Madar, which means “Good Bird.” One day while visiting my two aunts, Irma neni and Yolan neni who shared the top floor, I heard Irma tell Yolan that Grandfather had forgotten to ask for the rent and she hoped he would not member. I jumped up, ran down two flights of stairs yelling “I’m going to tell Grandpa.” Aunt Irma ran after me with the rent money in her hands Hungarians are funny with words. Good does not always mean good. Hemorrhoids are called the golden vein. The doors throughout the house were never closed. When I visited one of my aunts I would hear “here comes the good bird.”
Sliding down the stair’s brass banister was a quick way to the sidewalk. We played stoop ball by bouncing a ball against the steps, then run and tag the bases chalked out in the street. When a car approached, one of the kids would yell “car”, and we would obligingly let the car go by. However when a plane was spotted in the sky we would drop everything, point our fingers at the plane and in unison shout “Hooray, Hooray, Hooray.” I often wonder if the pilot ever looked out of his cockpit aid couldn’t understand why those idiot kids were pointing their fingers at him. The sidewalk was our miniature tennis court. The court was two adjacent squares and the crack between the squares was the net. It was called box ball. When we tired of box ball we would put a penny, or bottle top, on the crack and take turns trying to hit with a ball. Money was scarce and we could not afford Pokey Mon Cards. Our cards were free as they came along with chewing gum. And we played odds or evens and flipped them on the sidewalk till one player had all the cards. That is where stock market day traders came from. The height of fashion for a stock broker’s head gear came from our mothers. They would cut off the brim of discarded fedoras, scallop the edge and fold up about two inches. A little kid’s favorite possession was his marbles. Immies, aggies, glassies and his shooter, which he would commit suicide if he ever lost it. Marble games were very serious business.
The curb was also part of our playground. One day, the assistant principal, a tall Viking like woman, made an announcement at the close of general assembly. She dismissed all the girls but asked the boys to remain seated. She explained this unusual request by telling us the principal had received a complaint from one of the home owners in the vicinity of the school. The complaint was that on the way home from school, five or six of the younger children would form a straight line on the curb facing the street. A contest would then be held to see who could pee the furthest. The assistant principal commanded the children to stop this practice immediately. Civil disobedience was then far in the future thus “Thou Shalt Not Pee in The Street” became the eleventh commandment. I had inherited a strong bladder and frequently won the contest. No gold medals or Oscars were given to the winner nor did it become an Olympic Event. It was satisfying to be good in at least in one area and be a champion peeyer. The curb was also used as bleacher seats for the little kids to watch the older kids play stick ball. We’d heckle the pitcher by chanting “up the river, down the lake, the pitcher got a belly ache.” A good hitter could hit two sewers. At times the ball would go down the sewer curb rain drain. Some of the stronger boys would lift the manhole cover and one of them would climb down the ladder to retrieve the ball.
The curb taught me two important lessons. Respect and look twice before you leap. One sunny day my father asked me to sweep the stairs in front of the house. I imagine he wanted some peace and quiet. I took the straw broom, which was twice my height, and having a lot of energy I attacked the steps with vigor. Out of a cloud of dust that I had created my very angry father appeared. What are you doing he shouted; can’t you see the two garbage truck drivers trying to eat their lunch at the curb in the shade my Grandfather’s Tree? That was about 80 years ago, but I never forgot the lesson. The other lesson involving the curb came in crossing Bryant Avenue alone. I was told that I MUST look first one way, then the other way, before I stepped off the curb. I took this advice to heart. One day l wanted to cross the street and following instructions I looked one way, nothing, then I looked the other way and saw a huge garbage truck coming down the street. I impatiently waited till the truck passed and ran out into the street. I was hit by a second garbage truck, hidden from my view by the first truck. Fortunately I was running fast and was knocked away from the wheels. The driver jumped out of his truck and helped me to my feet. I was not hurt and be was more concerned than I was. I never told anyone about my accident. I was afraid if my mother found out I would be restricted to the sidewalk until I got married. If I knew than what I know now I would be richer by $50,000 from the city of New York.
In 1910 the Lowy families moved into a house in the Bronx suburbs. It was one of five identical three story brick houses located on the west side of Bryant Ave. Our house was the second from the Jennings Street and Bryant Ave corner. There was a vacant lot, one of very many in the vicinity, at the corner.
Our house was quite ornate. We had a working fire place, beautiful staircases from one floor to the next and the lighting fixtures were outfitted with outlets for electricity and gas in the event the electricity was cut off. There was a small front yard and a fairly large back yard which was paved for five or six feet from the base of the house. In front of this paved area was a beautiful flower garden planted by the builder.
Vyse Avenue, one block west and parallel to Bryant Avenue is the top of the hill that runs four streets east and down to the Bronx Creek In order to provide a level ground to build upon the soil from the west side of Bryant Avenue was moved to the east side of Vyse Avenue. Back yards on Bryant Avenue were separated by wood fences on the south and north side. There was a stone wall about eight feet high at the west side that separated our back yard from the opposite back yard on Vyse Avenue. At the middle of the north fence there was a white snow ball bush. At the middle of the south fence was a peach tree and at the west end of the south fence was a lilac bush.
In a short time the top soil laid down by the builder lost its nutritional value and due to the loss of soil to Vyse Avenue the garden began to fade. My frugal grandfather tried to plant vegetables in the back yard with no success. When I grew older I tried planting grass and irises with no better results than grandfather had.
The peach tree seemed to try to survive. Each year it regularly produced about five small peaches. Then one year it produced only one peach. This peach was about the size of a grapefruit. While spending time in the back yard I noticed a black area surrounding the base of the peach tree. I kneeled down aüd found that I could put my hand far into the tree at ground level. The tree did not live long afterwards.
Evidently my peach tree knew it was mortally wounded, would not survive to produce peaches. It attempted to preserve its seed by putting all its effort into the one large peach. Now I cry for my peach tree because I am unknowingly guilty of short circuiting its effort at protecting its seed. I should have taken that peach pit, planted it and nourished it to become a strong peach tree.
When the time comes around for remembrance my peach tree is among those who are no longer with us.