June 8th, 2022
When I get to Budapest it is raining. It pours down the windows of the plane and taps on the roof.
It feels like the place saying ‘welcome home.’
There are complications getting the passenger tube hooked up and getting our bags out, but customs is easy and at last I make it out into a room where I can see my great Uncle Frank and his daughter, Margaret, and my aunt Aunt Kati and cousins Jaci and Klari’s beaming faces, and there are our cousins Zsofi and Barnabas too, who I do not know but am delighted to meet. They are all very sweet, and I’m over the moon to be with them finally in Budapest. I can’t believe it! We really are here.
Zsofi and Barnabas drive us to the AirBnB, and it takes us a minute to find our apartment but eventually we do, hauling all our bags up and around, and walking back and forth trying to find the right door.
The apartment is beautiful, with high ceilings and (fake) greenery and huge curtained windows.
We figure it out, and I help Margaret get Uncle Frank set up in his room. While we’re hanging up his shirts, Margaret’s face splits. “Dad, you went through so much to win our freedom.” She says through tears. “You went through so much to get us to America, and now we’ve gone through so much to get back here. You worked so hard for our freedom and you worked so hard to make this happen.”
He looks back at her, quiet and calm with watery eyes. What she says is very true. It is a miracle in of itself that the younger generations of our family have been born in America, and that some of us now are able to revisit this place.
As we unpack and bustle around the apartment we bring out gifts and give them, eager to show our gratitude for all the help that our Hungarian family has given us in landing here.
Jaci and Zsofi set the table with bread and paprika and rolls and crescent shaped kifli loaves and tomatoes and kolbasz and two kinds of ham- one that Klari made— and butter and strawberries and a kind of cake-y cherry dessert that’s cut in bars, and Unicum. We start with shots, of course, and then set into the feast. Zsofi and Jaci don’t eat with us. I wish they would share in the bounty, but I know that they probably want to be going home soon too. They have made landing here such a dream.
All our conversations are a mix of Hungarian and English and big smiles. To me, it is a language of endearment, even when I don’t understand. It is a language of love and place and grandparents in my ears.
Uncle Frank gets into his stories over dinner, recounting them in Hungarian for Jaci and Zsofi. I can see them all swirling up in his head now that we’re here, all ushering to come out.
It’s interesting to see which are the brightest, which come back over and over.
Jaci and Zsofi leave, and Aunt Kati and Margaret start talking about how Jaci was worried about this special dinner that Uncle Frank ordered for the family on Sunday. She thinks it’s going to be too expensive, too much money. Uncle Frank doesn’t really understand why it would be a problem, and instead goes into telling me about how he used to lay out the money bit in his career as a banquet manager. He tells me about the different types of fish, the different dishes, all the different courses and options and palates to fit each customer’s budget. He tells me about this menu that he found from a book of a Hungarian competition of meals from years ago, how he found the recipes in the menu and wanted that especially for our family dinner. He tells me about veal, and what a rack of veal means, and how he once planned a cheap profits-only lunch menu by changing the way that the rack of veal was cut and served and labeled. He tells me about a friend who left him his spot in a business, how he went through making all the menus and catering events and organizing, and how happy the customers were with his work. He tells me how successful he was by the time he was done working at Perino’s in Los Angeles.
I watch him cut strawberries with a fork and knife and I watch the bags around his bright eyes and the sun spots on his smile lines. I watch his face written so deep with years of emotion that minor disappointment becomes a drama of worry lines, and the smallest smile ripples into his cheeks and folds up his eyes.
We talk a bit, but not too long, as we’re all tired from travel. The air is warm and a bit muggy, inviting us to relax. I take a shower, and record the day so far. I’m anticipating climbing into bed and going to sleep with this place full of family to wake up to.
Leave a Reply