As we get older, in some ways we get stronger, and while people we love leave us, we eventually understand death is part of life. Imagine the wisdom and realizations a man of ninety-four might have.
94 wow… almost a century. He was born at the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and lived through two World Wars. He lived in Hungary when they invented the first ballpoint pen. He was there when the world watched the first plane fly, and alive when they invented the assembly line. He saw the Industrial Age turn into the Information Age, and was one of the first to see Television. What an exciting time to be young!
Where did my grandfather come from? Imagine a poor farming family with nine children, working their land with little education and struggling to survive. What are the odds of the youngest of that family, leaving everything he knew to escape during the Hungarian revolution to find safe haven for his own family all the way in Canada from Bakonysarkany, Hungary? I’d say it depends on how determined that man was to finding a good life for the family he loved. Traveling across the world to start again is brave. But at forty years of age and no language other than Hungarian, out of desperation he did what he had to do to survive.
With two small boys in tow, and little more than the clothes on their backs, they left everything behind to find a better life. The dream to reap the land of the free, and they travelled to the Americas.
Giricz Nagypapa found a better living, and maybe even an easier life; nevertheless he missed Hungary and our rich culture. He missed the Gypsy music he once played on his violin in a folk band, the paprika, and his village. He was a strong Hungarian patriot right to the end of his life.
He was a dignified man, and going from a well-respected train conductor position in Hungary to a hospital janitor at the Jubilee Hospital in downtown Victoria, BC, he still managed to hold his head up high. He dressed well and gained respect and quickly bought a house and car on his modest income. I loved the way my grandparents went without until they could buy the very best. My grandpa even as an immigrant, did better than most people who live their whole lives in one country with loads of family support, money and friends behind them. In fact on the money he made, he supported his family in Hungary as well until the day he died.
His conservative nature, ‘saving for the best’ mentality was something we can all learn from. Do not live past your means, he’d say, never use credit cards, and the key to longevity is under eating. He never actually said the last one, he showed us every time he left the last bite on his plate. That way you never go for another plate of food. I smiled, knowing my Nagymama could not throw away good food and would throw his last piece into her mouth! His determination got him to nine and half decades. These are the things I learned from my grandfather that make me believe that anything is possible.
What I loved the most about my Nagypapa is he insisted on big family gatherings when I was young. We would gather with our cousins and camp or travel, and have big Christmases with whole roasted piglets with the apple in its mouth. The happiest memories I will carry through my life is with him at the head of the table, with his sons lovingly at his side, and the grandchildren all around.
Nagypapa had a beautiful life. His life like a thread connects us all. He lives through his sons, and on through his grandchildren. I see him when I look in the mirror or into my son’s face. I see features in my cousins, their children and my niece. I feel him around me, his imprint on us. His life is ours to carry forward, and he lives on. We are the fabric of his life. And when I look around I see a beautiful family he was proud of. A life worth every breath, and admired to the end.
People tend to be so distracted in their lives, isolated, stuck to their TV’s and video games, that what Nagypapa represents is almost extinct. Family values, loving one another, time together, and big family dinners. Those are the things I pass forward to my family. Good home cooked meals, laughing with loved ones, travelling visiting family. I am so glad I had my Nagypapa to teach me so many amazing life lessons.