Moving on and looking back

walking

After living for 40-plus years on the same street, my mom recently sold her house. In a few weeks, she’ll settle into smaller digs.

I can’t speak for my mom, but I have no sentimental attachment to that house — I grew up two doors down. The house she’s leaving is just a structure of steel, brick and cement.

It’s the innards that matter. Memories glued to everything. Not just photos from family trips, but the dishes that we dined on for decades, furnishings that adorned both houses, trinkets scattered along Mom’s bookshelves, and Dad’s roll-top desk, the cubbies stocked with the same supplies for as long as I can remember.

Back in August, I rode the heart-wrenching roller coaster of sorting through my father’s stuff. With so much to tackle on a tight deadline, we had little time to reflect or review; I boxed anything sentimental — family records, photos and files — for future perusal.

I tried to be practical and efficient, unaffected by emotion. It worked for a while, even as I boxed framed family photos and my parents’ wedding pictures. But then I found Dad’s old telephoto lens, tucked in its case.

On family trips, that stupid lens was my responsibility…. perpetually slung over me like a bandolier. I lugged that thing all over Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and so on, year after year. I couldn’t stand carrying it and my only reprieve was when Dad would pop the 35 mm off his camera and say, “Gunga Din! Bring me my telephoto lens!”

me

I hadn’t set eyes on that thing in 20 or 30 years. But there it was, in a drawer, in an old wardrobe in the basement. I burst into tears. After that, it was impossible to be emotionally detached.

I spent an exhausting two days boxing and packing, but it wasn’t all tearful. Lots of my grandmother’s things had been shuttled to the basement and I was reunited with oodles of photos and records.

Snapshots of my father as a toddler, my grandmother, out-skiing her family members before the war, and joyful images of my grandparents after years of living in DP camps, happily settled in the US.

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I also found a treasure trove of old family photos — unknown relatives, who apparently, were album-worthy. I discovered 200-year-old books, and mysterious ledgers and records from the early 1800s. All of those are in Hungarian — some printed, but others, barely-decipherable in early 19th-century scrawl.

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One of many mystery men

But all that was months ago, and those boxes have migrated to my attic.

Last week, Mom and I pawed through the remaining practical items — stuff that she won’t need, but we can repurpose. Dad’s chainsaw, gardening tools, extra sheets, beach towels, fireplace tongs, reading lamps… totally random stuff.

Maisie got a lifetime supply of tennis balls. When she comes in the house, she likes to stare at her stash.

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As I made a final pass through Mom’s house before unwanted items are sold, I thumbed through the books in the basement once more. And I found one that I’d missed: a long-forgotten children’s novel. One that I’d read a million times as a kid.

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The Good Master is a story set on the Hungarian plains (the “puszta”) and it follows a head-strong, tomboy named Kate, and her adventures with her cousin Jancsi and his family on their ranch.

My copy is tattered and worn — it’s a 1935 edition, the first year it was printed, and it contains the author’s original illustrations.

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I did not add The Good Master to the boxes in the attic. It’s in the kids’ room and we’ve been reading it every night. Aside from the adventurous plot line, the book’s prevailing theme is about the superiority of country life over urban life.

Of course, that resonates with Cayden, Had and Brynn, and further solidifies their notions about clueless city folk and hardy, resourceful country folk.

Out of curiosity, I googled The Good Master and — go figure — it has a wikipedia page. There I learned that it was never translated into Hungarian. But I also discovered that the author published a sequel, The Singing Tree, in 1939.

I found an original copy of The Singing Tree on Ebay. The kids and I split the cost. It’s on the way.

So I know what happened to my family in Hungary.

And in a few days, the kids and I will find out what happened to Kate and Jancsi, too.

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