When I describe my father to people who haven't met him, I get the impression that people must think that I'm telling tall tales.
My dad and stepmother live in a converted train station in the South of France. The tracks were bombed out during the Second World War, but the stones of the platforms still run in parallel lines through their back yard.
My father lived through the Nazi occupation of Hungary, and later escaped across the border when the Russians army took over his country. After the Second World War, he worked for the Voice of America, while living in Vienna, Austria.
He came to America in the 1950's and attended graduate school in Nebraska, a place he disliked (having lived in some of Europe's most glittering cities), but always tactfully described as having "beautiful sunsets."
My father's father had been the Attorney General of Hungary, prior to its take-over by the Russians, and as such was considered an enemy of the state. While my father and his siblings all managed to flee Communist rule, my grandparents were stripped of most of their possessions and lived under virtual house arrest.
As I recall the story, my father and his brother and sister were not permitted to visit his parents, because of their political status, but my father continued to apply for travel visas, with the hope that some bureaucrat might approve him accidentally. When my sister and I were tiny children, my parents moved to Austria, and for a brief time, my father was able to travel into Hungary to see his family.
Stories from this time are mythic. My mother told us once about how my dad had gotten into a habit of saying terribly impolite things to American policemen in the most charming Hungarian. According to my mother, my dad once slipped up on a visit to Hungary and said something that he assumed the police officer wouldn't understand. This, according to my mother, got my dad hauled off to jail, leaving his young, non-Hungarian-speaking wife in hysterics. My family makes the distinction between a Good Story and a True Story, and I've never been entirely certain about the status that particular tale.
I've also never been terribly clear about my father's role in smuggling Jews out of Hungary during the Nazi occupation. I do have a strong image of him as a teenager, enduring a bombing siege in Budapest while reading Gone With The Wind. He speaks of the strangeness of reading about the burning of Atlanta while an actual war raged around him.
I, of course, was too busy being a little kid to be terribly aware of the strangeness of our family's situation. I was too busy loving Austria, where our life included exploring ancient European castles, having snowball fights in the alps in June, and walking to kindergarten by way of the beautiful stables of the Spanish Riding School. Didn't every child get to pet a milk-white Lipizzaner stallion on the way to school? Didn't everyone grow up with real candles burning on their Christmas trees? Didn't every three year old develop a taste for hand-made marzipan? My early childhood was magical.
My parents divorced when my sister and I were adolescents. Looking back, I can hardly imagine the two of them being married. Despite a love of travel and music and what can only be described as "culture," they had very little in common. My father is now married to a lovely woman, Anne, with whom he lives in that story-book train station. I think they suit each other very well.
Having taken the greatest pride in his health all his life, my father is in the midst of a serious illness. However, this hasn't stopped him from continuing his experiments in baking, or from writing articles in both Hungarian and English.
And recently, my dad has started a blog. I hope he shares some of the fascinating stories from his life.