It is what it is
How one reflects upon the past in relation to the present is based on personal perception and philosophy. From another standpoint, the matter is also about temporal reality. Regardless, whatever life one lives, at the time, it is what it is.
As a child in Hungary, I didn’t know anything about owning a telephone, a television, never mind an automobile. Nor did I know that there were other races in my world besides people who cared about me; that included the man who had black skin and was the porter at the railway station. Yet, my personal perception of my world was just fine.
As a child refugee, coming to Canada, I didn’t know that not having a telephone, nor a television, nor an automobile meant I was poor. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t play with Johnathan who was a Native, because he was not the same colour as I was. I didn’t know any of that, until another child pointed these out to me. And sadly, owing to influences from others, the personal perception of my world shifted, to some degree.
Looking back, it was somewhat akin to being cast out of Eden. Unsolicited, inflicted impressions, continued to be an ongoing challenge in how I viewed my world, and me in it.
Both as a child and later as a working wife, I did want my family to acquire such items as the telephone, the television, the automobile, the computer and the purchased home.
All of these kinds of procurements became common place in our western world of wealth. In fact, having only one telephone, one television, one computer and one automobile became insufficient in many households – largely because communication and travel needs escalated, and also because professional positions spiraled. Living in an all too fast paced, competitive world became a norm. Expectation of increased net worth, meant enhanced status hence a heightened requirement of additional acquisitions.
The temporal reality aspect of course also played and continues to sustain a significant role. The telephone, television, computer and automobile are major innovations upon which today’s technological world continues to be built. We may not like the speed with which moment by moment transformation is cast out to the masses.
At this point in time, however, any of us could cut off connection to these items and live an alright life. A caveat nevertheless: one must act in haste, because before long, disconnecting will not be an option, as more and more facets of our daily dealings become computerized. Realistically, it is likely too late to disengage.…
As early as the 1960s, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the term ‘global village’. The concept was based on the notion that cultures would focus on communicating and moving towards personal interactions. In that way the different parts of the world would form one community linked by the internet.
I consider that proposition to have become a remarkable reality. Clearly, there are parts of technology that are frustrating, problematic and some even dangerous. Vigilance is a key both from a state, public and a private approach. Nonetheless, on the whole, what an interesting and progressive time we live in!
Personally, technology has strengthened my awareness as to how I think about my fellow humans, my environment, my belief system, my commitments, my creativity and my place in this world. I need to believe that what is ahead will continue to bring humanity to a closer understanding as McLuhan had hoped.
One can easily view some aspects of one’s life as the golden years, and other parts, including today’s as undesirable. At best and at worst, it is what it is.
Soren Kierkegaard wisely stated: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
And so it goes
Hottest summer ever! Cold inside. Broiling oven outside. And so it goes.
Finally, when there was a reprieve for a few days, my foot found a small hole in the sidewalk, the exact shape of my shoe. The hole was marked with a pink circle, which the rose-coloured sun glasses clearly missed. The fall was a heavy thud. What hurt most was the left hand. Tried heat, then cold. Still hurt. Bruising spread.
Five days later drove to Emergency at the insistence of 92-year-old mother. Having been there a couple of years before by cab, I knew where to park. Didn’t know the rules inside. Observing my confusion, a smiling man came to help obtain a number from the electronic information gizmo. Right away, the number 259 was called. Reporting the fall and injury, a first question by the first nurse attendant was a screening about woman abuse.
Happy to hear that. Years ago, I had a project on hospital triage screening on this critical subject, at the Vancouver General Hospital. The protocol became nation wide.
She said she ordered an X-ray, then onto the identification intake. Afterwards – sitting and waiting. Oddly pleasant and serene! It had been weeks since I remembered simply resting without any other commitment than to me. The white noise of the television overhead on some unidentifiable channel and far behind from view at any area seating, mumbled on as background noise. The walls covered with various required signs melted into each other.
Opened the Kobo to continue the wretched book I had begun two days before to be finished in two days for the monthly book club meeting.
The frantic single sound from an infant interrupted the reading – as did the voice of a young girl who took a seat too close by. She was accompanied by a well-dressed woman. A pungent odour of stale cigarette smoke wafted over the free seat between us.
“Oh, dear lord no!” I heard my inner thoughts. “But, I can’t just get up and move,” though that was foremost on my mind.
The need to do so, quickly passed as my concentration shifted. The young girl took out a sheet on which she had created a naive coloured something. She rifled through her stuffed back pack…
“There’s a fly on me!” her child voice was frantic. “I hate flies!” She brushed it off her shoulder. “But I like butterflies. They’re nice. I’ll draw one.”
The woman said, “That’s a good idea.”
“I’ll also print the butterfly’s name, Barbara. How do you spell that?”
“B- A-R- B-A- R-A” the woman’s voice was calm and encouraging as she helped form the letters.
“That’s a long name. A lot of As. Maybe I’ll just print BARB,” came the voice now sounding louder and more shrill.
“Yes. It is long. Alright to shorten it.” Said the woman. “Soon we’ll go up to that window. See number 3 over there?”
“I see. Number 3. There’s a person in there. Can she come out? Does she have a name? Everyone has a name! Can I ask her, Marilyn?”
“Yes, you may.” Came the continued kind response to the persistent inquiry.
And when the call came, the woman went first to identify some group home. The young girl with the child like voice gathered up her belongings and followed. She was taller than her companion. Could have been 12 or 18. A challenge to guess her age.
The first nurse came to advise she should have instructed me to go straight to X-ray. She apologized. Too bad. The hospital’s average stay wait-time might have been reduced – had she not erred. So then, onto the blue triangle route which meandered on and on, hall after hall.
In that waiting area, an older man was holding court about his knee surgery recovery and his sixty-two stitches. He wore beige shorts revealing his now healed knee. A woman far in the corner wanted details; she was scheduled for the same operation. Having found his audience, he continued disclosing alarming caveats:
“The worst part was, you have to sleep on your back. I’m a side sleeper. Didn’t sleep much for the duration.”
He eagerly showed unsolicited photos to everyone on his cell camera, taken straight after the surgery. Really! Impossible to turn him off. Impossible to tune him out.
“Dear lord, help keep my knees in tact!” I offered a silent prayer to the great beyond.
The woman beside me was youngish. Sharing a camaraderie smile between us about the man, we chatted quietly. She fell from her bicycle. Cast on her left arm. Accidents. Incidents… Sigh.
More waiting for Emergency doctor to read the X-ray. Tiny fracture in an odd place on the hand. Unhappy diagnoses and advice. Then, dismissed to another attendant who located a left-hand medium size hand-arm brace
“So, what’s next?”
“I think you can leave.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll check with the Dr.”
Emerge Dr. appeared across the hallway. “Wait for a call from Dr. X, the specialist.”
“You mean by phone?”
“Yes. You can leave.”
Intake time 9:40 am. Out time 11:40 am. Parking ticket $6. Waiting for follow up.
It’s hot again. And so it goes.
Katalin Kennedy, September, 2018
Birth and Anniversary Dates
It was Sunday, February 24th, 2001. My father had just turned 70 years of age at the end of January. In many ways, that was a remarkable triumph, considering how difficult his life had been: being imprisoned in Hungary for 7 years, escaping from Hungary during the 1956 uprising, and starting his life all over again in a new country Canada – all the while suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis which he acquired during his confinement in dark and dank prisons.
Husband and I had just moved into our first house. As was my custom I was hosting the family party. This time, while the main focus was about my father’s birthday, it was also a time to celebrate the other birthdays – my brother’s, mine and my mother’s Name Day.
Although it was a Sunday, I hadn’t gone to church. I was preparing the meal and getting ready for the festivities. At 11:25 a.m. the telephone rang. It was a frantic call from my mother. Her calls came seldom, and generally only when she had a disastrous event to relate.
“Your father is dead!” came her hysterical yet clear, precise words. “The ambulance is taking us to the General Hospital.”
How does that happen? Death! Out of nowhere, all the plans one has underway – suddenly become interrupted. Although I am easily frazzled, when insignificant incidences arise, I have the uncanny knack to assume a sensibly controlled persona, during devastating occurrences.
My response was simply, “I’ll meet you there.”
Before that, however, I had to contact Husband, the Presbyterian Minister who was conducting his regular Sunday worship service in the downtown Ottawa church.
I heard the telephone there ring and ring and ring. It being located in the basement, a good deal of time passed by, before anyone answered. I left the message for Husband to meet at the hospital. Apparently, at that very moment, he was in the midst of his sermon. The subject was on “Death”.
There have been many significant dates in my life. And the ones dealing with death continue to be easily retrieved from the depths of my subconscious: my grandfather died in September of 1953 when he was 61 and I was five – I remember this vividly because I was held up to see him in the coffin. My dear friend Nancy died in December 1975 at the age of 24 having married the love of her life just months before in May. And Husband died in January 2006 also at the age of 61 – with no warning, no preparation on my part.
But I digress. After my father died, my doctor at the time tried to be reassuring that Daddy had lived to a good age, quoting Psalm 90 verse 10 – “The days of our years are threescore years and ten”
Thus, when I reached that significant age of 70 years in early February, 2018 – I came to the realization how privileged I was. These days, “three score years and ten” is no longer the same kind of death sentence that it seemed to be a quarter century ago. These days, many of the Boomer generation are fortunate to be still alive and well at 70. Yet – at the same time, I can’t deny the sad reality. I have now outlived several close friends, Husband as well as my 70-year-old father.
Way back on February 24th, 2001, the party for my father’s 70th birthday was interrupted. And for whatever reason, I felt compelled to honour it – when I turned that age. What I really wanted to do was to thank some of the people in my life, who have been my staunch supporters, since my retirement and my move to Cornwall 15 years ago.
Birth and anniversary dates are important. It gives us the opportunity to visit where we have been in the past and in that way appreciate where we are in the present. I particularly like a quote from Soren Kierkegaard who said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I think looking back is necessary in all our personal lives, but particularly when we get older. It’s not just about evaluating our life path, but also about validating that we have been here and that somehow, in some way – we are leaving a mark.
As I review my life’s journey, I can’t help but notice that I have always celebrated milestones in my life – and this year, I am again blessed to be still thriving and surrounded by compassionate and caring friends.
Why Canada is Important to me
We stepped off the ship in Saint John, New Brunswick on Easter, April 22, 1957. We were at last in Canada – our new home! I had turned nine years of age, while waiting to be processed in various Austrian refugee camps, since that Christmas. My father had chosen this country as our destination: the land of freedom.
Canada had opened its doors to thousands of Hungarians following the October 1956 uprising there against tyranny, and the subsequent escapes. My family was among them. Father had been a political prisoner for nearly seven years, without trial or sentencing. Released on three separate occasions, each time there was a shift in the government, he at last saw no alternative but to leave his homeland or be recaptured again, indefinitely. I cannot begin to discuss my mother’s and father’s experiences; they have their own stories. I can only speak about mine.
Two Immigration Officers drove us to Minto, New Brunswick, then a small mining town. My father’s choice again – as he wanted to work immediately. Never having been driven in a car, I was sick during the entire journey (as I had been on the twelve-day ship crossing of the Atlantic). We were first billeted with a man called Walter. A while later, we were allowed a company house. The Anglican Church’s congregation and its compassionate Minister ‘adopted’ us with friendship and basic assistance.
I remember the neighbourhood children gifting me a pair of blue jeans – something I had never seen or owned before. They also took me to school. I spoke no English. The teachers didn’t know what to do about me. Back then, the solution was to place me into a Grade One class, nearly three years behind where I should have been. Nevertheless, it was there that my English speaking and reading lessons began. By the time summer holidays arrived, I was communicating fairly well. I still remember my first complete English sentence I spoke to a friend: “I will meet you at your house at five o’clock.’ I also remember the pride on my mother’s face as she heard these words. The next milestone for me was the birth of my brother, automatically a full fledged Canadian Citizen.
Our day didn’t come until 1962: a most memorable occasion when I, along with my parents took an oath to this country and received our Canadian Citizenship papers. By then we were back in Saint John, where my father worked as a bookbinder. I know we were poor. Yet, through hard work, they were able to save a down payment for a new house. I again had to switch schools. This was an occurrence that continued for a number of years, including when my father relocated us to Ottawa.
From this point on I have a clearer memory of events, and a better appreciation of being Canadian. I enjoyed school, which I had not, in Hungary. I was a good student. I was able to attend university through bursaries and grants. I also obtained summer jobs which helped pay for the rest of my education. No surprise – I was majoring in English Literature. And while at university, I met the love of my love. After graduation, I also had the good fortune to acquire a job with the Federal Government at Health Canada.
Husband and I travelled together for the first time to Hungary in 1978. I became aware what ‘freedom’ really meant and, how my life was blest with opportunities because I was brought to Canada; in Hungary, such prospects would never have been available to me. Upon my return, I unabashedly wrote a letter to our then Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, declaring my pride in being a Canadian Citizen, and that it was now I, who made the choice to live in this country.
My career as a Federal Civil Servant continued for thirty years until my retirement. I benefitted from a number of promotions working in social service programs. In the second half of my career I was a national program and project manager. My learnings over these years were unparalleled. This was a country that valued the wellbeing and welfare of its citizens – from the young to the elderly. Contributions were provided to vast and varying community groups, organizations and institutions to assist with alleviating family violence. Overseeing national projects, I travelled to each of the provinces across Canada from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia. I experienced ongoing occasions whereby I met men and women of diverse cultures, nationalities, faiths and political philosophies – each committed to help make Canada a safer place for families.
Shortly after retirement, Husband, the Reverend Duncan Scott Kennedy and I moved from Ottawa to Cornwall, Ontario. He had come full circle, back to his Scottish roots in Glengarry. And then without warning, the love of my life suddenly died, all too soon.
Thus, it was that another chapter of my life began. It is in this community, where the friends I have met, the organizations I have joined, the column I had written for Seaway News over a decade, have all given me the sense of belonging – of having come home.
I took all these events as a sign to begin my new adventure – as a writer. Three of my books have been published: “The Women Gather”, “Reconnecting” and “Echoes of Footsteps”. Through each of them, I have been blest yet again, by having the freedom to voice my innermost views with a hope that others may also take something away from my stories.
As I look back on my life’s journey, I remember the day I stepped off the ship onto my new homeland, sixty years ago. Still to this day, Canada continues to open its doors to refugees seeking freedom. They are boldly welcomed to become part of this country’s cultural mosaic, enhancing not only their lives, but also that of generations to come.
The Clock of Time
How many rotations to turn back the clock – to halcyon days? And once there, how long could that time be maintained? A day, a week, a month – maybe forever?
It was a house warming gift – way back when at the old house – where the afternoon sunshine glowed onto the wall-clock’s round face, from the wide picture window. The noise of each tick-tock was noticeable at first, until the sound became one with the rhythm of family life. Sometimes it was drowned-out by the young boy practicing on his chanter. Other times, it was muffled by the repetitive plunking on the ancient keyboard of the girl typing her university essay ….
But what the clock also observed were not always sheltered, serene days. Two adults alone. His breath stopped one day, while smoking that last cigarette on the living room sofa. And she, having outlived him by a quarter century, now hobbles lonely through empty rooms, searching – for messages from him, from another plane.
“The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die. Time is the only thing we can be certain of.” But Dr. Robert Lanza further asks the question – “Does Time Really Exist?” (Psychology Today, Feb. 6, 2012)
Conventionally, time is divided into three distinct regions: the past, the present, and the future. Using that representational model, the past is generally seen as being immutably fixed, and the future as indefinite. Within this instinctive comprehension of time is the philosophy of presentism, which argues that only the present exists. There is still another perspective of time: a philosophical approach called eternalism, which takes the view that all points in time are equally real, meaning: temporally distant objects and events are as real as those currently present to us. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternalism_(philosophy_of_time)
Are there moments in time, to which we can return, not as a memory but as real time, as a real experience? Are there moments in time which are etched into the universal subconscious and which exist on another plane? Can we move back and forth at will, remaining here and there, repeatedly?
August 6, 1945, 8:16 am, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, drops the world’s first atom bomb, over the city of Hiroshima. Approximately 80,000 people are killed as a direct result of the blast, and another 35,000 are injured. At least another 60,000 would be dead by the end of the year from the effects of the fallout.
The car turns off Main Street at Dealey Plaza. It is about 12:30 pm, November 22, 1963. Passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberates. Bullets strike the President’s neck and head and he slumps over towards Mrs. Kennedy.
8:46 am, September 11, 2001 Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 crash the plane into Floors 93-99 of the North Tower, World Trade Center, New York City, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building.
Shortly before 10:00 am, October 22, 2014, witnesses watch Zehaf-Bibeau arrive at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, carrying a rifle. A series of shootings occur killing Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier on ceremonial sentry duty.
May 22, 2017, at 22:31, the 22-year-old British Muslim Salman Ramadan Abedi detonates a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena, England, following a concert by American singer Ariana Grande. Twenty-three adults and children are killed, including Abedi, and 119 are injured, 23 critically.
At 00:15, Monday, June 19, 2017: One man dies and ten others are injured as a van drives into worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque, north London. The man driving is yelling: “I’m going to kill all Muslims!!”
The question has often been asked: What were your doing when a particular event took place?
In the past, and depending on the age of the individual, most could identify the moment and pinpoint exactly where they were, and what they were doing when a devastating incident took place?
What is it that pulls us together on this journey? Does a part of our very being, actually return to the event time reality, as well as to our own event time – at the moment when we think of these happenings? Is part of our being, actually participating on an eternal universal time plane? And why is it that our time travel seems only to recall horrendous world events – rather than joyful celebrations? Is the universal clock trying to tell us something? Are our returns to these distressing flash-backs intended as lessons for humanity, from which to learn? What are we learning from them?
These days, catastrophic images bombard us, moment by moment, on the digital media. Are we losing our empathic connection with each other? Are we becoming more and more desensitised and indifferent?
“The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die.”
He was sometimes known by the name Rapha Olam. No one knew when he was born. No one knew where he was born. What is known, is that he leaves with us a mark of timeless remembrance which no one will ever be able to match.
Those who recall his early days speak of him being exceptionally idealistic; others saw him as far too naïve. He unconditionally accepted that everyone could be a perfect human being and could exist in a state of absolute harmony. With time his optimism shifted. As many young men, he joined the military. Occasional letters were received by friends from such places as the Middle East, Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and later America.
Some decided the military was a means for him to explore the world. Others felt that he was fighting for just causes. Still others dismissed his escapades; he was merely a mercenary soldier having no loyalty to anyone. Years later, when he was reported to have been released from Guantanamo Bay detention camp, chronicles about him altered, yet again.
Supportive friends passed on his letters. This time he was establishing communes in various parts of the world. He had the uncanny faculty to befriend all manner of individuals, regardless from what culture, swaying them to his way of thinking. Once more, he seemed to revert to his youthful convictions of universal serenity. But ‒ there seemed to be a frantic edge to his methods. Nevertheless, his skillful abilities and inherent gifts enabled some communes to flourish as well as proliferate. Even theological articles embarked on endorsing his remarkable approaches. Not everyone, however, was on side. Serious allegations about him surfaced from a number of scholarly circles: he was either smeared as a two spirited homosexual, or he was scorned for being of the transgender persuasion, in either case mesmerizing the masses.
Some friends were disturbed that he didn’t deny their accusations. Most loyal friends, on the other hand, didn’t care and ignored the bad press. They were aware that he had never married. Through some of his communications, they knew he had had affairs. Likely many. A number of women came forward to acknowledge his progenies. One legal certificate was produced which identified him as the father of a son. He owned up to that. Sadly, too late! This discovery document was only unearthed after the son had been brutally murdered by thugs. Olam was photographed at the funeral service, standing beside the tiny woman whom he barely recollected. Head bent low, he mourned the son he lost ‒ without knowing what he was about.
The final blow came when Time Magazine’s leading article questioned whether it was he, rather than his son who had died. Eventually, a close friend was delighted to receive his post card with only the sardonic caption: To quote Mark Twain, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
After that, only a few sightings of him were recorded by friends. He was traveling again, this time to help at major catastrophes. He was seen at the Twin Towers, moving debris to pull out bodies from under the rubble. Later, there were photos of him in Sumatra following the tsunami. Then, back in the US, he helped with the victims surviving hurricane Katrina. And, he was last sighted in Haiti, after their earthquake.
Those letters from him were brief, but heart wrenching. It was as though he couldn’t understand and certainly couldn’t accept why these disasters continued to occur. But more so, his words were agonizing descriptions of the cataclysmic events, as though he somehow was responsible for them – yet helpless to prevent them.
Then he simply disappeared. With no trace left of him, declarations of his death again arose. We ‒ his friends ‒ do not accept this! Therefore, we are holding a commemorative celebration to honour the existence of Rapha Olam, at All Faiths gathering place. Tell everyone to come and bring all messages you have received from our long time Friend. We leave you with his words, by which he concluded each of his correspondence: “I AM – with you.”
How wide is your world?
Sometimes my world includes only my house and my cat. Sometimes it includes my neighbours: the man who mows my lawn; the one who shovels my driveway; and the others who keep my house safe. Sometimes, it opens out to my church, my club and my college. Sometimes it moves farther out to the country, to the farms of friends. Sometimes, it spreads even further, to the city ‒ to all the people I’ve known and to all the places where I spent most of my adult life. Sometimes, on rare occasions, my world stretches across the ocean to another continent where relatives still dwell. And sometimes, my world reaches far into the galaxy, and even beyond into the distant universe, trying to touch the Eternal.
These days, whether we like it or not, our world extends outside our narrow, self-imposed borders. Like it or not, we have been made aware of the struggles of countries that fight for their principles to gain control of their own destiny. I have to admit that I don’t know enough about the sides and I’m often not confident enough about which side to take. I have to admit that I cannot begin to understand the religiously and politically driven conflicts which have pervaded the philosophy of various foreign movements and governments for decades ‒ if not for centuries.
What I do know is that we have a freedom in this country which we must appreciate and preserve. It is this freedom which brought my family to Canada many decades ago. How very grateful we were that Canada opened its doors to refugees and immigrants who sought a new life of peace and liberty. Is it any wonder then that displaced peoples from all parts of the world want to come here, today, to this land which proudly boasts of democracy.
In the past, we considered ourselves special because we supported and valued our vast mosaic of cultures, not as a melting pot, but rather as an enhanced entity thanks to a variety of traditions, values and beliefs. Regrettably, I now hear too many comments about the need for new comers to blend in, to conform to our unwritten conventions of clothing, conduct and conviction.
For those whose families have been here for generations, and even for us immigrants who have lived here for only decades, it is probably natural that we are protective of our turf. Is this not what all countries experience? But, if we are indeed the forward thinking people whom we profess to be, then we have to embrace the changing face of the Canadian landscape.
The wide world is coming to us: through the written media, through the television screens − and in ships and airplanes. As we continue to uphold our belief in democracy and our position of acceptance, our principles dictate that we continue to support those who have come to join our midst. Make no mistake, demographically, socially and economically speaking, the future of our country needs the contribution of our immigrant population. Yes, we have to acknowledge that the changes will bring tensions and challenges. Just remember! Ethnic diversity will also bring opportunities and achievements to us all and to future generations.
Our job is quite simple really. It is to practice what we were taught as children: “Treat others as we would like to be treated.” After all, it was not long ago that many of our ancestors were also immigrants to a new growing settlement called ‘kanata’.
(From my new book “Echoes of Footsteps” page 154)
BOOK LAUNCH ‒
“Echoes of Footsteps”
Thank you Lorna Foreman ‒ my editor, my publicist and my dear friend. And thank you all, for coming. I am amazed that you still attend my book launches.
And, I am amazed that I continue to be excited about seeing another one of my books published, thanks to Raymond Coderre, Founder and President of Baico Publishing,Ottawa.
I was in the first stages of researching what I had planned would be my next novel, when I couldn’t get a niggling feeling out of my thoughts. I decided to set aside my research and this time, instead pull together all my short compositions.
I came to this conclusion for a number of reasons. I became somewhat frustrated by people’s suggestion that I write my own story, which some consider to be interesting. I had already written a portion of that! But then I remembered that this year 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. The date also marks my family’s escape from Hungary. I felt, therefore, it was timely to bring to light my early experiences as a refugee arriving in a new country. Perhaps some of these sketches will resonate for readers, especially as they echo the circumstances of current refugees seeking asylum in this country.
The challenge to compile this book was to pull together relatively disjointed pieces, written over various periods of time, in a manner which would hopefully flow from one to the other. The bottom line is ‒ I’m a story teller! You know that if you’ve read my two previous books, “The Women Gather” and “Reconnecting”. Thus, even with short pieces, I still needed to tell a story, or various stories.
The book is divided into 3 sections: Days of Innocence, which comprises my Hungarian experiences; Days of Wanderings, which are poems from early years to today; and finally Days of Experience, mostly from the time I moved to Cornwall thirteen years ago. Many consist of articles I wrote over a decade for Cornwall’s Seaway News, in my column called “Kindness”, thanks to publisher Rick Shaver. Others are some of the stories I penned including as member of the Cornwall and Regional Writers’ Society.
While I generally do not give names of people about whom I write, nevertheless, there are many who are identified throughout the book: my family of course, including my late father András Gyula (for whom I dedicated this book). my mother Lidia András and my brother George András. In addition, you will note references to my young friend Emma, who has grown up through some of the pages. Bernadette Clement is also referred to a few times in the “Community” section of the book ‒ because of course, her presence as friend and Cornwall City Councilor is always so appreciated at events, including today. Thank you.
Brilliant Miss Emma recently asked me if I had hidden an ‘Easter Egg’ in my new book. I clearly didn’t know what she meant. Perhaps you do. According to Wikipedia:
An Easter Egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in an interactive work such as a computer program, video game or DVD menu screen.
Apparently, it can also be applied to writing. Unknowingly, I had in fact applied the concept in both my previous books, “The Women Gather” as well as in “Reconnecting” ‒ a sort of tease which referred back to the previous work. It is a nod to the reader, who recognizes the reference. And still unknowing the term, I have incorporated it again in my current book. Do note the sections called “Owen’s Poems” and “Marlie’s Stories”. Some of you will perhaps understand the subtle mention. So thank you Miss Emma, for legitimizing my technique to me, and almost bringing me into the hip age of technology.
Finally, I want to say something about the cover, which I must say I really like. On my computer, I found a scanned photo ‒ long ago lost ‒ taken in 1978 by Husband Duncan. It is of me walking down the street of my grandmother’s village in Sárbogard, Hungary, where I was born. The scan was faded and ghost like. I sent it off to creative photographer artist Jacqueline Milner, who did her magic to resize and add bits. Thank you Jacquie! Baico did the rest, and voila!
As I told you the last time, marketing one’s work is the most difficult challenge set before any author. It’s not why we write. I look around this community and there are so many writers in the same situation as I am. All I can hope is that you will read my book, and that there will be something in there which connects with your sensibility.
“Echoes of Footsteps” may be purchased from me the author, or ordered through Chapters, or Baico Publishing: http://www.baico.ca/
Presented at Cornwall Public Library
September 17, 2016
My aunt in Hungary still goes to the market daily to buy bread. She feeds the remains from the day before, to the birds. Wasteful perhaps, or all in the way you look at it. When she was a little girl following the Depression, it took a cart full of paper bills to buy a single loaf of black bread.
My father, imprisoned in Hungary for nearly seven years, was content enough to eat the wedge of dry bread he was given; it was better than the blue mouldy crusts he was sometimes left. Even his dinner companion, the rat, had trouble consuming that.
My mother baked bread over thirty-five years for my father. Hers was the only kind he would eat: white with a thick golden crust, crumbly after the first day. No wonder my aunt replaces hers daily.
Arriving in Canada sixty years ago, I remember my delight when a classmate at lunch time offered me store-bought, uniformly sliced, white bread that tasted sweet and stuck to the roof of my mouth.
That is the same kind of bread with the crusts off and cut into tiny, even sized cubes with an electric knife, which is served at Presbyterian Communions. It also sticks to the roof of the mouth, needing to be swallowed with a drop of grape juice, pretending to be wine, offered in minuscule glasses. Husband, the Protestant Minister, would sometimes rebel against the minute bread cubes when serving Holy Communion. He would hold up a full loaf of his favourite Italian bread, tear it into two parts before the congregation, rip off a piece for himself and pass the rest to the Elders to do the same: the bread of life to commemorate the Last Supper of the man Jesus, before his death. In the Roman Catholic Church where I’m not permitted to take Mass, wafers are distributed that melt in your mouth, intended to represent the body of Christ. The wafer ‘bread’ is meant to mimic the unleavened bread likely provided at the Last Supper, marking the Passover when the Israelites had to flee Egypt from their captors; there hadn’t been sufficient time to allow the bread to rise.
Most restaurants place bread at the dinner table. Indian restaurants serve Nan bread, which too is flat and hardly risen, and which I rather like. This type of bread is close to the initial bread, discovered by mistake no doubt, by the female some 30,000 years ago, while accidentally splashing water on the cooking grain. Variations sprung from that kind of unintentional experiment ‒ passed on, refined, and redefined throughout history and cultures: cooking, grilling, frying, baking bread to share among the family, the tribe and even with strangers.
Throughout my travels, my most delicious bread experiences have been the baguette devoured with a hunk of cheese while sitting on a bench along the Seine River, overlooking Notre Dame Cathedral; and while still in Paris ‒ the croissant ‒delicately consumed with café au lait, from a bowl. I’ve even attempted to make croissants years ago. Unsuccessfully! Do you know how many foldings and days are required to follow this process? Never mind. Some patisseries sell good ones. A woman I know bakes several loaves of whole wheat bread for a group’s fund raiser auction, every year. I give up bidding at the $20 point. They must taste like manna from heaven! I’ve tried to catch onto the gluten free fad, but the frozen loaf I purchased for far too much money at the grocery store was as dry and crumbly as my Mom’s bread on the second day ‒ though I need to digress ‒ when Mom’s bread came out of the oven, the air in the house floated in an aroma of utter ecstasy…
Sitting with friends at lunch recently, we gravitated for the warm rolls, permitting ourselves to enjoy their intoxicating fragrance and luscious flavour while poo-pooing this generation’s fervour that means to control carb consumption. Yet even Oprah, who is currently promoting Weight Watchers on television, confesses with what can only be defined as orgasmic passion: “I LOOOOVE Bread!”
Well there it is. Bread crosses all cultures and customs since its invention. Bread is a staple that has been part of my entire existence. Bread connects me to life long memories. The bottom line for me is that bread is about sharing and love. And no one has expressed it better than Omar Khayyám:
A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread ‒ and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness ‒
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
Who do you think I am?
Eulogies given at funerals are often interesting and sometimes surprising.
“Why didn’t I know that about her?” One might ask.
The answer is fairly simple. A eulogy is often prepared by contributions from a number of people who knew about the departed. They may discuss some quaint personal stories, accomplishments and even bits of humour which give a seemingly rounded picture of her life. But make no mistake, even if the eulogy had been pre-prepared by the deceased herself, it will only provide a glimpse of who she really was, because she will only offer information that she wishes to disclose.
Two questions come to mind: Why do others want to know about us? And why do we seem to have a need for others to know who we are?
From a humanistic perspective, others may want to know us so that trusting relationships may be formed, or unhealthy ones avoided. Finding out information about another person boils down to a matter of judgement. In some cases we immediately ‘relate’ and therefore ‘like’ an individual upon first contact. At other times the opposite is true. How does that happen? We hardly have any input for making that instantaneous judgement and yet ‒ we do. But being human, for some reason, we have a need to continue probing. If we have decided that we like the individual, then we want to look for commonalities which will further connect the bond between us. This may turn out to be a long lasting, strong attachment. Or we may come upon points we consider disturbing, which may eventually sever the initial tie. In the case where there was a negative reaction to the individual, one may want to give reason a chance rather than leave it all to an emotional reaction. Perhaps by taking the time to get to know the person better, we may conclude that the first impression was not correct. Or we may validate that indeed it was accurate.
Yet all this analyses is bogus. We do not live on an island nor in a cave, high on a mountain top. Whatever community or group we belong to, there is an unwritten expectation that we accept other members, in some measure. The premise is that we understand human beings come with all kinds of positive as well as negative characteristics. As time progresses, we find out aspects of their life, as they choose to reveal it. We get to know about them by listening.
And now to the question why do we seem to have a need for others to know about us? Simply put, I expect it is because we want to be heard; and that we believe our existence matters. I think we constantly tell some story about ourselves. From an initial introduction when we give our name, we often offer some inkling. As time progresses, we tend to give away more data, depending on who the audience might be. We have various presentation tools. The professional ‘curriculum vitae’ is a well known written document; there are those who have a need to expound this format, even during informal exchanges, in an attempt to endorse forcefully who they are. Others will have different ways to summarize what they wish to convey.
Having worked in social service programs, specifically the prevention of violence against women, I have always been of two minds concerning the disclosure of a survivor’s abuse. On the one hand, the story needs to be told by the individual first for herself and second to authorities. in order to bring justice to the situation. But, how often is it necessary for the survivor to retell her story is something that I continue to question. The reality, however, is that like the survivor, we all do in fact retell our stories, over and over again.
As a writer, I often object to readers assuming my stories and my novels are about me. I object because that somehow dismisses my creativity when I tell my tales about the human condition. All the same, I am well aware that my stories address my insights and my interpretations that I have grasped through personal experiences, interactions with others, as well as observations and judgements I have made about individuals, perspectives, theories and issues.
During my lifetime, it is inevitable that I will continue to offer bits and pieces about who I am through my writing, as do other writers. At this juncture in my life I don’ t plan to write my memoirs. Nor do I plan to have a funeral, thus no eulogy. Nor will I summarize who I am in some neat little package. If you want to know me, then you need to listen when I tell my stories. Nevertheless, regardless what I tell you, it will always be you, the listener or the reader who will interpret who you think I am.