It is 1928 and my grandfather is a very good looking young man. His hair is platinum blond, and with his vivid blue eyes he is a real looker. He spends considerable time ensuring his appearance is impeccable; think Sir Walter, Ann Elliot’s father from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and you would be close. Add to this a sad life story of becoming an orphan during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and then being brutalized by a tyrannical master while he was apprenticing to become a shoemaker, and he has become irresistible to women.
As luck would have it he lands a job working for a military base situated next to the small village where my grandmother lives. One look at the handsome new boy in town, and an evening of listening to his tales of woe, and my gran is smitten. They are married soon afterwards and set up house close to the army base. Almost immediately after settling into marital bliss cracks start to appear in their relationship. Had the marriage been a train carrying boxes of dynamite the derailment would have caused epic explosions.
My grandmother is strong willed, highly principled and always puts her family ahead of her own needs. My grandfather is quick to make new friends, insists on spending money for his clothes even before paying rent, and is easily swayed by a complimentary word thrown in his direction. Grandfather rules the house with an iron fist, and with her Victorian attitudes my grandmother kowtows to his tirades – until he goes too far and she has to put her foot down.
Two children and a few years later the not-so-happy couple have become respectable members of their community. Then one day as my mother and uncle are playing outside they look up to see my grandfather proudly walk into the yard wearing a dashing uniform. They follow him into the house excited to see their mother’s reaction to this debonair new look. Many years later my mother recounts the sight of my grandfather showing off his new uniform by marching back and forth across the kitchen floor in front of my grandmother. The year was 1939, the country was Hungary, and the uniform was from the Nyilaskeresztes Párt, the Arrow Cross Party.
The children are shooed from the house and spend the next few hours waiting anxiously as a notso-private war wages inside the house. Suddenly the door flies open and a red-faced, chagrined civilian carrying a neatly folded uniform storms out of the house and down the street. Grandfather returns a few minutes later with reinforcements who after a very brief period of time also leave the house looking discomfited and mortified. Thus ends the first of my grandfather’s forays into politics.
Flash forward several years until after the end of a brutal world war: although battered and bruised, the village is still there; the army base is in the same place, but instead of Germans it now houses a large troop of Russians. My grandfather is still a shoemaker and a tailor for the army and for the civilians of the village. He is a craftsman who is much sought after as his creations are the best in the entire province. The years have darkened his hair a little which has only enhanced his looks. One day he walks into the house proudly wearing a new pin for the Magyar Kommunista Párt, the Hungarian Communist Party. This battle is much shorter than the first conflict over the Arrow uniform but even more heated. Grandfather leaves in a fury; my mother later says she swears she could see sparks from his boots as he stomped down the street.
When my grandfather returns he is accompanied by the party secretary and two of his cronies bearing baskets which contain chocolate, wine, cigarettes, nylons, toys, sugar, flour, bread, perfume, and much, much more. Things which my mother said hadn’t been seen in the house since before the war. But soon three disconcerted and defeated men, and their baskets, leave the house never to return. Thus ends my grandfather’s second, and last, foray into the world of politics.
All photos property of Gab Halasz