My mother's parents lived in the Little Room, and my parents and I lived in the Big Room. It served as my parents' bedroom, my bedroom, and our living room. There was a sofa bed in one corner, where my parents slept, with my crib nearby. There was also a polished wood dining table and chairs and some other furniture. The hardwood floor was covered with Persian carpets and area rugs.
A door opened from the Big Room to the hallway, a long, dark passage that led to the staircase. You could get to our bathroom from this hallway and also from the Little Room. The bathroom had a sink, a bathtub with a wood-burning stove used to heat the water for baths, and a toilet. Just before you got to the stairs, the hallway opened on one side into the kitchen and on the other side to a very small room, where our maid, a heavyset woman named Gizi, lived. Gizi cooked, cleaned the house, did the shopping, and looked after me. She eventually married a man who went only by his surname, Sinko. After they got married, Gizi and Sinko both squeezed into that little room. Sinko worked elsewhere, but when he was home, he would carve wood sticks for me and take me to the park. In her spare time, Gizi would sit down and read me the crime stories in the newspaper. I was completely fascinated.
We had frequent visitors to the apartment. Almost no one had a telephone, so instead of people calling up, they would drop in. People would come by, unannounced, and sit and talk for hours. As they were saying good-bye, they would stand in the doorway and talk for what seemed like hours more. My mother's younger brother, my uncle Jozsi, was around a lot. He was strong, muscular, and balding, and he was a lot of fun. I have no idea what he did, although judging from comments that the rest of the family sometimes made, it couldn't have been very much. But that didn't seem to matter. There was always a warm and joyful feeling about Jozsi.
That wasn't the case with my mother's second brother, Miklos. Miklos and Jozsi were twins but were very different in appearance and personality. While Jozsi was friendly and fun, Miklos was surly and seemed to carry a dark cloud around him. People didn't like him; their voices changed tone when they talked about him. Miklos didn't get along with anyone in the family, including my grandmother, his own mother. Once he was so nasty to her that my father intervened and the two of them started shouting at each other. I was afraid that they would come to blows. I had never seen my father that way before. After that, we didn't see much of Miklos.
My father was a sociable guy, and many of our visitors were his friends and business associates. Jani was one of my father's best friends and a partner in the dairy. He was from Bacsalmas, and his parents still lived there. He had his own apartment in Budapest, but he camped out in our apartment all the time.
Jani had been an officer in the Hungarian army, which impressed me. Tall and ramrod straight, he was a snappy dresser and something of a dandy, which also impressed me. He had a loud voice and a loud laugh and exuded self-confidence and energy. Jani was different in another way. He wasn't Jewish.
Another friend of both my father and Jani went by his last name only: Romacz. Romacz was as skinny as a stick, and his face was all wrinkled, like a raisin. I liked him a lot because he always talked to me as if we were equals. He, too, was from Bacsalmas and was involved in the dairy business; he managed the Budapest branch. He wasn't Jewish, either.
My father's friends knew my mother from when they all lived in Bacsalmas. If my father wasn't home, they would hang around anyway. She would serve them something to drink, smoke with them, and talk. None of the men was married, so they would recount stories of their latest romances, confide in her, and ask her advice. She was a kind of sister to them. They were like uncles to me.
Copyright © 2001 by Andrew S. Grove
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