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My earliest memory is of feeling a cold material enveloping my soft warm baby skin. Also a blinding light flashing into my sleep relaxed eyes. I screamed. I do still remember this. The relevant story has been validated by my mother many years ago, when first childhood memories came into discussion. She told me that she was a very conscientious mum, and weighed me every day on baby scales. That morning, she was slightly distracted and forgot to insulate the metal scales with the usual soft cotton towelling blanket, and the scales were on the table by a sunny window.
That is all I remember of my babyhood. But of course there are the photographs and the stories, which are fascinating from the aspect of seeing the essence of any human being, or cat or dog or any living creature having a basic foundation rooted in its infancy. Of course DNA and genes come into the equation, but it never ceases to amaze me that seeing childhood photographs of people,of famous celebrities or merely one's personal friends or acquaintances, the look in the eyes of the child is still the same as in the eyes of the eventual adult.
My mother was an only child born in Budapest in 1915 in the aftermath of the fist World War. Her father fought in the Austro-Hungarian army as an officer. He was a student of Esperanto, and a banker in his civilian life. A man of wide cultural interests, the youngest of a large family. I've heard stories of his very strict but greatly respected mother, my maternal great grandmother. There are a few sepia faded photos of my mother as a baby. Sitting on a table, in a photographers studio, her mother and father on either side of her.
My mother's mother was a gentle soul, a sweet looking young woman with a soft smile and a delicate constitution. My great aunt Tusi, and my grandmother Rose were very close as sisters growing up in the countryside, and after my grandmother's marriage to my handsome grandfather, the family remained close-knit and supportive of each other. Family ties were a very important part of my mother's growing up years, and remained so for much of her adult life. Rose died of an unusual blood condition when she was 32; my mother was just 12, experiencing heartbreak before reaching teenage.
My mother grew up in pre World WarII Budapest. I remember her telling me what a lively exciting city it was then, referring to it as the Paris of Eastern Europe. She was very sociable, exceptionally beautiful,and sporty; a keen swimmer whom my father spotted at a local swimming pool and asked mutual friends to be introduced to. He was ten years older than my 20 year old mother-to-be; but I'm told it was love at first sight for them both. My mother was a budding fashion designer; her drawings of 1930's and 1940's are a treasure.
My father had a pet dog, Heki. He and this little dog were almost inseparable. I do remember my mother telling me stories, about how Heki seemed to be jealous of her, my father's new companion. But he needed not to be jealous, as my dad was very caring and attentive to his pet. There is a photo I've come across, showing this little brown dog sitting at the helm of a canoe being rowed by my dad. In Budapest, young people of my parents' circles were often members of rowing clubs, where they socialized as well as enjoying sport.
My father had two older brothers. Arpad, the oldest brother, was my favourite uncle. The middle brother, Joseph, I don't remember, except from family photographs. During the time, when my mother was dating my father, she took French lessons from a young widow, and they became good friends. My mother introduced her friend Lili to my father's brother Joseph. Lili and Joseph married also at around the same time as my mother and father. They had a daughter who is my only female cousin. Vera and I are only one week apart in age. Sadly, we are not in contact.
Well, my first five years were spent with lots of loving attention from my parents, and though I can't profess to remember exact episodes, there are piles of old photographs of our family holidays by Lake Balaton, which emit an atmosphere of sunny enjoyment. Meanwhile, the rumblings of World War II were very much on the doorstep of Hungary, and my parents must have been well worried in that climate of gathering storm. The time during Hungary's occupation by the Nazis and before liberation by the Russians, we spent hiding from the bombings in the cellar of my grandfather's business.
Well.. I'm writing backwards this month! An activity or phase, which has come about in the organic way that most of my life seems to have evolved around me...I was a child in post WW2 Hungary, and feel very fortunate in having the kind of parents whom I can only describe as being caring, loving and my best fun playmates, who kept me from being traumatized by the events we were living through. Psychologists claim the first five years of childhood are significant, in establishing a deep inner security, which serves as the foundation for our lifelong personal attitude.
Lots of days to catch up with--my computer is very sick--it is beyond repair-but it has enabled me to do other necessary things---and boy! there are a lot of things to do...my flat is still totally upheaved --piles of books in boxes--pictures from the wall stacked up in corners--cushions in mountainous heaps---builders almost finished but working on other jobs concurrently---so never quite know if they are coming that day or not-- so it all feels rather messy--living in chaotic sorroundings--and to top it all--using a tiny borrowed computer...
yikes..still nine days to catch up on here....and using this mini teeny weeny computer, without a separate keyboard, is a feat in itself...however, this in itself is a discipline, which I am setting myself, or rather a task to stretch myself out of my comfort zone...and just this morning, a few minutes ago, I realized that writing these hundred words a day,on this site, takes me into a level of self expression which serves to spring clean my own head of the clutter that seems to have accumulated over the decades of my multifaceted existence.
So now I'm writing in a different way to my other months batches. Like a good schoolgirl, trying to catch up on dates I have missed is almost impossible to do, as the missing days have by now run into each other, like a glass of red wine spilt on a white carpet... This analogy comes to mind, as I'm still living in a disoriented environment, newspapers stuck on front windows, pictures stacked in piles waiting patiently to be hung in their places on the freshly painted walls; the main work is done... taken three weeks...and I'm totally exhausted.
As I'm writing my memoir this month, I am also packing to go away next week. To the mountains in France. But there is not much snow left it seems from the weather and snow reports I've received of that region. So I am packing and unpacking. ..Why is it that packing gives me stress? Is this a common phenomenon? Is it that I don't like to compress everything into one suitcase? And this suitcase can't weigh more than twenty kilos. And airport security won't let you through carrying face cream or toothpaste in your hand luggage, which are dangerous!
So I am wondering why it is that I've been thinking a lot about my parents, both of whom are by now long gone to other realms. Yet, their influence remains as it has been over the years, very significant. And not just in my genes but in the way I think and feel, and how I have brought up my own children. Perhaps we modify and develop the legacies of our parents, and then we believe we are functioning in our lives in our own way. My father was a philosopher; as was my mother. Yet appearances can deceive.
Right now I am supposed to be somewhere else. Socializing with two old friends. One of them is a sweet, kind person, in fact they both are. But the one I am now referring to in this piece of writing,(which is not for her to read..ever...but is meant as a mini-rant for me!) anyway, she loves to make dates and appointments, days or weeks ahead. I find it impossible to be a reliable friend to her, on this level, of keeping to these pre-arrangements. I am a person who lives by spur-of-the- moment.
Discipline. What an interesting concept. For some hours since I woke up this morning, I've been considering the idea of "discipline", as being authoritarian discipline or self discipline. To my way of thinking, these two ideas are diametrically opposed-- and perhaps a very important aspect of one's personality when analysed or at least looked at, in relation to one's way of living and functioning, as a social, civilized human being... I do not like authority-- in any way or form. It must be in my genes. My mother was basically very independent, she liked to do things her own way.
Here is an example of parents teaching by example: Me--baby in pram, wheeled along Danube riverbank by mum, in Budapest. I am about a year old. Sitting up in pram, observing mum, who seems in great hurry, walking fast, and somewhat in a huff. I am sure I don't know why , but I'm getting in a huff too, and start yelling my head off. Mum continues walking, ignoring me. Well-meaning passer-by comments: "Poor little child! Crying like that! What are you doing!" My mum:"None of your business" Me repeating:(in baby voice): "Non o ur buness!"
This task now reminds me of a Disney classic-- Fantasia. The Sorcerer's Apprentice. As the little mouse tries to sweep up the water, or whatever it is he is trying to sweep up, it keeps flooding in...the exact amount he is succeeding in sweeping away and out of wherever he is (can't quite remember these details of place etc) the exact amount of stuff, water, whatever, is flooding in again. So it is with me trying to catch up on completing this batch and writing something worth reading, even to myself. Sorry..just had to have a little rant!
I missed writing on St Patrick's Day. It was over a week ago, and here I am obviously just catching up with my days...kind of at random. Though I've been trying to give this month some kind of structure...I am wondering if I'm succeeding in this or if it all sounds like a garbled lot of nonsense.... Amazing how thoughts can run around helter skelter in one's mind, like crazy little monkeys. When one learns to meditate, thoughts in one's mind are often compared to monkeys running around this way and that...until this is acknowledged and accepted.
I only went to nursery school in Budapest. Learning to read and write was due to my parent's efforts, and I do remember reading Dickens' David Copperfield in Hungarian when I was about nine years old. I wrote lots of little poems at that time too, which I sent off to my favourite children's magazine. Felt very chuffed when they got published. That was during the time we were living in Austria. My father was working with an American organization in Salzburg, and for two years I attended primary school there and learnt German. We went skiing a lot too.
I was a scrawny little girl, with glasses and my hair in long plaits. An only child, yet I seemed to make friends easily. My two best friends in Salzburg were Renata and Anneliese. I still remember their surnames too. I sometimes wonder what kind of people they are now, where they live and what kind of life they have had. It would be so amazing to meet up with childhood friends. But not easy to trace them, as they would have changed their names if they married. I made contact with an old boyfriend recently; and that was amazing!
I had a little dog when we lived in Salzburg. It was black and white short haired, with a sweet little face which looked like a young deer. So we called her Bambi. She and I were inseparable. I adored her and she looked after me when my parents went out any evening. She got pregnant and had a few puppies; which were snapped up by friends; they were so sweet. One morning I had a dream, in which I was told someone I love would die. Bambi was run over by a bus the next day. I was devastated.
Looking at webcams of Megeve. Very bare by now. Sadly decided not to take my skis along this time. I so love being in the mountains. My dream is to move there and live in the Alps all year round. I think this love of mountain air and the pure silence which the snowy landscape creates, started during my childhood, when we visited the Austrian Alps with my parents. We stayed in a guest house on top of a mountain, and in those days there were no lifts to carry us, we had to walk with skis up the slopes.
We finally received our awaited visas to emigrate to Australia. We spent a few months in Paris, and then flew to Sydney when I was ten years old. With hardly any knowledge of English, I got into the last year of a local primary school and got a place in the top grammar school, where I stayed for five years. Wow, what a slog that was, mainly swotting for exams and going to the beach and the cinema at weekends. Then the teenage parties started getting my focus, and boys loomed on my horizon, as well as film star infatuations.
Then came the big day of leaving school. I could hardly believe it, and looking back now, those five years seemed longer than decades of my life since. I have not even been back to Australia since we left on that ocean liner, headed for Italy. I was just eighteen when we visited the Isle of Capri. And meeting Gennarino, who took me fishing one night and caught an octopus, which was served up for my lunch the following day, is etched in my memory forever. I wonder if he still lives in Capri, and how many grandchildren he has!
That holiday touring Italy with my parents was the last sunny period of my youth for a long time. We sailed on another ocean liner to New York, and then onto Montreal. My parents intended to begin a new life in Canada, and I started at the University. But in my second year there, my father died very suddenly. It was so unexpected and my mother and I were in deep shock; I was only nineteen and my mother in her early forties. I left University, got a job with an airline for a while, then travelled to Puerto Rico.
I've just been talking on the phone to a friend for an hour. To be more exact, she has been talking to me, and I do hope I've done for her what true friends should do. I listened to her. She obviously had much grief that needed to be released, as it was giving her physical as well as emotional pain. Our bodies play a large part in expressing our feelings. Sharing difficult times is necessary, and getting support from a friend can be a life-saver. But you need to be feeling healthy yourself to be able to help.
After spending a few years on that turquoise island, where my mother had come to join me, I finished my studies at NYU and spent an unforgettable year teaching Art in a Junior High School in the Bronx. We were living in Manhattan, my mother and I, on the West side in the nineties uptown. Greenwich Village was my habitat over weekends, and I frequented coffee shops and bars playing chess until the early hours, after going with my friends to parties or to Fire Island in the summer. It was a hectic but exciting time, a little wild perhaps...
It was during that time in New York, in a bar in Greenwich Village, that I met Joe. We had a few months of seeing each other, and then he suddenly went to Mexico and I bought a ticket on a Yugoslav freighter to sail to Europe, intending to paint for a few months of sabbatical from school teaching. On the fourth day of landing on the South coast of Spain I met Patrick, and we married a year later in Yorkshire. It was love at first sight; he was my Prince Charming. We lived in Madrid that first year.
I googled Joe's dad and saw that there was a foundation in his memory. He was a well known American artist. So I wrote to the foundation, asking if they knew of the whereabouts of his son. The next day I got an email from Joe. I nearly fainted. It was more than forty years ago that we had lost contact, and here he was-- also totally bowled over about hearing from me. So we talked on the phone, and wrote emails and sent photos. Trying to catch up on forty years...However, there is still the pond between us ....
Today I am shuffling round in my fleece dressing gown and just finished watching an old French film recorded on TV last night. Must have caught a bug from the man who was sitting next to me at a meeting 3 days ago; he was coughing and spluttering his germs, spreading them all around. So now one of the little nasties has lodged itself in my system. I woke up this morning feeling awful and my throat is sore. It's raining outside, and I don't feel like being very productive today. But at least I'm completing this March batch here.
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