Monday, October 07, 2013


My father sometimes spread his overcoat across his shoulders, without putting his arms into the sleeves, to walk outside, stylish walking stick in hand, to take in the strong fragrances of the earth, to cast his appreciative eye along the line of hills or mountains, trees or fields, wherever we happened to be living at the time. For he liked to walk in the country, along roads, before sitting down to a good meal and then perhaps returning to the city. Like a character in a Tolstoy novel.

When my father read he held a Mont Blanc pen or pencil in his right hand, marking the words or phrases or paragraphs that struck him. Every book and newspaper article was marked. As a child I looked at what he had underlined and could see no reason for any of it. Once I asked him why he marked what he did, and he just raised his eyebrows and smiled, enjoying that he had mystified me.

Sometimes now I look at an old book of his and there are his markings, random. They still provide little clue to his mind.

Since his death two years ago I have taken to wearing his watch for two reasons – because it’s a watch purchased by a man with expensive tastes and because my child’s heart still clings to his, despite all my adult knowledge.

My father told me once or twice amongst all the many stories he told me that have blended into a cloudy mix of having a girlfriend who was a countess. She must have had a title of some sort. My father had a weakness for titles. A pretty woman with wealth and a title would have been irresistible. He took her to some posh hotel in the Alps for a weekend, not telling her of course that he had no money to pay for any of it. But he had his weekend and his countess and his fancy hotel, and stayed behind to wash dishes or perhaps he ran out on the bill. I don’t know. But my father liked the rich life and my mother did not and my father went bankrupt and my mother got to be right.

Once in the last few visits during the last few decades my father remarked as we came home from his favorite neighborhood restaurant up in the hills of Budapest -- not an ultra fancy place anymore, but fancy enough and they knew him there – we could have been in a horse and carriage but it was the 20th century and we must have been in a cab – he remarked that my mother loved us kids so much.

Love is not a family word. Perhaps that’s why the sentence stayed in my mind. I return to it, wondering why he said it, if it’s true, wondering where he stood in the equation.

For he was always on the fringes of the family – the one male, the one who only partially lived at home, the one who spent the last 25 years of his life in a different country from the rest of us.

“I never meant to leave for good,” he said to me, but we had never made an effort to bring him back. For me, it was a relief to have him on another continent.

As a child I had complained that I wanted a “coming-home daddy,” which made my father laugh with pleasure. It suited him to not be a coming-home daddy, to be someone better than the norm.

“Don’t leave me just swinging in the breeze,” he reproached my sister once during those last Budapest years, making both of us furious.

I look at the blue and green mug and feel affection because Dad saw this mug. He saw all the Hungarian pottery I brought home that afternoon. I spread it out proudly on a table, talking animatedly, telling of my successful navigation of the city with my scraps of the language, the good prices I’d managed. It was more than rare for me to have a story of my own that I wanted to tell him. “It’s good,” he said, looking at the mugs and vases, “not the most traditional, but very nice.” I too knew it wasn’t the best of the best, but we both liked it for what it was – colorful and unique.

I borrowed all my father's woolen sweaters to wrap the fragile ceramics in for the plane ride home. He gave them to me willingly. At home, it occurred to me that I could probably get away with not mailing them back. The international shipping was expensive, and a hassle, but I mailed them to him promptly, completing the circle. 


Anonymous said...

My father was absent most of my life. I have less than a handful of memories from times we were together. The last time he called me, over two decades ago, I didn't say more than Hello. The moment I heard his voice, a voice I hadn't heard in years but knew in an instant was his, I hung up. Sometime in my late twenties I wondered, do I need to see him again? Will I be okay if I get that call, when I get that call that he's died, if I hadn't seen him just one last time? I decided I'd be okay and never attempted to find him or reach out.
A few years ago the call came that he'd committed suicide. Learning that this was how he'd chosen to end his life told me so much about him, and myself. I am fragile in many ways, but not, I learned as fragile as him. The moment I recieved that call I felt as if our roles were reversed--as if he was my child. I wanted to protect him, but the impulse came too late.
Reading this just now from you, these handful of memories you share without effort, I am reminded of that bond between parent and child. Regardless of how it manifests or doesn't on the outside, its something that, in a way, can't be touched, or changed.
Thank you for this latest entry.
Best always,

MartaSzabo said...

Dear L, thank you for this very rich comment. It is much more than a comment. Thank you for telling your story in a way that I could really feel it -- the choice to let things be, and then the unpredicted twist that lays bare a bedrock layer of feeling inside the narrator of the piece. Thank you for reading so closely and for meeting me in this place of feeling, words and mystery. warmly, m

Anonymous said...

And amazing to count on my fingers just now and have to use seven of them--that's how many years since The Guru Looked Good first appeared as a blog, no? Seven years of writing and seven years of tuning in! Thank you for the steady stream of inspiration, and for always checking back in.

Also want to add, as just one example from this particular entry, that I loved:

"As a child I looked at what he had underlined and could see no reason for any of it. Once I asked him why he marked what he did, and he just raised his eyebrows and smiled, enjoying that he had mystified me."

This so well captures the fascination had by those of us who as children studied the adults in our lives, saw the mystery in our parents, and grandparents, the mystery of who they were—a mystery made that much greater by their absence, even when they were alive. That deep longing to know them and connect to them that is never quite fulfilled.

Marta, all these years later, as I read your writing, I am still right there with you. That's why I keep coming back.

Best to you,

To live that day said...

"As a child I looked at what he had underlined and could see no reason for any of it"

Maybe when we reach his same age... accumulate his same experience, we can then understand.

Beautiful blog.

MartaSzabo said...

Hello To Live That Day, thank you very much for visiting, for reading, and for sending a note to let me know you were here. I too read some of your work and greatly enjoyed it -- your descriptions and observations of the details around you.... a pleasure to meet you today. with warm wishes, Marta