It was more than simply building a family or living the American Dream; it was putting pieces of fragmented lives together, of finding stability and sanity in this world, of learning how to function after an oppressive regime forced dysfunction and death upon quiet farmers and their families.
It was starting a new life in a new country with a new language.
They raised five of us–my four brothers and me–and built a beautiful split level home in the suburbs (much of it the work of my father’s own hands) on the single income of a produce clerk.
Their tattered lives were mended when they met Someone who understood their Hungarian accents and began healing the wounds of loss, injury, and fear.
His name is Jesus and they have put their trust in Him. From the past horrors of revolt against Communism in Hungary they continue walking together toward the future glories of Heaven.
Here’s the story of how they met (written with creative liberty, as I fleshed out the bones of the story I heard as a child.)
When Béla Met Sári
(Pronunciations: Béla = Bay-la, and Sári = Shah-ree)
After glancing at the clock every five minutes for the past half hour, Béla, a twenty-nine year old Hungarian immigrant, was excited to see he could clock out in five minutes. Just von more box of bananas to take out to da floor, den I am finished, he thought as he worked quickly.
When the box was emptied, he hurried to the back room, took off the dirty apron, and found his time card in the slot.
“Mész haza? Going home?”, asked Sándor, Béla’s co-worker.
“Ya, to shower,” Béla said in his thick Hungarian accent, “den I go to da pub. Buya Néni (Miss Buya) says she has a new vorker I should meet.”
Sándor winked as he whistled a catcall. “Nahát! So! I wonder what she like? Blonde? Short? Skinny? Fat? Csunya vagy gyönörü – ugly or beautiful?” he asked with a deep laugh, “Or where she come from?”
“I don’t know all dose tings. Buya Néni only says she is pritty and young and I haf to meet her. And I say to myself, vell, vy not?”
Sándor looked at Béla’s hands, filthy from a long day of unpacking produce, removing roots and dirt, and said, “Yah, you better scrub your hands and fingernails good.” Then, remembering lunch time, added, “And use some of that fancy American mouth wash after you eating green onions with your prézshurka, headcheese.”
Bela couldn’t help but laugh and agree with a quick nod, “I see you tomorrow.”
“I don’t know,” added Sándor, “I think I see you later at Buya’s place. Maybe I like to see you get red in the face.”
Buya Néni’s small restaurant held it’s usual clients – Hungarian men, mostly young single immigrants, drinking a cold sör (beer) after work with their meal that brought memories and tastes from back home.
“Now vear ees dat lazy boy! I tell heem to come right away from vork!” huffed Buya Néni, asking no one in particular as she walked from the kitchen and around the bar, looking around for her friend’s great-nephew.
“You look for Béla? Ah maybe he vork late, Bulya. No vorry, he coming. Vat’s da matter?” asked Géza, a young man who had arrived ten minutes earlier and was now waiting for both his goulash and his friend.
“I not saying vy. You mind your own beeznees. You tell heem to find me ven he comes.”
“Okay Buya,” Géza said with half a smile, “You bring me another sör, all right?”
A few minutes later he saw Béla walk in, making his way to their table.
“Asztamindenit! Vat the heck you doing, Béla?” Géza asked as he looked at his friend’s Bryl-creamed hair, shined shoes, crisply ironed shirt and skinny tie. “Somebody die? Or is your anyu, mother, coming on the plane or something?”
“Nem, Buya tell me to– ”
“Béla!” Buya’s voice scolded, “Vy you take so long? She here already een da keetchen. You come now and I show you her.” Buya Néni seemed almost as nervous as Béla. Before turning around to head back toward the kitchen, she stopped to size him up, starting from the top of his head to his shiny shoes. “You tink of dat by yourself? Your anyu, mother, vood be pro-ud of you.”
She turned around and waved at him to follow.
“Hi Géza, Béla here yet?” asked Sándor with a grin as he approached the table.
“Ya, in da kitchen. Vat happening around here, anyways?” Géza replied, setting down his beer.
“Buya hire new worker. She want Béla to meet her.”
“Oh ya? You know vat she– ”
“Béla!” Sándor exclaimed as he looked up and saw Béla coming out of the kitchen. “What you smile for? Sit down and I buy you a sör.”
“Ya and I give you knock on the head” added Géza, “vy you not tell me?”
“Ha” boomed Sándor, “I know he gonna be red in the face!”
“I tell you she ees bee-yute-eeful!” said Béla as he pulled out a chair. “I valk in and I see her standing dare–”
“If she so bee-yute-eeful, then vy she vant to know you?” said Géza, “Maybe I go een dare and meet–”
“–she washing dishes; she haf nice rad-blonde hair -”
“O yeah? I vant to see–”
“Géza, you fish another place,” said Sándor, adding a friendly slap on Géza’s back.
“…and den I see her face,” continued Béla, “she wipe da sweat by her green eyes– ”
“Ya, Béla, you in love. You not even touch your sör yet.”
“–she look at me ven Buya says who I am. She say hi to me and look away. She very shy.”
“She haf any seester?” asked Géza
“She vork here now. I see her more. Den maybe I take her for ride in my– ”
“So Béla, vat her name?”
“Stadler Ilona” he replied in the proper Hungarian form with last name first, “but her fahm-ill-ee call her Sári.”