Creative Nonfiction: My Father the Freedom Fighter
By Chris Bodor
My last name is Hungarian. It’s literal English translation is: “curly”. Not like curly hair, but the curl, or whisp, of smoke, as it escapes from a chimney.
So, after revealing the origins of my last name, I usually break the ice with people by mentioning that I am a first generation American. My father walked over the border of Hungary, into Austria, during the infamous time in history known as the Hungarian Revolution.
During the Second World War, the Soviet Army occupied Hungary, and in 1948 the Soviet Union took full control of the country. By December 1949 Communists were in full political control of Hungary.
On October 23, 1956, students staged a march in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. The plan was to end the procession with the presentation of a petition that listed Hungary’s grievances, stating that they no longer wanted to be under Communist rule. People flocked into the streets to join them. Shots were fired, turning a peaceful demonstration into a revolutionary one. This spontaneous national uprising was viciously crushed twelve days later by Soviet tanks and troops on November 4, 1956.
Some 170,000 refugees fled from Hungary to Austria during the Hungarian Revolution. One of those 170,000 was my father.
My father was working in a government managed warehouse about one hour from Budapest when the students led the march and took over the Budapest radio station. My dad waited for three days hoping that the United States would send help. When no help came, he and two friends walked across the border to Austria. He bought a boat ticket to America because his uncle in Ohio said he would sponsor him. However, the United States enacted a quota, and my dad had to wait. He was given the choice to either spend his time working in Austria or studying in Germany.
He chose to study at Stuttgart, Germany. Four and a half years later, my dad’s numbers came up. He used that same boat ticket that he bought in Austria, in 1956. When his uncle’s wife in Ohio found out who my grandmother was, she threw my father out of the house. She did not get along with my dad’s mom in Kisvárda.
My father needed a place to live, so he went to Bridgeport, Connecticut where one of his two friends had settled. The other friend who walked over the border with him stayed in Germany. In the sixties, semi pro soccer teams were formed around nationalities. There was not enough support for the Hungarian team in Bridgeport, so my father kicked the ball around with the Portuguese team named “Vasco Da Gama”.
My mother is one hundred percent English. She left England the day that she took her nursing exams at age 21 to stay with her mom’s sister in the United States, in the state of Connecticut. My mom’s aunt and uncle were sponsors of Vasco Da Gama, and they would have fundraising dinner dances every Saturday night in Bridgeport.
One night at the dance, my mom asked “Who is that good looking Hungarian fella on our Portuguese team? They met, fell in love, married, and I was born in April of 1967 in Norwalk, Connecticut.
I know my father’s story, in depth, because he was telling and reliving it daily, when Russia started bombing Ukraine. His birth city of Kisvárda in Hungary is located 15 miles from one of the Ukraine borders. The bombing of Ukraine started to trigger my father, and he began having flashbacks to the horrors of 1956, when the Russian tanks stormed the capital city of Hungary.
I sat with him one weekend and asked him all the questions I had about his story. I have always known bits and pieces, but I wanted to know everything. The most troubling fact was that he could not contact his parents until six months after he fled over the border to Austria. That means that my grandparents did not know for six months if my dad was alive or dead. Can you imagine my grandparents’ pain?
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Poem for Otto: Wooden Spoon
by Chris Bodor
In the Eighties
to prepare for a summer in Europe
my father would sit
with me and my two brothers
at our dining room table
in Connecticut, so he could teach us
Hungarian language lessons.
Father wanted to introduce us
to aunts and uncles
some in Kisvarda
some in Nyíregyháza.
Me and my brothers were punks
and we thought everything was a joke
“meleg” means “hot”
“kutya” means “dog”
however, “meleg kutya” does not mean “hot dog”
a hyperventilating canine is not the same
as America’s fast-food favorite.
Everything was a joke
and his temper would boil when we would ask:
“Father, tell us how to say wooden spoon in Hungarian?”
We all laugh and shout "fakanál".
Chris Bodor is a first generation American. He was born in Connecticut to an English mother and a Hungarian father. During the past three decades, his poems have appeared in many independent, small, and micro-press publications, such as the Lummox Journal, Live Nude Poems, and New Generation Beats-2022 Anthology. He is currently serving a two-year term as the Florida State Beat Poem Laureate (2023-2025). Bodor is the Editor-In-Chief of the international literary journal A.C. PAPA, which stands for Ancient City Poets, Authors, Photographers, and Artists.