Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't mess with Babka. She will take you down.

I never did the post-visit debriefing. Babka left last Tuesday after ten days with us, and I have to say it was the most pleasant, least stressful for everyone visit we've had yet. I think we're finding our stride.

I didn't keep up the all Czech at home the whole time, but there was a lot of CZ/SK flying around. It mostly depended on how much energy I had at any given moment to deal with addressing K in Czech, but I did still have to do a whole lot of translating. This because K is talking a lot more sense than last time we saw Babka, so I have to clue Babka in to what K is telling her. I would let K clue Babka in herself, but K is holding firm to her position that if K understands a word, everyone should understand it. Which basically adds up to me doing a lot of interpreting for a little girl who cuts no slack for anyone who can't keep up!

My favorite part of Babka's visit, during the trip to lovely Scotland, was how the Slovak of my dreams and I convinced her to think back and tell us everything she remembers about her family background and childhood. It isn't something she talks about much, so he learned almost as much as I did. Like that his grandfather was the dance master for the town, leading all the dances and teaching the dance classes. Maybe that's where his grandson got his dancing talent?

I think the best part was her stories about her own mother-in-law. We never met any of the Slovak's grandparents, because the last of them died when he was K's age, but his paternal grandmother sounds like a piece of work. Once Babka picked up and left with her little son in tow - without telling her husband - because his mother gave all the children chocolate, "Except for you, [Apo], you don't like chocolate anyway." So of course he cried and cried at being left out. So Babka took him and left, and when her husband came back from mushrooming with the brothers-in-law, no one could tell him where they'd gone! Apparently, the last straw came when her husband's mother was staying with them (her five children took turns keeping her for a month each). Babka had to bring her meals in bed because she was ill and bedridden - supposedly. One day when Babka got home from work, her mother-in-law told her the plates were in the wrong cupboard and the cups should be over there and the towels were folded wrong blah blah blah. Babka asked how she knew what was in the cupboards if she couldn't get out of bed, and it turned out maybe old granny isn't QUITE as bedridden as she claims...

Babka packed up her mother-in-law's things and set the suitcase outside. When her husband got home, she told him, "Take your mother to a hotel, and if you don't like it, you can go too!" I'm telling you. You do not mess with our Babka!

We also asked about how it was that they went from a Hungarian-speaking family to speaking only Slovak later. She has mentioned before that in school they were harshly disciplined for speaking Hungarian, which surely makes a strong impression on a young child. She also talked now about a time, walking with her mother and sister in the street, when a group of men came up and slapped her mother across the face and said, "In Slovakia, you only speak Slovak." This was during the Slovak protectorate during the war. That incident, combined with the beatings in school, combined with the natural inclination of a child to speak the school and neighborhood language, made Babka more and more resistant to speak Hungarian at all that eventually she couldn't even when she tried. She said her parents gradually spoke more Slovak to their daughters, because the girls refused to speak Hungarian with them (they were able to speak it perfectly well, actually - it wasn't that they were immigrants who didn't know the language) to the point that the younger girl never even learned Hungarian.

Now Babka is able to understand some Hungarian, I think, but refuses to even try to speak. Her son, our Apo, learned Hungarian not from his parents but from the older couple who took care of him in lieu of daycare. Once he stopped going to their house, he had very little opportunity to use it and never learned to properly read or write.

And that is why we don't speak Hungarian today. I don't know about you, but I find it a very sad story. Babka still carries the hurt from being mistreated by the ignorant and misguided and from losing her language. I wish I could say that attitudes across the world have entirely changed in our generation - but they haven't, have they?

I can tell you, though, Hungarian speaking or not, I don't ever want to get on our Babka's bad side! And neither do you.

Keep that in mind, people!

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