My Hungarian Rhapsody
I adored my Omi, we spoke only Hungarian together and it has ever remained my language of love. Even though she lived in Canada for 25 years she never learned to speak English so I learnt to speak Hungarian. When I was six we moved away from Omi so that’s about how old I am in Hungarian. I miss her so much.
Last year, while lazing through the weekend paper, I happened upon a portal! The Ottawa Hungarian Choir was looking for new members.
I called up the Choirmaster, Beatrix Finta and she was so welcoming. When she found out I was forty she exclaimed, “We need young people like you! You will find friendship here and you may even find yourself a leader of the choir someday.” It felt like my Omi loves arms embracing me all over again.
Of course, she hadn’t heard me sing yet. Beatrix didn’t yet know that I can’t hold a tune very well, or read music, or read Hungarian, or even speak very much for that matter. I came to the choir with all I could remember of my six-year-old Hungarian and a love for a culture I have found myself in exile from since I was a little girl and it seems that this is enough.
I take private classes with Beatrix to catch up. She is like a superhero Choirmaster, undaunted by my humble credentials and unconditionally accepting just like my Omi. It barely registers that I can’t hold a tune very well in how our lessons go. I cringe to think how I must have been butchering the language by how effusively she praises my improvement in pronunciation as we progress. Beatrix is so encouraging, so matter of fact and lovely, so much like my Omi.
I begin to suspect that Omi was a product of a culture and I am delighted! I may have a hope of reconnecting with her through these strange people who like to sing together in an unusual tongue, in 4part harmony.
I never know when or where a sound or expression will transport me to a time of perfect love. So many of my experiences with the Hungarian Choir remind me of my time with my beloved grandmother and the precious gifts she shared with me.
During one of our lessons Bea explains “Jesuskant” means, our Jesus and I lament how in English someone can’t be mine the same way. In Hungarian there can be a suffix added to a name to demonstrate ownership.In Hungarian by adding “kam” to a name it becomes implicit that we are one. This person is in my heart, is of my heart … belongs to me. Omikam.
Omi and I could pass a whole afternoon with her saying, “edges kish Suzikam” (sweet little Suzi of my heart, my name in Hungarian is Sugika)…and I’d answer, “edges kish Omikam.” And we’d just keep repeating this to each other as long as I wanted while I curled up in her lap. How can we not fall in love with a culture that can say, in one word, and not just any word, your name, “You are love … my love in my heart,” music to our ears exponentially.
Every culture has this sweetness, this depth, and this wisdom, stuff it just gets, each is so full of surprises and eccentricities, so rich and so enriching, so precious and worthy of preservation. I have it on excellent authority that preserving cultural diversity is essential to our thriving as a species. I’m delighted to share a little about the delight of reconnecting with my very own long lost Hungarian tribe and how it has transformed me.
Little by little I find my singing doesn’t hurt my ears as much anymore and my world has an angelic accompaniment. Being in the music is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, it’s cosmic and lovely, very much like being in my adoring Omi’s arms.
She would always stop, no matter what she was doing if I decided it was time to curl up on her lap and we’d rest there until I was done. I memorized it when I was little, exactly how she smelt and how her soft wrinkly arms felt around my body and how my head rested on her breast. I sensed somehow she wouldn’t be with me the same way forever and knew I would need to be able to experience this when she was gone
When I was little I loved to make things, I still do. I’d get my inspiration from Mr. Dressup, my day dreams, or school… empty milk cartons were transformed into elaborate Easter boat floats, elephants married bumble bees producing mythical beings in clay that were so very wise. Tissue paper ducks had droopy necks at first till they upgraded to cardboard backing, and exquisitely crafted toilet paper drums kept time as I presented each of my precious creations to Omi.
Omi would solemnly examine each one with reverence and wonder. Early on I learned that it broke her heart if I copied anything so I was committed to only original works of art. Sitting at her dining room table, Omi would be quiet for a while, taking it all in, studying it from every angle. She’d ask me almost incredulously in Hungarian, “te chinaltad?” “You made this?” I would answer, “Igen!” “Eses ah kesed all?” With these hands? She’d ask almost suspiciously, taking my dwon filled little girl hands into hands into her warm elephant ones. A little less sure, I’d shyly answer “Igen”. Then she would kiss and kiss and kiss my hands and kiss, kiss, and kiss my face and place my creation in her finest china cabinet, amidst her most precious possessions. And her kisses were very loud!
I would have to ask permission to play with whatever I had created, make a case, sometimes even argue about how I’d made what ever it was so I should be entitled to play with it. Finally, reluctantly, she’d remove it from it’s hallowed home and say I could play with it for 15 minutes, If I was very careful, and stayed at the dining room table.
Today my construction company, MONECA KAISER DESIGN BUILD, specializes in what I like to call, construction couture, one of a kind original works or art that you can live in. Each time we win another award for our design I think of my Omi and thank her. It is because of her that I have begun to spread my wings as a writer and filmmaker too and I feel this would delight her.
Amongst my new choir friends I come to see a reverence for art and originality that brings me back to these early memories of my Omi. Each season we perform an original composition, a world premier at our grandest concert, in 4part harmony of course. Gabor Finta is an internationally celebrated composer, founding member of our choir and Beatrix’s husband. I’m sure he must have had an Omi a lot like mine, or perhaps a whole community of Omi’s.
Being immersed in the choir I am surprised by how familiar it all is, how Hungarian. What I mean by Hungarian is that it’s love, and what I mean by love is that it’s culture, or maybe what I mean is community. Mostly what I mean is that it is home.