My grandfather came here in the early 1900s. Canada didn’t have a big population so engineers and labourers were brought from Europe to build the St. Lawrence Seaway. My grandfather came to work on it and left his wife and four children in Hungary until he had made enough money to bring them over.
My mother was eight and the eldest. Part of the Seaway was the Beauharnois Dam and that was where the family lived. They ran a boarding house for a group of Hungarians some of whom slept on the floor because there weren’t enough rooms. My grandmother cooked meals for them. My mother always helped.
On their days off, they would go to the shores of the St. Lawrence River and just enjoy it. My mother learned to swim there. One day, one of the men was teasing her so she took his work boots and threw them in the river. You have to understand that they didn’t have multiple footwear so it was very alarming to him that she had done that. He rescued his boots, then ran after her, threatening her. His threat, considered quite bad then, was that he would bring her husband to her when she was older. Of course, he didn’t catch her.
My mother’s family eventually moved to southern Ontario in the Brantford region to live on a tobacco farm. She grew to be a young woman there and as the time went, her mother wanted her to marry and have children. She did get engaged once but it didn’t work out. She actually told her mother that she would marry the man who would make her laugh.
Well, time was going by and when she was 24, her mother, getting desperate, would get people to bring men around for her to choose one. This angered her very much and she refused.
One day, the man whose boots she had thrown in the river, came around with another, called Alex (or Sandor in Hungarian). Her mother told her to go and get dressed nicely and be nice to Alex but she stomped off and decided to do the opposite. She got a pail full of water, a rag and decided to wash the floor in the next room. Alex didn’t say anything but sat on a chair and just watched her. He even had to lean one way then another to see her.
Eventually she calmed down. She didn’t have an excuse to ignore him anymore and he hadn’t pushed, so she decided to change her clothes and go for a walk with him. They walked and talked. He was very nice to her and funny. Then he said something amusing and she put her head back and laughed. That was when he kissed her.
Of course, she married him and they had two daughters which he wanted. He had told her no boys, only girls!
I was their youngest, and closest to him. I too married a Hungarian and had three children. The youngest my father laughingly called Renaldo which meant Lover because of his sense of humour. He adored my children and they loved him. They all knew him.
At the end, when he laid in a hospital bed in a semi-comma after a stroke, my youngest crawled up on the bed and talked to him about what he had been doing in school. My father’s body shook with laughter. And the next day, he died.
He and my mother had been married for over forty years.