(Continuation of childhood memories)
A Hungarian Memoir Humble Beginnings, Part 2 (Segregation)
Like everything in life, luck is a mixture of things good and bad. I would say it was luck my father was a cabinet-maker and wood-carver, because we were able to eat meat once or twice a week. At least 1 kilo each time was served or more like divided between nine children, my father and mother; makes eleven not? Most of the time some relative’s kids were in the house and my mother was a big-hearted woman who used to say, “we have enough food for eleven then we have enough food for twelve.” We never questioned her at the dinner table about this even though we only had one small pig. Later in my life I was thinking why do poor people, almost all of them have large families; more likely they had the same philosophy as my mother had. Where we have enough for one we have enough for two, where we have enough for two, we have enough for three and so on and so on.
So I considered this my first luck being seventh in my family. My father used to work 12-14 hours a day 6-7 days a week to have a bit better food on our table then the hundreds of other poor farm laborers children. Their main staple was potato, beans and cabbage. At the same time I was unlucky being the son of a tradesman in school, I had to defend myself daily between the farmer’s boys. I was a black sheep in their eyes, I was strange. I didn’t wear boots, I wore plain shoes, I didn’t have a sheepskin hat, even if I would try to dress up like a farmer boys it would not matter. Due to my childhood sickness I started school one year late at age seven. Being sick was not lucky, but being a year older than the rest of my class was. Of course even this way, once in a while I went home from school with a black eye or bloody nose.
There are two schools in my town one parochial and one state. The town life etc., culture etc., centered around the church and unwritten laws. The whole town was a show of discrimination, it was a so-called caste system. Even the children of the farmer’s segregated themselves into classes according to how many acres of land their father’s owned. This class system existed all over the town in many ways. Where a person sat in church or school, what part of town you lived in, what kind of dress you wore, who you married and with who you socialized.
On the top of the social ladder was the town intellectuals, the town clerks, doctors, pharmacists, teachers. This followed by the rich landowners, store keepers and the not so rich landowners. Then the trades people, the people who owned just a few acres to the farm workers who owned no land and the people who worked in the nearby city of Tokaj in the vineyards and the stone mines. At the bottom of the social ladder where the gypsies which divided themselves in classes. The first group was the musical gypsies and the second group was the working gypsies. The working gypsies did jobs like cleaning houses, picking up dead animals, etc. If no jobs were available for them they begged or simply went to steal whatever they could. They lived at one end of the town. The other gypsies, the musical gypsies entertained the town elites. Playing in bars and wedding or dance parties for farmers and separately for tradesmen. For a tradesmen boy wasn’t able to go to a dance party that was for a farmer only and visa-versa. Several times it happened that someone got beaten or killed because they tried to cross the caste lines at a dance party.
The richest farmers lived on the main street from the mid-section to the lower end. The church was also on the lower end of the main street. If you went to church on Sunday or a holiday without knowing the townspeople economically or by caste, without hardship you could figure out who was who by the sitting arrangement. The first row reserved for the town intellectuals. These people wouldn’t mix even with the richest farmers. The next row went according to how many acres you owned. I remember the richest farmer owned 360 acres and that in my country was very rich, but the 360 acres of richness still did not let him sit next to the person who had a college education. It was very embarrassing for a rich farmer who just happen to have a son who had college education, not all fathers and sons went to church at different time.
In the back of the church most of the time there was no seats available, the lowest ranked people on the “caste line” usually stood there.
(To clarify any confusion as to the types of churches and their names during that period. My father’s notes mention two Roman Catholic churches in part 1. The main church is the “Nagy” Catholic Church, and the other, which is catholic as well and called “Calvaria” due to its place on the hill. At the time the Calvaria Church was known for its location in the poorer part of town. The “Nagy” church was heavily damaged during WWII and partly rebuilt after the war.~Kat)