Friday, February 29, 2008

Hungarians in the Attic


I was out walking Molly today in a different neighborhood than the usual route, and as I passed a yard I got a whiff of an odor that brought back -- what?

what is it this smell reminds me of--

a smell I hadn't experienced in almost fifty years.

It was the smell of the Hungarian refugees who lived in our attic one winter, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. Their name was Szivos, George, Maria, and Laszlo.

Whenever you'd open that attic door a strange smell, probably paprika, garlic and liquor, would drift down. One time I went upstairs and there were catfish in the bathtub. It was utterly weird to me. Laszlo was my age, and he had a lot of trouble in second grade, biting students and the teacher too.

Maria painted exquisite Easter eggs and left them behind when they moved to a duplex in Summit, with other Hungarians. These eggs were incredibly beautiful- intricate folk art patterns. But she never blew them out before hand so they ended up smelling like-- rotten eggs. She seemed primitive- they were loud upstairs. She had red red hair.

One last story about them. There was a ceramic portrait of me that was done by an art teacher who had stayed with us around this time. But it was never fired. My mother kept it on a back bookshelf.

Years passed. My father died. I was in college. My mother came in the house one day (a house that was never locked) and there was a young man with a ski cap standing by her desk, looking at the sculpture. When he saw her he ran out. Nothing was stolen. She always thought that was Laszlo.

9 comments:

Mean Jean said...

Wow. I'm probably going to dream about "the Lazlo" stories. When I was little we lived next door to a German war refugee. She was very old (I was 5) and her house always smelled of sauerkraut and sausages. She liked to hug me and pinch my cheeks.

sal said...

Wow is right. This is a fascinating story. Was it Roz Chast who was talking about painting eggs?

Namowal said...

Wow, what a bizarro story! Rotten painted eggs, catfish in the tub and a mutant biting kid who snuck back in years later for old times sake. They'd make great carton characters.
When I grew up we had neighbors from other parts of the world and I remember the distinct scents of each home garlic, curry etc..
I suppose scent (like accents) is a relative thing, and perhaps my home had a scent too, which I was immune to.

demanding linda said...

Sally. You had Hungarian refugees living in your attic? Uh ... we need to hear a little more about how this came to be. But I'm certain that was Laszlo in the ski cap. He had come back to find you, I bet. Did you and he play together? What did you play? Who was the art teacher and did she live in the basement, if the Hungarians were living in the attic? Was she fun to have around? Your Easter Egg is very funny! Animate it and show us what pops out.

Sally said...

I bet that was one stinky house, mean jean.

Sal, it was Roz Chast who was talking about painting eggs in that tape-- to me it seemed like the weirdest thing about her.

Namowal, I started thinking the unblown eggs were like the sculpted portrait- beautiful things done wrong that could never be saved.

I'm always distressed by how our house smells when I've been away for awhile-- but what can you do? I bought a big bag of potpourri after we came back from Colorado-- total waste of money. Fortunately no one tried to eat it.

Linda, our church found homes for Hungarian refugees. I looked around a bit today but I don't think any photos of them survive.

I don't think we played together much, but I remember what he looked like still.

The art teacher was Miss Von Kokeritz-- rhymes with coconuts. She lived in the attic when I was in 5th grade.

I had to endure a DOUBLE DATE with Miss Von's fiance and his LITTLE BROTHER-- hateful event. But I came home with a horned toad which lived for at least a year. We went to Palisades Park and even through the TUNNEL OF LOVE-- sitting at the most distant edges of the boat.

Another time she took me to a roller skate rink where I had to skate with GROWN MEN- another hideous event.

But I did like her. She ate yogurt and wore kimonos and had graduated from Skidmore.

Linda said...

Sally, you are a survivor.

Very colorful details, though!

I cannot believe your mom let you go on a double date in the 5th grade. Well, I'm sure she didn't know. And what's worse, having to SKATE with GROWN MEN. GROSS!!!

sal said...

Sounds handy having an art teacher in the attic, though. Was she a good teacher?

Sally said...

If my sister were still alive, there'd be lots more stories about Miss Von Coconuts. She taught high school art in town.

ryan said...

Hello Sally, on your YOUTUBE you posted an interview where you are shown drawing model sheets. As a fan of your work I would be interested in seeing them on your blog! Only if they are on hand and you really wanted to share them of course :)