A Gang of Seven

 Pointing the Way


 Two Movements

 Three Sacraments

 Facets of Vital Engagement

 Vital Engagement:
            Life Blood of Trust

 Steps Towards Trust

 Missed Steps

 Unseen Options  

 Justice in Relationships




Pop and I are passing through passport control on our return from Hungary. I hand our documents to the agent. He questions me. I’m not much concerned. We are safely back in the US. My folder has Pop’s inoculation certificate. The mix-up is obvious. The agent is stern when I make light of it. He stamps the passports and hands them back.


Suddenly I am hit with overwhelming remorse. I handled everything about the trip for both of us. I want to make it easy on Pop. He just follows my directions. I unwittingly fail to share logistical details with him. I don’t give him a say. I don’t even let him handle his own travel documents. He goes along with it all, fathering me by acquiescing. I am overcome with guilt feelings. This now seems so profoundly unfair.

I am recently out of law school just starting my career. This trip takes most of my earned vacation days. As it ends I am feeling more relieved than relaxed. The dissipating anxieties of my self imposed responsibility are replaced with this sudden remorse. I am now keenly aware of Pop’s passivity during the travel time.

The stay in Hungary is different. It’s a joyous reunion with Pop’s only two brothers after nearly sixty years of separation. Pop is as open and revealing about his life as anyone can be. He unabashedly invites the same openness in asking about their lives. Nothing is too personal to share with family. I on the other hand am guarded and contine to focus on the practicalities.

Perhaps the passport agent’s humorlessness has me feeling unfair to Pop. We don’t discuss my feelings or how we each experienced the trip. Would we ever? Now forty years later I regret not having had those conversations. Pop immerses himself emotionally and draws others in while I stand by.

Our last together we join Pop’s brothers, Sandor and Mihal and their sons Shonny and Imre and share some beer on tap in the old pub in the village. It’s an ordinary one room pub sparsely furnished. There are a dozen other guests, all men, mostly two generations younger than Pop. The mood is somber and I have the feeling most are unburdening from the weariness of the day. Our family gathers round a table sipping beer. They reminisce and compare present day life in the US with life in Russian occupied Hungary. I stay on the edge listening mentally prepared for I don’t know what.

By the second or third pint the mood gets more lively. Pop starts humming a favorite ballad asking whether others remember the words. When nobody does Pop switches from humming to softly singing. Encouraged he continues with another old time tune followed by a rousing patriotic song. Mihal, the more serious of the brothers, cautions: “someone may be listening” Will someone think we are advocating resistance to the occupiers. Pop either doesn’t notice or takes no heed. He is a Pied Piper drawing others into the circle.

Young men in their thirties start pressing him to repeat some of the lyrics both rowdy and melancholy. They eagerly want to learn and join in. I’m taking it in. Something is happening to me. I’m there. I’m part of it. I’m reserved. I get the Hungarian but I’m uncomfortable using it.

The songs Pop is now leading the entire group singing are familiar to me and I find it odd that these Hungarians don’t know them. I try my best to communicate this to one of my cousins. He understands and we soon agree that while Pop and his contemporaries kept them alive in the US, they have long since died out here. The entire group is now crowded around Pop asking questions and pressing to learn these songs and join in singing. I’m looking on with a mix of wonder, admiration and apprehension. I’m still responsible. I just found my family and we are leaving tomorrow.

Pop is now the center of attention. Everyone wants his ear and hear his songs. I am witnessing the most amazing transformation in my father. I literally see the years drop away. He sings a barracks’ tune that I had heard many times and everyone is exuberantly joining in the refrain. I wonder if this pub will ever be the same. Pop was only eighteen when he left Hungary so he never served in the army. But, in his singing I hear the nostalgia of his youth longing for the glamorous life of the dashing cavalryman depicted in the song. I have the feeling the young men in the group are stirred by the same emotion.

Closing time for the Pub is early so this must end. Pop has brought gifts to everyone. They express their gratitude. The way he opens himself to each as individuals only adds to the joy of being together. Whether real or imagined Pop includes a whole new generation in the joys of genuine community.