May

14

 What's in a name?

A lot more than I expected.

I've led a charmed life. I was born in Budapest, Hungary into a revolution in 1956. My parents, at great risk, took me away to safety from an oppressive system, and had to start their lives again from scratch in a strange land in a new language, and I've never been in any real danger since, or have had anything at all to complain about it. Even before then, my father risked his career as an officer in the Hungarian army, by having me baptized in (what he thought was) secret on the outskirts of Budapest. This was mainly in deference to my maternal grandmother - who, bless her and may she rest in peace, as an avid Catholic was utterly determined to protect my soul. This was a big no-no with the communists, and they called him on it - every last detail. (My father had been followed.) Complicit in this little venture, and taking the same risks on my completely unaware infant behalf, was a man named Gyorgy Dirner, who my father had befriended in the army. Gyorgy (George) - or Gyurka, the more affectionate form - acted as and became my godfather at the baptism. I was born Zoltan Parkanyi, but the custom in Hungary at the time was for a boy to take the name of the godfather as his middle name, so I became Zoltan George Parkanyi. In Australia, to where we emigrated, my parents changed that to George Zoltan Parkanyi, thinking George would go easier on me as a child growing up in that country. And so George Parkanyi it is.

So today may father, at the cottage, reminiscing about those times, tells me the rest of the story, the part that I'd never heard before. Back to Hungary 1956. Fast forward from my baptism to November, in the depths of the short-lived, but brutal, revolution. One day Gyurka shows up at my parents' apartment to check on my father and make sure he's OK. He mentions to my father that he is somehow involved, but doesn't go into the details. They part. Events unfold quickly and my father is forced by circumstance to make the decision to leave Hungary, and my parents escape with me a few weeks later across the border into Austria.

My father loses touch with Gyurka, but every trip to Hungary thereafter once he started visiting again in the late 60's, he looks for Gyurka's phone number in Budapest directory. There is never any listing for Dirner, although my father painstakingly checks every time. Then about 5 years ago, while visiting a cemetery in Budapest to pay respects to the deceased parents of one of his other friends, something makes him divert from the normal pathway and cut across a different section. As he's walking to where he's intending to go he stumbles upon a headstone that stops him in his tracks and shakes him to his core. It says Dirner Gyurka …. 1930 - (November) 1956. Gyurka - my godfather - was killed within days, at most weeks, of when my father last saw him.

I'm named for a man, who, at no more than 3 years older than my eldest son now, either lost or gave his life to an unwinnable fight for freedom. What do I feel? Love. Gratitude. How do I feel? Unfinished.


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