Red-Flag Email

Several weeks passed before I heard again from Dr. Vilmos. When his email finally arrived, it was red flagged for importance, as well it should be, for it contained a wealth of information about my father and his past. Dr. Vilmos had written in Hungarian, and I quickly realized that the technical vocabulary was beyond my knowledge of my mother tongue. I would need a translator to help me understand perfectly the many documents he had attached to his message.

The first document was a large seal of the Hungarian Armed Forces, the next a black and white profile of my father in the early 1950s. Then came a detailed breakdown of my father’s involvement in the military, from the day he enlisted to the day he was promoted to the rank of colonel. To my surprise I discovered that he had taught at a military academy and had served under a general who was ultimately arrested and sentenced to execution during the 1956 Revolution. There was more—about his enlistment, his work assignments, his employment and his delisting. My head spun. It was as if I was reading a KGB file in a foreign-language film. My father died many years ago, but I had never realized the extent of his involvement in the military or in political matters. I said aloud, “Father, what tangled messes did you involve yourself in?”

It was the last document in Dr. Vilmos’s list that jolted me to the bone: two pages typed on tea-colored paper, using an ancient typewriter with the letters e, s and o smudged, obviously caked with ink. This was a letter composed by my father at the time he applied to go into the military. He talked about his education, his parents, his father’s service during World War I, his parents’ professions, and his stomach ailments. Here was his past, the past he would never talk about, staring me in the face.

He mentioned everyone he had known in his life, as well as his family: his siblings, his wife and her siblings and parents, and his children. I squinted at a girl’s name—Csilla—and my skin tingled. Here was my name, preserved forever on ancient paper. I realized that I had been documented, filed in an archive, made part of history. Lumps of truth rolled in my throat. I mattered after all.

I was in awe that the keys of an old typewriter could leave a message so haunting. I could only thank Dr. Vilmos for resurfacing the road from the past to the present.

About Sheila Bali

Sheila Bali, historical fiction writer, is soon to complete her novel, Swans and Cranes, based on a family’s escape from the iron grip of post–WW II Russia during the turbulent 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The book focuses on a young girl’s experiences as her family’s world is uprooted, forcing them to flee their home and country to save their lives. Sheila holds a Fine Arts Degree from Concordia University, plus two graduate degrees from McGill University in art education and special education. She now lives in San Francisco Bay Area of California and paints with colorful words. Sheila is a member of CWC Tri-Valley Branch.
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