The Story of Kecskemét
This week I want to share with you my stop in Kecskemét, the eighth largest city in Hungary, situated almost dead-center in the country and surrounded by a great plain. My father’s military base was located here in the early 1950s, before he was posted elsewhere. Here in Kecskemét, he trained, and passed his exams. I believe that in this photo he is a first lieutenant, he eventually reached the rank of colonel. Somewhere in a drawer I have a sepia photograph of him in the fields during a drill. Unfortunately, I’ve misplaced it, but I recall living here as a child. Though I’ve misplaced some of those memories, too, I remember being uprooted and moved to Budaörs, to a newer house.
On my recent visit to Hungary, my cousin was kind enough to take a day from his work at the airport and drive me to Kecskemét—he was always a generous chauffeur, and I appreciated his big-heartedness. I wanted to pay for the gas, as gas in Hungary is exorbitant, but as usual he declined. I insisted on treating him in the restaurants, and to that he had no choice but to agree.
After two hours, we arrived at Kecskemét, a name stemming from the root word for goat. The city used to be a market town, between the Danube and Tisza rivers. I found the city square surrounded by colorful buildings. It had snowed the night before, making these Renaissance and neo-Baroque structures even more alluring. It was a captivating sight, quaint, steeped in history.
The tires of our car squeaked on the compact snow at the entrance to the military base. I was immediately disappointed. Rust covered the gray, dingy paint of the iron gates, which spanned an archway high above me. The gates were locked and there was no one around. The place seemed deserted, hardly what I would call a military base.
My cousin turned off the car, and I rolled down the window, breathing the cold air as if it would transport me back in time. I shut my eyes, thinking, So this is it. This is where Father spent his years, studied, passed on his knowledge to others, clicked his heels to the anthem of a small nation. If only he were alive, he would tell me his story. I am old enough now to understand, to know his secrets, old enough to write about the life that broke his spirit. His country—and mine. Who was this man, really? Who was the father who lived and worked here? My intuition told me he had sent me here, but why? I can only surmise, and hope to write his story—and mine—accurately.