The gentle man

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Grandfather had been in the First World War. A large portrait of him hung on the wall of my grandparents' bedroom. He looked very smart in his uniform; he stood on a bear rug that had its mouth wide open. There were many stories of my Grandfather. I have my own.

He was a shoemaker by trade. He owned a house in a small Hungarian village with a fenced yard for chickens, ducks, geese, a mean rooster and black pigs. On the other side of the fence, in front of the main part of the house, was a large vegetable and flower garden with purple violets. My Mother and I lived with my grandparents in this house. He also owned land outside the village where the fields were. A few of his relatives lived close beside these fields.

Sometimes he would take me with him in a horse drawn cart, to inspect or gather his crop. When he went to see the corn fields, he would let me run between the rows of tall stalks which seemed to be like a forest. If he was checking the round watermelons, he would always carve out a perfect square from the middle of the dark, green rind and pull out the red flesh with his jackknife. That would be my test-piece and he would want me to describe its level of sweetness. In the early fall, we would be tasting the grapes which would eventually become wine.

After the harvest, he always hosted a corn husking party, to which many people from the village would be invited. There was always singing and story-telling and no one had to go to bed early. Once the snow had fallen and it was cold, he would again invite neighbours for the slaughter of the black sow. I was never allowed to be there until it was time to cook up some of the newly made sausages. Everyone would devour these with kasha, outdoors in front of the open fire.

The neighbours too would hold parties or even have a play on a make-shift stage. Once, a laughing clown from the play picked me up and swung me in the air. I didn't know until much later that it had been my Grandfather. No one had to tell me that he was a wonderful gentle man. We had a unique connection, he and I, especially on the day he died. (to be continued...)

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