Zsolt will be flying home to Hungary early next week for the funeral of his Grandmother, Gyöngyi Angyal, meaning something like Pearl Angel, a.k.a. Gyöngyi Néni (Old Lady Pearl), who passed away yesterday evening. I’m telling you this because she was an opinionated, cheeky and hugely emotional woman who deserves at least one small story written about her. Really, I think she and her daughter (Zsolt’s aunt) combined could fill an entire novel with their antics (goodness knows I’ve been tempted), but I guess for this moment a blog post will have to do.
When he was a little boy, Gyöngyi babysat Zsolt and his sister. Looking back on this, as he and I lay in bed yesterday – twenty some years later – with our late-night wonderings, Zsolt remembers three things in particular about his grandmother. First, were the doughnuts; she’d bake puffed-up, golden doughnuts with jam-filled centres. Apparently they were like heaven on earth. Second was the dinner table; no one was allowed to leave until they’d finished their meal, as served by Gyöngyi. But as soon as his grandmother turned her back, the pot suddenly became a little more full with discarded soup or cabbage, or whatever they were eating that day and didn’t want to finish. (Presto! An empty plate.) Thirdly, probably shortly after the ‘magical empty plate’ trick, he remembers being chased with a wooden spoon – though she was never able to catch him. As they ran around the furniture and tables (something Zsolt still does), Gyöngyi would wave her spoon and say, “No, megállj csak!” meaning, “Wait till I get you!”
The first time I went to Hungary, after Zsolt and I had know one another for about two months, I met his grandmother (and his aunt, a whole other story, but one that always goes alongside Zsolt’s grandmother – they were a mother/daughter power team). From the first meeting onward, she’d ask when we were getting married. Then, later, she’d cry because her grandson was going away (to England) . . . and made me promise to take care of him. And as Zsolt graduated from university with a doctorate degree, there was even more crying – but this time with tears of happiness. “A doctor in our family!” she kept declaring. Tears upon tears upon tears. “A doctor!”
She was a woman who didn’t just give one kiss on the cheek. She’d get you in close and kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss you on the cheek, because she loved you, and she wanted you to be happy, and because she couldn’t stand the idea of saying goodbye.
She messed up her hair when her daughter tried to fix it. She’d burp at the table. She’d speak her mind. She’d give generously to her family. She was a property manager of various apartments (her tenants called her granny – and they were of the rougher crowd, yet somehow she charmed them all). She tended her garden meticulously. She made delicious wine with the grapes from her yard. And she loved her family, very, very much.
Ever since meeting the Sámsons, they’ve taken me in and held no grudge or prejudice toward me as an outsider (i.e. someone who couldn’t even speak their language!). In a country where people are weary of strangers, I was instantly considered family, and Zsolt’s grandmother was in every way a part of that acceptance.
I guess the very best thing I can say about Gyöngyi, is that she was funny. Really, really funny. To her, there were no formalities, only pure emotion – nothing ever hidden. There would be tears, but alongside that there would be laughter. Lots of laughter, and even at the age of eighty-nine years old, she could giggle with the best of them. I hope she’s laughing now, free from the pains of old age, and looking down like an angel from heaven. That would be a fitting end (or beginning) for Zsolt’s grandmother, Pearl Angel Sámson, who loved and laughed with all her heart.