Home to Hungary
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Posted by: Klara Hartfiel
I inhaled deeply and suddenly felt rooted, truly rooted, to the earth. I was home, fully in my body, fully conscious, and feeling freer than ever. I was standing in the rutted roads of my mom’s hometown of Mucsi, Hungary, and I had never felt so connected to a place than in that moment.
I grew up hearing of this place, a far-off land where my ancestors lived, breathed, worked, married, birthed, worked some more, and died. My mom, grandmother, and aunts all planned to come back to Mucsi (pronounced “Moo-chee”) but we ran out of time to do it together. Life got busy and it wasn’t a priority. Everyone got older and my mom died in 2011, never to see where she was born and had to subsequently leave because of ethnic cleansing in 1946. We all talked about Mucsi, a small but magical village settled by our people called the Donauschwaben: Germans who were invited in 1720 to settle areas of Eastern Europe that had been decimated by the Turkish invasions of the early 1700s. I found the whole thing fascinating and always felt drawn to complete the circle and return to this village to represent the family once again.
The thing about cancer is that, for me, much of the non-essential stuff of life was burned away in the fire of surgeries, chemo and radiation. After my breast cancer treatment and my dad’s unfortunate death in 2013, I felt tempered but acutely sharpened, newly motivated to travel to Mucsi come hell or high water. Travel planning started in early 2015, and I decided early on that I was going to do this solo. To further flush out my family’s story, I hired professional genealogists to help complete the family tree. It ended up being a treasure trove of discovery: I was, in fact, related to the first re-settlers of Mucsi from around 1730. Surprisingly, nearly 95% of my ancestors were born and died in this village and the rest were from villages 5 miles away.
The day arrived when I found myself driving on the road leading to Mucsi, hallowed ground to my family. Here I was, about to step foot on soil that hasn’t felt my family’s footfall for nearly 60 years. Before their expulsion, ancestors had walked through these hills, tended their fields and animals, grew grapes and made wine for over 200 years. They kept their German customs but integrated the Hungarian language, dress, and cuisine (including lots of paprika) into their daily life. They considered themselves Hungarian citizens, much like how we all consider ourselves Americans but keep our ethnicities and family customs close. I watch shows like “Finding Your Roots” on PBS or “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC and really understand the need to know about those that have come before in order to more fully understand yourself.
Upon seeing the village for the first time, I started to cry...well, more like bawl my head off. I had made it! I drove up the road and found my way to my pen pal’s house where I was going to stay. Nervous but trusting that my family was around me, I met my pen pal Wolfgang and his wife Henny for the first time and truly enjoyed staying with them for several days. Wolfgang graciously showed me around, including the cemeteries, churches, and old decrepit houses where all that living had happened. (Wolfgang and I had connected 10 years ago on the Ancestry.com Member Boards and in and of itself is a great story but I digress.) I had a fantastic time.
The travel bug bit again, so I returned again this year in August for a celebration of the village. Descendents were invited back to visit, and a museum, church services and village tour were all part of the celebration. For the first time, I was able to attend a Mass at the Catholic church, St. Stephen’s, at the center of the village. This was where my relatives had worshipped from 1783 on. Another Mass was held at the small but significant chapel in the countryside called Maria Papd. My connection to the Papd chapel ran very deeply. Years ago my grandfather (“Opa” to me) first told me stories about how important the chapel was to the village. He had had the opportunity to rebuild the chapel when it fell into disrepair around 1930. He was studying and working to become an architect and master builder (“Maurermeister”) which included bricklaying. My grandmother (“Oma”) later told me more about the chapel and how much she missed walking through the woods and over the hills to get to this spiritual home. It was a part of several villages’ Catholic celebrations since it was first built in the 1880’s. It was dedicated to Mother Mary, for whom I have a special affinity.
While attending the Mass at this little chapel which was standing-room only, I was overcome with fully being in this place: it struck my heart how significant it was to hear the melodic singing of these people, to feel the wooden pew under me, to listen to the priest give blessings in German and Hungarian. Celebrations like these are rare now and I was able to attend. How lucky was I?! Suddenly, at the end of the Mass, the priest looks over at me and calls me to the front. There he introduces me to everyone and conveys that I had traveled from Wisconsin to be with them. He also mentions my grandfather and the fact that he was the one who rebuilt the chapel all those years ago. I feel goosebumps as I hear a collective gasp from everyone, and people start to cry and clap. I can’t quite capture in words how I felt in that moment but suffice it to say, that moment will sustain me for a very long time.
The simple act of breathing while standing on the road in my ancestral home has never felt more complete, more life-giving. If ever you have a chance to visit the place of your ancestors, I hope you do it. I feel more in myself, more solid and complete, more grounded. Cancer can take away many things but I will never lose that sense of home again.