Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Is the boy dead yet?

with 5 comments

In the last post you read a note from Sylvia to Alex. So now let’s meet Alex. Born in Fiume in 1912, he was the youngest of 4 – Anna, Serena, and Eugene – and born very weak. The family story is that when he was born his upstairs neighbor asked, quite bluntly, “Is the boy dead yet?” In his last years Alex often retold that story triumphantly, since he, in fact, lived to be 91.

At age 7 Alex ran away with his older brother, Eugenio (or Eugene), age 13. They happened to do this smack in the middle of the Hungarian Revolution of 1919. They were mistaken for Communist spies and imprisoned with Communists prisoners. My grandpa recalled singing “L’internationale” with them – an experience that would  – if we want to mythologize a little – influence the rest of both their lives.  Their father, David (my father’s namesake), had to travel to Hungary and bring them back to Fiume (aka Rijeka), which is currently in Croatia. Of course, at this time Fiume was going through some changes of it’s own. It is a port city on the Adriatic Sea, a very desirable location, and it fluctuated between Austro-Hungarian, Croat and Italian control. My grandfather grew up in a town with two identities. Before he learned to speak English in America he already spoke Hungarian and Italian.

Skipping ahead a bit, Alex went to Chicago in 1929, just in time for the Great Depression. As he said the last time I saw him (in his lively but slightly confused old age), “Huge crowds were waiting for me when I got off the plane [he arrived on a boat] and they all sang ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.'” You may want to know, before going any further, that my family has at least two vices: Exaggerating and (you’ll find out) crude humor.

Alex was drafted into the Navy during World War II – an experience we heard very little about until he confided at the end of his life some of the fear he had felt during battle.

Alex spoke with a beautiful and thick accent. Often inserting “what do you call it” in the middle of sentences even when he did know what “it” was called. He was lovely and caring and jokingly misogynistic, often calling females in his family “woman” and asking me from the age of 11 when I was going to get married. He called me chipichoopie or puchicoocoo most of the time (the origins and spelling of which I do not know), and rarely by my name.  He made the best tomato sauce. I miss him dearly.

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Written by Molly

April 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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5 Responses

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  1. Always hungry and interested in eating, Uncle Eugene and my father did head for great grandma’s home in the country where they could eat chicken paprikash, hot fish soup and goulash, which were not available at home in the city. En route, in prison, they met those communist men who spoke Czech, but no Hungarian. The boys communicated with them by singing that universal song. The men who shared their bread with the two Hungarian boys, were executed before my father’s 7 year old eyes. I think this experience is one of the fundamental reasons my father always worked for peace, except when he fought the Nazis in WWII, a war he felt was justified.

    I think always being hungry as a youth is also what turned my father into a great cook, as Molly noted above. And although he may have jokingly called some of the females in the house “woman,” trying to sound like a Hungarian Magyar mustashioed patriarch, he was probably the one who had cooked the meal.

    Adrienne

    April 19, 2010 at 7:01 am

  2. how wonderful. It gives a great sense of this era and the real lives of people in Brooklyn. Thanks,
    Jerry

    Jerry

    April 19, 2010 at 9:44 am

  3. Oh my God, Molly! This is so moving… I have known Alex and I am so happy to know him better through your lovely blog. I love it and sure I will be one of your readers!
    Lots of love, Micaela

    Micaela

    April 23, 2010 at 10:38 am

  4. Dear Molly you are definitely a special girl!!
    It’s wonderful that you are doing this blog! It’s so touching and fun and it leaves a deep mark on me!
    Reading this I feel even more attached to you and your family. That’s great.
    Love to all of you (especially to aunt Cookie!!)
    Paola [and Silvia,who helped me with the language :)]

    Paola Marazzi

    April 24, 2010 at 6:16 am

  5. Hey girlie!
    This is great and really amazing that you’re able to use your family’s history for such a project. Keep up the good work :)

    Stephanie

    May 4, 2010 at 8:56 am


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