I used to look through my dad's military album, with the photos turning yellow over time. On the cover there was the building of the Hungarian Parliament with its exterior spires piercing the night sky. Dad told a lot of funny stories about his military service (1969-1971), that took place in Hungary, the country of "green pea and Ikarus buses". First, he was sent to Debrecen, in the east, and then to the small village of Tab, nearby the Boloton Lake, in the western part of the country. Since my childhood I remembered about Hubertus liqueur, which he managed to try for the first time in his life, and apples they used to steal from the garden, sitting next to their base. Herewith I cherished my dream many years to go with my dad to those places where he spent two years of his life in soviet tank forces.
Last year my dream came true and we set off for the adventure. I didn't have any plan in my head, I only knew the names of the places.
When in Budapest we took the train to Debrecen where we got acquainted with an extraordinary lady accidentally, who was pleased to serve as our city guide volunteer. She drove us to the security check point of the base where my dad arrived almost fifty years ago. Can you imagine, it remained there unchanged...We also visited a Memorial to the soviet tankmen who died during the WWII and were buried there in Debrecen. We were delighted to do a city tour, while visiting the University, the biggest one in Hungary, and spent a couple of hours at Lubov’s place over cup of tea, listening to her stories.
I do believe miracles happen but I’m not sure they happen twice in a row.
However, we met Chabo, while hiring his service to go to the western part of the country. Great was our surprise when we came to know that he used to be a tankman as my dad, now was just a retired man with his small taxi business in Budapest to make living. This he took our trip personally and shared our feelings of excitement all the way through. We started our trip to find that abandoned soviet military base "between two hills" as my dad called it and we didn't know exactly where it was. On the way Chabo spoke his broken Russian as he had learned while studying at the military academy in Moscow. We stopped in Hajmasker to see the castle-like barracks tank range and maneuver complex. Here my dad was good to accomplish assigned missions as a tank leader. He recognized the road leading into the canteen. He was breathing deeply with his eyes closed as if inhaling the silence and soaking up peace and tranquility.
My dad saw his barrack "between two hills" at a distance shouting: 'here it is. here it is'. Being markedly exited and seemed to turn into the eighteen-year-old lad when jumped out of the car and hurried forward. We just followed him slowly.
Here it was. Here was the same football field and the lake they where they used to fish. He was touching the fence with a strong feeling of incessant trepidation. Having come closer to the building dad showed me the window where his bed was. We didn't get inside for safety reasons.
Those moments were precious and priceless for both of us. He looked hither and thither: into the sky, at the building, at the field, at the lake, trying not to let the tears go. I stared at him, trying to understand what it really meant for a person to come back to a place almost half a century later, make that trip to yourself, recall yourself young, capture those moments in your mind...
Some time later we were dining with dad in one of the restaurants in Budapest. He had a shot of vodka, letting his emotions fly and teared... with joy that he managed to come back. I was happy to make that trip to his youth.
We came back home on Easter Sunday, the delicious lunch was ready and the whole family seated at the table, looking through two albums now: the old and new one, with all our memories about the trip. An exclusive bottle of Hubertus liqueur was ceremoniously sitting on the table, with the drink being poured into the glasses...