From Bálványosvár to Staten Island ... and Beyond!

Olga Vállay Szokolay

                                                                         In Memoriam

          Eva Apor Balintitt (April 16th, 1935 – December 11th, 2020).

                                                    Passed away after a blissfully short illness       

 

Thinking of Eva brings up the image of a lady of sunny disposition and a great sense of humor, with a soundtrack of a melodious voice and laughter.  Since in reality we will no longer enjoy her presence, it is important that we cherish her memory.  Considering that (due to required social distancing) her family will have to forego the memorial celebration of her life, I wish to commemorate her here.

 

                                                                          ***

The Apor Family has been one of the oldest Hungarian / Transylvanian ones.  The ancient family residence, built in the 11th-12th centuries, was Bálványosvár, in the southeast corner of pre-Trianon Hungary.  The word“bálvány” means idol, and the name refers to the Apors’ alleged ancient pagan idolatry even when the majority of Hungary was already Christian.  The hilltop castle has been in ruins for centuries, but its romantic aura attracts many visitors to the present day.

The Apors gave some notabilities to the world.  The first one was the writer Apor Péter (1676-1752), who was given the title Báró (Baron) by King Károly III. His best-known work, written in Latin, was Metamorphosis Transylvaniae, dealing with and bemoaning the changes from the “good old days” until his time…

The 20th century hero of the Family – and of the country – is Blessed Báró Apor Vilmos (1892-1945), the Bishop of Győr who died a martyr, while attempting to save Magyar women – and succeeding!  He was shot by a Soviet soldier.  Pope St. John Paul II beatified him in 1997.

It sometimes crossed my mind that his cousin István’s daughter, the Baroness Apor Eva, would perhaps deserve similar recognition…

She grew up in Budapest.  During the siege of the city, a bomb destroyed their apartment at Margit körút, taking the life of the not yet 10-year-old Eva’s mother.

In those times of want, the little girl’s destitute father placed her in an orphanage.  The country in ruins, food sparse and lives crushed, the institution was rather Dickensian.  She was bewildered for months until a distant aunt rescued her and, with connections, enrolled her in the Sacré Coeur boarding school.  This was great until she had finished the eighth grade.  But by then the country was taken over by the Communists.  Being related to most historic Hungarian families, Eva was considered a “class alien”, a stigma used not only to brand aristocrats but many middle-class citizens as well.  Consequently, the government did not allow her to enroll in high school.

The 14-year-old girl was at a crossroads.  Temporarily she worked as a delivery girl for a flower shop, but when she once received a tip, her stepmother made her return it.  Then she, as so many others many years her senior in those days, privately learned technical drawing.  She was hired as a draftsman, then the office tried her out in the field as a surveyor’s helper.  Her superiors liked her work, and she became trained.  She lived under very rudimentary conditions, mostly in the countryside where the jobs were, and supported herself creditably.

Being pretty, lively and smart, Eva never suffered for lack of attention by men, and she even turned down suitors.  But at 21, she met a man with Transylvanian roots who, by age, could have been her father but was youthful, charming, suave, superbly educated and freshly released from prison…political prison, that is.  A former Huszár officer and diplomat, Báró Bálintitt had been known to most as Charlie, even in Hungary.  They married on September 1st, 1956.  According to some accounts, there could have been several hundred collective years of actual or potential political prison terms among the attending crowd in the church at their wedding.

Nobody could have guessed that in a few short months the young couple, along with a few hundred thousand other Hungarians, would be on their way to a new, unknown life, in search of freedom.  Eva and Charlie sailed off for America.  They started their new life in Tarrytown, New York in 1957, and in a year had a son, Charlie Jr., later a daughter, Edina.  In the early ’60s they moved to Staten Island.  Eva soon found a job with a surveying office while Charlie continued working for Bank of America.

When their children started school, Eva began to feel the void in her education.  She decided to get a high school diploma.  She applied for a GED, finished the requirements, passed the exams with flying colors and received her high school diploma before her kids did.  This earned her quite a few points of deserved respect and admiration.

Over the years, Eva gradually became an indispensable pillar at the office.  Gaining seniority, she not only knew all the intricate ins and outs of the trade, the clients and the shortcuts, but also provided the office with an endless influx of employees from the pool of eager Hungarian workers.

During her 50+ years with this company, she facilitated the employment of a total of 40 Magyars, all of whom did exemplary work.  Once, as was usual, there were several of them working at the office simultaneously, audibly chatting in Hungarian while being busy at the drafting board.  A client, concerned, overheard and asked the boss: “Are they all foreigners?”  Whereat the American boss answered: “Oh no, they’re Hungarians!”

Over the decades, Charlie and Eva were also the sustaining pillars of the New York Hungarian House.  Charlie had been president for many years and Eva was, until “social distancing”, the organizer and cohesive force of the bridge club and other socials.

A devout Catholic, Eva lived her religion every day.  Although not a millionaire, she was one of the most generous persons I have ever known.  She was there to help anyone in need, whether family or stranger, locally or in Transylvania.  She was a true friend who would give you the shirt off her back.

On principle, she would not waste any of her abundant energy on hatred.  With her optimism and great sense of humor she sailed through the rough waters life abundantly offered. 

Eva and Charlie are now together again, dancing to celestial music, smiling, clinking and sipping nectar…

 

Jézus és én   Jesus and I
Apor Éva   Eva Apor
     
Megyünk ketten az országúton,    We walk along the road together,
Egyik Jézus, másik én vagyok.   The two of us, just Jesus and I.
Ő elkísér engem, és velem szenved,   He keeps me company, and suffers with me,
Hogy ne legyek olyan elhagyott...   That I may not so forlornly sigh...
     
Őrajta is durva ruha van,   He’s also clad in such coarse, rough clothes,
Nincs bársonyból, és nem is puha,   Not made of velvet, not soft and fine,
Olyanba akart lenni, mint én,   He wanted to wear my kind of garb,
Pedig az enyém csak koldusruha.   Though only a beggar’s rags are mine.  
     
Sokat szenvedtünk már mi együtt,   We’ve suffered much together until now,
Éjeket és napokat fázva át,   Chilled through and through, for nights and days untold,
De hóban, viharban, szélben, fagyban   But He, the BEST FRIEND, has beside me stood
Mellettem áll Ő, a „LEGJOBB BARÁT”.   Through snow and storm, in wind and freezing cold.
     
Mégis, amikor jött a Sátán,   And yet, when Satan came on the scene,
S fölkínált mindent, amit lehetett,   Offering me everything at a touch,
Jólétet, fényt és gazdagságot,   Comfort, grandeur and prosperity,
Otthagytam Őt, aki úgy szeretett...   I left Him who loved me so very much.
     
Ekkor szomorúan rámnézett Jézus;   Then Jesus looked at me with eyes so sad;
Halkan csak annyit mondott nekem:   And softly said only this to me:
„Gyere bármikor vissza hozzám,   ”Return to me at any time you wish,
Az lesz majd az én örömünnepem!”...   That will then be my day of jubilee!”
     
Budapest, 1951   Budapest, 1951
     
                                                               Translated by EPF

Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching.  She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.