Öreg (Old man)

Uncle Joe, in his younger days.

My grandfather retired, I think, the year I was born. I was in my thirties when he died. This is me in his arms.

Öreg! I recall hearing my Uncle Joe say that to my grandfather, his father. I remember the disdain in his voice, something that would be barely obvious to anyone but me or to a close family member. I remember disliking it, and in retrospect I am sorry that I never said anything. To be honest, nobody every questioned my Uncle Joe, he was truly the crown prince, the only boy in a family of four, all the rest female. My oldest aunt fought to stay in school and was forced to quit high school. My mother fought and won, her younger sister also completed high school. Frankly, I am surprised that Uncle Joe didn’t go to college. In any case, my in-laws were floored when I told them that he had not attended college, he gave off great appearances.

My Uncle Joe had little respect for my grandfather, as far as I could tell. My grandfather had a stormy younger life. He came to this country, seemed to have gotten kicked out of South Bend, Indiana, for having, as we think, gotten a girl pregnant. That apparent pregnancy caused my grandfather to have been involved in a fracas with her brothers which may have ended up with one of the brothers being seriously hurt and my grandfather fleeing the city forever. He ended up in Cleveland, Ohio, a haven for newly arrived Hungarians and married my grandmother with the goal of taking her back to Hungary. WWI intervened and they never went home. He worked for the railroads and was fired for his union work. He was a strong, wiry, blond haired and blue eyed Hungarian with a temper as fiery as hot paprika. One time he beat up my mom for refusing to go to the store for him before going back to school after lunch. Another time he and my grandmother were involved in a shouting match that ended up in such anger he pulled out a gun on her. She promptly threw it in the attic and the legend has it that it was never found.

Nonetheless, by the time my grandfather was called Öreg, or old man in Hungarian, my grandfather was really a pretty decent human being. He was more of a father to me than my uncle was. My uncle even changed his name from Bori to Borie, just to show that he was of a better class than my grandather. It amused me to no end because how can an ‘e’ on the end of your family name make you classier? It irked me to hear my grandfather called Öreg. Öreg was one of the few Hungarian words I ever heard my uncle even say, he pretty much refused to speak Hungarian.

The whole story came to mind as my son called me ‘Old Guy,’ something I actually am. He, however, did not say it with disdain. Nonetheless, it brought up the story of my Uncle Joe and his dad, Öreg. Uncle Joe’s life, in my estimate anyway, was less than great. He happily retired to Florida with my aunt, but lost touch with his adopted daughter and once he moved down there, I never saw him again. I did get down to Florida to visit my aunt twice, though.

About Richard Koerner

Sixty something, father, papi, educator, organizer, Francophile, traveler, amateur photographer, gardener, cyclist, kayaker, calligrapher, cinephile, reader, and overall renaissance type human being.
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