50 years ago we floated between two worlds and two lives – one, familiar and comfortable despite its challenges; the other, unknown, full of possibility and conjecture.
We crested big waves and wallowed in their troughs, tossed around by a mid-Atlantic gale, in a small Italian registered passenger liner. It was not luxurious, be any standards, but rather functional, meant merely to transport many bodies across the Ocean. Our passage represented an epic adventure for a family originating in a land-locked country.
On New Year’s eve, my sister and I milled around with all the children on board. We did chase games around the decks, reeling, sprayed by spindrift, out of the sight of anxious parents. We had been warned not to venture onto the decks for fear of going overboard, but such cautions we ignored and took our chances in the elements. The occasional adult would emerge, staggering to the stanchions to throw up, but most of us children seemed to be immune to sea-sickness. After a while of getting soaked through woolen coats and watch caps, a bunch of us repaired into one of the lounges to play canasta, chess and ping-pong. Chess was challenging to play – the men kept getting slid around by the rise, fall and side to side tossing of the ship. If one was particularly canny (and dishonest) this uncontrollable shifting of the men could be used to advantage. At the ping-pong table was the most fun; trying to retain footing on a buffeted ship was a challenge. It was almost as if the players were drunk. The ball was hard to control.
Close to mid-night, parents came to collect their children and go with them to the main lounge for welcoming the New Year. A huge and motley group gathered to sing the national anthem, “Isten elti a magyart”. Many adults wept tears of loss for the old homeland. The tears were also shed for new feelings of homelessness, of not belonging, of losing contact with intimates and familiar customs.
The stewards passed around little glasses of Grappa ( a similar drink to the traditional Hungarian Palinka) to all the adults, and glasses of orange drink for the children. We toasted each other, our uncertain future at destination’s end and clung together in emotional embraces. There were many moist eyes amidst uncertain smiles.
Tonight, friends and family are coming to a small dinner in our house. We will disperse well before mid-night because most of us can no longer do late nights, either for reasons of age, or because there are young children to put to bed at a reasonable hour. Life is mostly stable for many of us, although uncertainties are surely looming in the future. So we have to give thanks for all the blessings that have accrued, and we have to face the future with hope that whatever life throws at us we can meet with renewed vigour and sense of adventure.