Friday, April 23, 2010

Love Story Update

Artwork by Polly

On a glorious Saturday in late April, 1969, Dee and I hiked up to the Cafe Winkler overlooking all of Salzburg. Dee asked me to marry him. I said yes. We knew we would arrive home in six weeks to $00.00 so the timing was yet to be decided, and I knew that until he actually gave me a ring, he wouldn't consider us engaged. I had considered us engaged since his first "I love you," but thought it wiser not to announce it, even to him.

View from Cafe Winkler, Salzburg

To celebrate we went on a (chaste) group honeymoon to Budapest on April 30. Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain, and we had to have visas and official guides to go. We were told that the border was strictly guarded and we were not permitted under any circumstances to take photos as we crossed.

Guard towers on the road to Budapest, 1969

The guard towers were all around us, and soldiers with machine guns were watching every vehicle carefully. As we passed one of them, Dee took a picture out the window of the bus. I was shocked at his blatant indifference to the rules; (I've since discovered that Dee never thinks rules apply to him.) A few minutes later some soldiers on motorcycles pulled up next to us and waved us over. We stopped and the officers boarded our bus.

Guards working before they stopped our bus.

The driver was Czech and the communication was awkward between our German and English, and these foreign tongues. Of course it didn't take a linguist to figure out what they wanted. They had seen someone on our bus take a picture and they wanted to confiscate all our cameras for retribution.

Dee, realizing it was time to step up, volunteered that he was the criminal and they didn't need to take every one's camera; they could have his. After a little negotiation, the soldiers said he could just give up his film. This was 'back in the day' when it was impossible to tell what was on a roll of film until it was developed. Our friend Bryant slyly passed Dee his own film, allowing Dee to keep the fatal shot of the border towers. He handed over the phony film. To our relief, we were allowed to go on. None of our fellow travelers saw the humor in the event, or even the adventure; everyone was just mad.

Communist May Day parade

May Day in Eastern Europe had special significance because of the giant Communist Parade. I was clueless, and pictured floats and costumes. It turned out to be thousands of factory workers carrying Communist flags, marching past the government officials.

Dee said he wanted to take a picture and left me in the stands. He didn't come back. After the events of the day before, I was worried that he'd been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. The atmosphere at the parade was not comfortable for us Americans, and I could feel the oppression of the people.

Dee's new Commie buddy 1969
(We still have this flag, which Dee liberated from Communist captivity himself.)

Our guides started rounding us up to load into the buses and Dee still hadn't returned. I looked down at the workers in the parade and there he was, marching between 2 men, carrying a huge Hungarian flag. Somehow he made it back to the bus with photos of President Kadar and others who could put him in prison . . . I could hardly wait to get out of this country!

Gypsy singers in Budapest cafe.

That night we went to a quaint restaurant, decorated with brightly colored embroidered linens and hand painted pottery. There were gypsy musicians wearing tall, black hats, puffy shirts and baggy pants tucked into boots. Playing their violins, they wandered from table to table while we ate Chicken Paprikas and Palatshinken. As we were eating, some girls at the next table began talking about candle passings.

Back in the dorms there would frequently be a sign on the door announcing a special ceremony that night. Everyone would gather in anticipation, wondering who. Standing in a circle, with crossed arms, holding hands, we sang love songs while a candle decorated with flowers and ribbons was passed from girl to girl. Sitting on the candle was a diamond engagement ring. There were sighs, and whispers, and a little warbling:

♫ They say there's a tree in the meadow,
a tree that will give you a sign . . .
♫ Come along with me, to the Sweetheart Tree,
♫ Come and carve your name next to mine . . . ♫

After the candle had gone around the circle once, (or twice to add to the suspense,) the lucky girl blew out the candle and put her ring on. Squeals, hugs and tears followed.

That night in Budapest someone started passing a candle. It went around one table and then another before it came to our table. I was sitting next to my true love, the gypsies were playing, everyone was watching, and when it came to me, I blew the candle out. Our engagement was official.

It must have been a trick candle.
After forty-one years, the light has never gone out.

What keeps your candle burning?


Christie said...

Now we know where Josh gets his ridiculous sense of "the rules don't apply to me" from. Opa!

Tiffany said...

Enchanting. Enchanting. Enchanting. I have goosebumps.

cannwin said...

Wow, my friend and I are in amazement that Dee didn't die in Hungary! You have such great stories. I love it.

polly said...

always love that story!

kenju said...

What a great story!! Our engagement was very tame compared to yours!

Kay Dennison said...

How glorious and how I envy you!!!

The Grandmother Here said...

The young do some really dumb things but mostly we live to tell the tale.

Susan Adcox said...

Wonderful story. I would imagine that living with Dee has never been boring!

Hannah said...

Beautiful! I love your stories.