The Final Chapter
So we've come to the final chapter of my 9-part series: Scrapbooking a Heritage Album. As I was nearing the end of the scrapbook, I was thinking about how to finish it in a way that would have the kind of impact that a journey of this magnitude deserves. It was then that I recalled a letter to the editor of the Milford Cabinet that the eldest of the Farkas siblings once wrote about the Christmas we spent sleeping on army cots in Austria, after we risked our lives to cross the dangerous communist-guarded Hungarian border as my father led his family of six to freedom. I acquired the letter and added it to my layout. It describes the brave determination of my parents to give their children a magical Christmas in the direst of situations, and was the perfect touch to my scrapbook, which would be my Christmas present to the family.
After printing the letter onto parchment paper and aging the edges with a little ink, I added an image of the Traiskirchen refugee camp where the event took place. To the opposite side of the double-page layout , I added a montage of photos of many lavish Christmases we enjoyed in America in contrast to the poverty-stricken refugee camp Christmas. (I love the little journaling block: "Gratitude is the memory of the heart.")
I am including the contents of the letter here, for those that are interested. The story of Christmas 1956 as seen through the eyes of the ten-year-old "older" brother is quite moving.
Christmas 1956 ~by Attila Farkas
"Four small figures crunched through the frozen ruts on the empty dirt path running between the barracks of the abandoned U.S. military base on the outskirts of Traiskirchen, Austria. On that cold gray evening of December 24, 1956 the old base was used as a concentration camp for Hungarian refugees of the October 23rd uprising ~brutally crushed by Russian tanks.
The nine year-old boy on the right was tugging at the hand of his five year-old sister, who in turn, was dragging a two year-old with her other hand. Clutching the left hand of the tiny girl, a ten year-old boy shuffled…lost in thought. A year ago Christmas was different. A year ago, the infant was asleep in her warm crib, and the older kids were bursting through the door followed by their loving grand-parents, who conveniently had taken them for a long walk, leaving ample time for the angelic messenger from the Christ Child to deliver the Christmas tree and the gifts under it. The two boys understood that on that bleak day, they were fulfilling the task of the now distant grandparents. ~But why? Certainly they could not expect presents. After all, their parents had no money in this strange land. They fled their home in Budapest with only belongings that could be carried on their backs. The ten year-old knew that this year, in conformance to the last two hellish months, there was going to be no Christmas.
The whimpering of the two year-old jarred his memory to the recent past. A month ago, her cries nearly resulted in tragedy. With a group of strangers, they were crossing the notorious iron curtain under the cover of night. A local resident cautioned them to be absolutely quiet because during the previous day, tanks were seen patrolling the field that they were about to cross. The baby, sleeping in her father’s arms, woke with a start and screamed her displeasure to the bleak country-side. The other members of the desperate group demanded that the family be left behind, so as not to jeopardize the safety of the rest. The parents ordered the older children to continue with the strangers, while they stayed behind with the screaming baby. For a desperate hour, the three children were totally alone…no country, no home, no parents. Finally, perhaps the hundredth glance back revealed familiar shadows, closing from behind.
The boy clutched the tiny hand harder.
They turned under the bare light bulb over the faded door to the barrack and hurried up the unpainted steps. He needed to be reassured that their parents were still there. They scurried by the rows of army cots and pushed through the hanging blanket that separated their home from this room of a dozen families. There, on the table between the crowded cots, stood a Christmas tree.
It wasn’t much of a tree…perhaps a dozen fir boughs wired to a broken broom handle, decorated with beads made from balls rolled from foil, and a candle cut into small segments. They stood transfixed. The adults joined them. Haltingly at first, the ancient folk song rose from the little circle. The carols grew louder with each stanza as the revelation strengthened: There will always be Christmas."
The journaling block on the lower right of the montage page reads:
"Of course there would be many more Christmases for the Farkas family, and many more Christmas trees... But none would compete with the memory of that special little tree of hope from the Christmas of 1956."
The final page of the Heritage Album shows the family many years later, on the 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration of Edith and Peter Farkas...we see the four siblings, now all grown-up, and we meet the grandchildren. The life that began with the chance meeting of a farmboy-turned-engineer and a pretty city-girl from Budapest, a life that endured many painful decisions and multiple hardships, has a happy ending indeed.
From a scrapbooking layout point of you, please note thet the muted colors used in the previous scrapbook pages and the sepia tones of the old photographs now give way to a burst of color, symbolizing the joy that the family now experiences.The sentiment on the upper right-hand side of the page is so appropriate: "Live the life you have imagined."
And so the Farkas family heritage goes on...as the grandchildren grow up and start families of their own. At the writing of this post, sadly Edith Farkas has left us, but Peter celebrated his 89th birthday this past June, as handsome as ever and happy to share a kiss with his three-year-old great-grandson, Rigel.
I hope I've inspired you to capture your own family's history in a scrapbook or a family Heritage Album, and thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.
Sharing the love, Enikö