Memories of love

My father in the early 1940’s – he would have been 99 on Feb 4, 2022

My father was a good-looking, debonair man. He flirted with ease and knew how to flatter women. He liked telling stories of his youth’s exploits. For him, women represented a source of fascination, conquest, and pleasure. The exception was Agnes, his first wife.

Throughout my childhood, a slightly tattered, black and white photograph of Agnes leant on a mirror in my father’s heavily draped room. She was a slender woman with shoulder length wavy hair who was destined to have her smile set for posterity. The photo was taken in Budapest, sometime in the late 1940’s.

I would look at this picture for hours and wished she had been my mother. Instead, Agnes died of TB. Penicillin could have saved her, if only the drug had been available in post-war Hungary. In the picture she is in her early twenties, full of life and pregnant with her first child.

Agnes was the only woman who had rejected my father’s advances. I don’t think she was playing hard to get, she just wasn’t interested in his games. They fell in love, married, and started their life together in a city that lay in ruins. In their short life together, she doted on him. Whatever wish passed his lips, she would try to fulfil. My father recounted a story of craving doughnuts in the middle of the night. Agnes got out of bed to make yeast dough so he could have his favourite jam-filled, fried doughnuts for breakfast. I wished I could have had a mother like her. And he did too.

She fell pregnant and they were looking forward to starting a family. Agnes loved the feel of the child growing within her but developed a persistent, blood speckled cough. Doctors confirmed the worst but only to my father. He set about trying to get penicillin from the West. Relatives who had emigrated were begged to help. None did. The cough persisted and she grew weaker. It became clear that she would not see out the pregnancy. The doctors enlisted my father to persuade Agnes to abort the child they both longed for. I don’t think my father ever forgave himself for that treachery. Agnes couldn’t understand why he was so adamant but yielded to his wish. This may have extended her life by a few short weeks.

My father described his anguish when she died. He walked out of the hospital and straight into oncoming traffic. He didn’t notice the screeching cars or people yelling at him. It is hard to know how he went on with his life. He had lost his son and his wife within a few short weeks of each other. No-one would ever be able to fill that emptiness. Only drinking somewhat numbed his pain.

My father died a long time ago and Agnes is suspended in an eternal autumn day. She is a hand-me-down memory, a two-dimensional figure etched on brittle, glossy paper. Yet I think of her more than I do of my father. Or maybe I think of my father as I struggle to be the woman he wanted me to become. Agnes is the looking glass, the flawless woman, the perfect mother, the ideal lover, the unattainable Madonna. The mother I never had. The mother I still strive to be.

8 thoughts on “Memories of love”

  1. This is so moving – how devastating. Your writing is so evocative. Thank you – I really admire how you have captured Agnes as a woman and a myth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this – it is as always very evocative. It also reminds us of the many stories that are all part of our history and the impact that they can have on who we are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I too find your writing so very evocative regarding your subject. I needed to sit with this piece for awhile, to reflect on my reaction. I’m still not sure of my thoughts. I wondered first about the ‘described’ perfect mother you strive to be, followed by thinking of your father’s yearning and then where your mother sat within this picture. I recognised some similar family of origin dynamics. Much that I wrestled with as a younger woman. There is much in this clearly pictured family dynamic that I do not know about. And Viktoria (Lotti really) this is a wonderful piece.

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  3. This is a sad and complex memoir Viki. A tragic and formative experience for your father communicated through that tattered photo. Maybe idealisation was a way to assuage the tragedy for him. And for you to empathise with his ideal is very demanding. There is a sense of strong love between you and your father formed early which overrides others and the absence of your own mother . Much beneath the surface in this piece indeed ! And the photo of your father which speaks quietly at the beginning of your love for him and the sadness of loss. I liked Sue’s comment too.

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  4. A sad and complex story and a formative tragic experience for your father. Experiences certainly thread through generations and make us who we are encapsulated through tattered photos or as, in you photo of your father, treasured iconic images. There absence of your own mother in the memoir expresses another unstated loss. Idealizations are hard to live up to and live life through. I liked Sue’s comment and it is very evocative writing. I hope you can write more about this.

    Liked by 1 person

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