Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Keepers of the absent": the homes of our ancestors

Several photographs in my collection that I treasure show my great-aunt Helen (born Ilona Tóth) standing in front of our family's ancestral home in Hungary.

Born in Hungary, but raised in America after emigrating with her family in 1907, Aunt Helen went as an adult in 1975 back to the village of Korlát, Hungary (now in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County) where her mother's family, the Némeths, originated. The notes on the photos and information from another family member indicate that this land was in the Németh family for four generations (two-hundred years). I hope to visit someday soon and take my own photo in front of our family's ancestral home, if it is still standing.

Andriana Škunca, a contemporary Croatian poet, has written a moving poem about a deserted house left to its lonely self. Reading her poem entitled Keeper of the Absent, reminded me of Ivan Curkovic's description of his recent visit to his father's childhood home in the "old country". In Forgotten Photos & Memories Ivan described his first-hand impression of this once-busy household, aging floor boards now creaking and filled with cobwebs.

Here in honor of Poem in Your Pocket Day and with the hope that I may someday soon be able to visit the houses that hold the memories of my ancestors' days, is Andriana Škunca's poem (in both English and Hrvatski):
Keeper of the Absent
by Andriana Škunca
Translated by Mario Suško

The deserted house comes alive again, it opens and gives away everything it kept in solitude. The odour of mildew, the squeaking of a dilapidated floor. The cracks are familiar with everything that got sneaked in. Only from time to time the wall interior, ever crumblier, becomes visible.

The house, a keeper of the absent and their perpetual yearning. Although chipped at the edges, it collects the thought that has built it. The stars concur from air. Silent, they preserve its shape.

Čuvarica odsutnih
by Andriana Škunca

Napuštena kuća iznova oživljuje, otvara se i daruje sve što je čuvala u samoći. Zadah plijesni, škripa dotrajala poda. Napukline pokazuju prisnost sa svime što je uvučeno u njih. Samo se ponekad vidi sve istrošenija unutrašnjost zidova.

Kuća, čuvarica odsutnih i njihova neprestana čežnja. Premda načeta po bridovima, skuplja misao što ju je gradila. Zvijezde se suglašavaju izdaleka. Šutljive, čuvaju njezin oblik.
For more information about Andriana Škunca and her poetry see Croatia - Poetry International Web.
Source: Škunca, Andriana. Predivo sve užIh dana. Zagreb: Društvo hrvatskih knjižEvnika, 2002.


  1. Amazing photographs - and the perfect poem to illuminate them.

  2. Lisa,

    Nice post, and a great poem! I especially love this line:

    The house, a keeper of the absent and their perpetual yearning

    What a beautiful idea. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I hope that someday you will be able to visit Hungary and visit the village.

    Although I have no connections to Hungary, I found it to be a beautiful country when I saw some of it while on a cruise on the Danube in 1994.


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