April 15, 2020, 10:15 AM: The Covid-19 numbers in the US stand at 611,559 cases and 30,602 deaths, while worldwide there are almost 2 million reported cases with 131,920 deaths.
This piece has nothing to do with our current pandemic, except as being my personal reminder of why I am so grateful today. During the dark days following World War II, when Hungary was still securely locked behind the Iron Curtain, my mother was coming home from work, when she saw a long line of people outside a food store. With everything being scarce or unavailable, anytime people saw such a crowd, the best policy was to get in line without knowing what was inside, for whatever was being sold was something that was needed or wanted by you, or someone you knew. After about an hour in line, my mother came home smiling, clutching a small bag with a single orange inside. At the age of seven, this was a fruit I had neither seen nor heard of, but she assured me that I would love it. I remember watching her peel the thick skin with her hand, then divide the fruit into four sections, one for me, one for my father, one for my grandmother, and one for herself. She showed me how to further split my part into individual segments, so as to prolong the enjoyment of what was to us an exotic treat. After the first taste, I couldn’t believe the wondrous flavors flooding my mouth! That moment was, and remains one of the gustatory highlights of my life.
Three years later, following our escape during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 across the border into Austria, my father and I were walking in the streets of Vienna, when he saw a fruit stand with mounds of oranges piled into tall pyramids. I remember being amazed that anyone could buy these in the West without fanfare or lines. He bought several for me, and the taste brought me back to that day three years ago with my mother. She was not able to escape with us, still confined by political circumstances with my grandmother in Budapest. I missed them terribly, but somehow, the taste of that orange made me feel that one day we would be together again. It took another year, by which time we received refugee status in the United States, but we were all eventually reunited. That day still remains one of the pinnacles of my life!
Fast forward four decades, and I am now in Los Angeles with my wife, living in a home with orange and lemon trees growing on the hillside of our backyard. We are hosting three young men from Latvia, who are here as representatives of their new government following the dissolution of the Soviet bloc countries. We are sitting in the den, when we hear shouting from one of the men down the hillside, yelling to his two friends that they must come and immediately join him. They ask, “What’s the matter?” He replies, “No, you must come and look at this yourself!” We all go outside and down the hillside, where he is standing, pointing at the ground below the trees. “Look!” he shouts, “This is America! They have oranges just lying on the ground!” And it’s true. How could I have forgotten? Even today, when we went to pick oranges to make fresh juice in the morning, I will always remember those moments, and remember to be grateful for how much we have been given!
Be well, and stay safe our friends.