My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, is dead this morning I am told.
His name was József Sztojka, although I remember him from my childhood as Jóska bácsi, or uncle Jóska. I have many, many, many fond memories of him. He has been suffering from illness for a long time, so his death is not altogether a surprise, but I am saddened nevertheless.
Some random memories.
- I have a copy of volume 3 of a Hungarian language physics book, Mechanics by Tibor Cholnoky, which was the first book I ever owned that explained in detail how the laws of orbital mechanics can be derived from Newton’s law of gravitation. This book was a gift from Jóska bácsi. I saw it on his bookshelf when I was around 10 or so, and sat down reading it, forgetting about the world. That’s how he found me and that’s when he gave the book to me. Thank you for helping to steer my life in this direction.
- I loved playing with my cousins, his two children (later three), at Jóska bácsi‘s place. It was the selfishness of childhood (I was no more than 6 or 7 at the time), as it wasn’t family ties but my cousin’s toys that I found the most interesting. But what is most memorable is how Jóska bácsi played with us. He helped us build toy castles and helped us destroy them with toy weapons. He helped us build elaborate tracks for Matchbox cars (oh, how I envied my cousin’s amazing Matchbox car collection!) and helped us race them. Though I never understood why he seemed so offended by my childish attempt at poetry. When one of the Matchbox cars kept oscillating left and right as it went down the track, I attempted to describe this in rhyme with words that may be best translated into English as “wiggled its fanny”. He angrily told me not to say such things again.
- A relative of my father visited us once from Romania. His family name was Fogas, a word that means, among other things, (coat)hanger in Hungarian. Together with this relative, we went to the flat of Jóska bácsi one day, a flat that was under major renovation at the time. So we rang the doorbell, Jóska bácsi opened the door, and as he never met our distant relative, introductions began. “Fogas,” said our relative, thrusting his right hand out for a handshake, while holding his coat in his left. “We don’t have those yet,” apologized Jóska bácsi…
- I first heard the record At the Speed of Sound by Paul McCartney and the Wings at Jóska bácsi. I also first heard Jeff Wayne’s musical experiment, The War of the Worlds, at his place. I still enjoy listening to both records from time to time, and when I do, I often remember Jóska bácsi.
- Shortly before I left Hungary, I visited Jóska (by this time, I often omitted the bácsi part) at his cottage north of Budapest. He was already in the habit of spending much of his time alone, like a hermit, in this cottage. I spent a whole evening with him before heading back to town, and we had a long, long conversation about life, universe, and everything. He was a sad man by this time, and I listened to him with the infinite wisdom of youth, certain that I had all the answers, certain that if he only heeded my advice, all would be well.
Well, Jóska bácsi is no more. Only the memories remain.