Andy Betz: Nudge Apa: Essay: August 2020

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in Missouri and now live (very, very) close to Atlanta. With the exception of college, I have spent my entire life in the South.

Nudge Apa

The Hungarian word for grandfather is nagyapa.  My great-grandfather died a mere two days prior to my birth in 1964.  He knew I was going to be a first-born son and welcomed my arrival. My father, being so enamored by his grandfather Andrew, named me Andrew, after him.  I missed meeting him by two days and yet, I have met him every day since.

Andrew was 96 at the time of my birth.  He worked as a farmer, a steel mill worker, and a railroad man.  He was 46 when he enlisted, as a corporal, in service to the Emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  On the day he left for WWI, he had my great-grandmother take a black and white (now sepia faded) photo of him standing on the Margaret Bridge (Margit híd) between the mid-river (Danube) island and Buda.  Wearing his uniform (complete with a mustache afforded to his rank) and accompanied by his rifle, he was waving for my great-grandmother.  Not the wave of goodbye, but the wave of until I see you again.  It is the only photograph of him I have ever seen.  It may be the last remaining photograph of Andrew that he permitted; definitely the only one that still exists today.

I wondered about his life before, during, and after the war.  I wondered about his adventures.  I wondered about this photo.  Most of all, I wondered why everyone called him Nudge Apa.  

I didn’t have to wonder for long.

My grandmother tells the story, I could not pronounce nagyapa as a young child.  The family thought this as funny and kept his memory alive through my incapacity to speak Hungarian correctly.  What I said came out as Nudge Apa, not nagyapa.  Since I never met Andrew, he could not correct me.  

He could, however, reward me.

I never forgot my namesake and I hoped he never forgot me.  On my 13th birthday, at the age of manhood, my grandmother made sure I received Andrew’s army backpack.  In it was one single item; that picture of him, on the Margit híd, waving to me (actually great-grandmother, but I always hoped it was really me).  On this day, I had a connection for life with Nudge Apa.

I have held that delicate photo in my hands and scrutinized every line and detail.  He is too far away from the camera to discern a family resemblance, but in my hands, he is too close to ignore his importance. 

By formally accepting the gift and the namesake, the two of us merged as one.  Now I was born in 1868 and he continues to live today.  Andrew defies mortality as long as I treasure the one physical gift of his I keep.  This backpack and included photo are the single most valuable items I acquired.  I have taken all precautions to prevent their ruin.  They are irreplacable.

I still have both in my possession and I always will.

Thank you Andrew.

Thank you Nudge Apa.