There are many little Hungarian villages tucked away in the Hargita Mountains in the Székely region of Transylvania. My mother’s family is from there. Relatives still live there, including some that Mother never talked about. Perhaps she didn’t know them either. My great-grandmother Borbála Both was born in 1883 in the village of Csíkkarcfalva ( Cârța in Romanian). A century later my parents travelled there for the first time. This summer my husband and I visited the village with my cousin and her husband as tour guides.
The 15th century fortified church occupies the top of the hill in the center of town. For centuries the town market took place in the main street below.
In my parent’s photo from 1983 a soviet style flat-bed truck raises dust clouds as it rumbles through town. Now the roads are paved. My cousin told me about a local politician who was able to direct infrastructure improvement funds to the village for that purpose.
Woodcarving is still an honored craft in the area. The welcome sign, with a raised relief of the church is carved in the style of the Székely gates (kapu) of the region. A Székely kapu arches over the path up to the church.
Another cousin came to meet us in the church yard to point out the grave of Borbála’s younger brother Ferenc. When Ferenc’s wife died, his youngest daughter was just a teenager. He sent her to Székelykerestúr to live with Borbála.
A friend gave the teenager this watercolor of the church as memento of her hometown. She’s a great-grandmother now and still treasures the picture.
We went back to the house to meet the cousin’s mother, a sweet little lady chattering at us in Hungarian. The tidy little home, typical of the area, looked much like the house where Borbála grew up. There was a day bed in the kitchen across from the wood stove, a cozy place for a nap during the cold mountain winters.
Over coffee, the little lady exclaimed that she never expected to have Americans in her kitchen. It was a pleasant surprise for us too. I guess my mother didn’t know her, but I’m sure she would have enjoyed meeting her as well.