Train to Debrecen

Train to Debrecen

I am on a rickety train, inching my way to Debrecen from the tiny village of Panyola in eastern Hungary. We are picking up speed now – making headway at perhaps 20 miles per hour. The 60 mile journey will take nearly three hours, with stops at every small town along the way. But I don’t mind; I have all the time in the world. Slow travel allows me to soak in the landscape.

My clickety-clack rural train to Debrecen, Hungary

My clickety-clack rural train to Debrecen, Hungary

I spy on backyards with enormous vegetable gardens and farm fields planted with chest-high corn and golden wheat, rippling in the breeze like a giant inland sea. The train spooks a pheasant, elegant in his turquoise cravat, who flees into a field of golden sunflowers. Hungary is the world’s leading producer of sunflower seeds and oil, and Szatmar county, where I have been been lounging for the past ten days, is its epicenter. In this achingly flat landscape, where rivers undulate toward the Ukrainian border, I have recovered my sanity and some of my physical strength.

The past 18 months were difficult for me. It was a blessing that my nomadic lifestyle allowed me to return to the United States to care for my father when he was terminally ill. Never a demonstrative man, Dad called me his angel in those final months and told me how much he loved me. The memory still brings tears to my eyes. I will be forever grateful for that time with him.

Despite the love between us, Dad and I rarely saw eye-to-eye on much of anything. Whenever he was forced to deal with people who spoke with accents, which he found impossible to understand, he complained bitterly, “Why can’t I just speak to an American.” He cared nothing about the environment, and called me a tree-hugging goody two-shoes. “Why do you care?” he would sneer when I railed about the plight of those sold into slavery or prostitution. It was hard to shield from his negativity, especially toward the end, when I couldn’t even leave him alone for an hour.

There were times when I thought I simply couldn’t go on, when I thought I would not be able to keep my promise that he would die at home rather than in a nursing home or hospital. But each time I thought about making other arrangements, something happened to keep me going. Sometimes it was the dreaded “thunk” – the sound of a human body hitting the floor – that sent me rushing to his side to staunch the flow of blood from his forearm, cheek, or skull. Though he could barely walk, pride kept him from using a walker. I had been advised not to try to pick him up by myself, but I did, injuring my shoulder so badly that I still wake up in pain some mornings. Another time, I called my sister, Nancy, in the middle of the night when Dad suffered a series of Grand Mal seizures caused by the scar tissue in his brain from an earlier stroke. While we anxiously awaited the arrival of the ambulance, she crawled into bed and wrapped her arms around Dad, while I made sure he didn’t bite off his tongue.

The final Christmas for my father, William W. Weibel, front right

The final Christmas for my father, William W. Weibel, front right

We all knew that this past Christmas would be his last. He was weak and I was not sure he was up to the 1.5 hour drive to my niece’s house, but he showered and dressed and dove into dinner like a starving man. Afterward, he stood in the kitchen, a shrunken shadow of his former self, and told us how much he loved us, how proud he was of us all. And therein lay the true goodness of my father. He may not have cared about the environment or the plight of immigrants, but he loved his family fiercely.

One of my greatest regrets is that my father never traveled with me. He never quite understood what I do for a living, or even believed that I had a “real” job, but that didn’t stop him from following me around the world via my blog. He read every one of my stories at least twice and often returned much later to read the comments readers left. As I ride this clickety-clack train to Debrecen, I wonder if he is watching over me. I wonder if he is sitting next to me, looking out the window at every village we pass. Somehow I think he is, and that is a comfort to me, but I miss him so much.

13 Comments on “Train to Debrecen

  1. Hi Barb,
    I love traveling with you, in your narratives and in your photography but I want you to know that Bill always travels with you. He is in your smile and in the brightness of your eyes. He visits you in every thing you do and people see him in you and who you are. Di and I were blessed to know him in person, albeit in the last years he spent on earth, but you need to know that your dad, in spite of your different personalities, loved you dearly and truly appreciated who you are and what you do in life. We would sit with him at his table by the garage, a break from our walks we looked forward to,and talk about the community and what was happening on Mallard but, invariably, conversation would turn to his ‘traveling daughter’ and where she was at the moment. After the initial “I don’t know why she does it and I just don’t understand her need to travel the world” (when we asked about you, Barb, we always had to get through his ‘surface’ quandary about why you do what you do) we’d get around to his true feelings, never too far from the surface. And this is when he truly shined. He loved you dearly and, with a hearty chuckle, he would express it to us in his own way. Hard to put it in words, Barb ,but know that before we ever met you we knew you were very special in Bill’s eyes by how he spoke of you. We looked forward to meeting you, because of your dad, and we were not disappointed.
    We miss Bill, Barb, but we see him regularly in Nancy’s eyes and we can’t wait to visit him in yours. Thank you for being who you are, Barb, and I look forward to those warm hugs from you when you return to Wildfeather.
    Love, Kev

    • Hi Kev and Di: You cannot possibly imagine how much your comment meant to me. I am blinking back the tears as I write. Dad never understood what I do, or even accepted that it was a real job, but in our last months together I finally realized that he was proud of me and had accepted the choices I have made in life. Sometimes, I ask myself what I am doing out here, why I do what I do, and if I am really doing anything worthwhile. But when I get in this mode, it doesn’t take me long to remember that I have made a difference in this world. I started a conversation on corrupt local NGO’s that changed the view of volunteering and volunteering, and put my life at risk to do it. Few people know that my life was threatened unless I removed the articles I wrote from the blog, but I refused. The truth had to be told, and it was the right thing to do. I had to stand by my convictions, no matter the consequences. I also know that I have helped many individuals along the way. Dad didn’t really understand why I cared about any of that, but in my heart, I know he was proud of me, and I also know how much he loved me. I will see you again, probably next spring. In the meantime, I’m sending you both lots of hugs.

  2. Barbara, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings as you reflect on your dad during your travels. Although our individual experiences and relationships are each unique, there is much I can relate to the loss of a parent and gratitude for time spent with them at the end of their lives. I lost my mom nearly 15 years ago and my dad 9 years ago. It’s touching that your dad read and re-read your posts. And most important is the love that he articulated in his final months.

    • Hi Cathy: Thanks so much for your comment – I feel like I’m sorting out my feelings a little more each day, and I really appreciate people like you who have weighed in with reassuring comments. I know one thing for sure; I loved my Dad more than words could say, even though he drove me crazy sometimes, and he’s probably looking down and laughing as I write this.

  3. It’s great that you had this time with your Dad and makes me realise that time with parents who won’t always be with us is precious. I’m lucky mine are still around and hopefully we can enjoy each others company for some years yet.

    • Hi Heather: I so wonderful that your parents are still alive and well and you can see them any time you want. No matter how hard our relationships are with our parents, they are always a blessing. It was only during my last months with Dad that I realized just how much he loved us. Miss you.

  4. A sensitive and touching story along a bittersweet journey. May the love of your father be with you along every train stop en route, perhaps he has already hopped on beside you. Very best wishes.

    • Hi Peggy: Thank you so much for your kind comment. I really did feel like he was with me that day on the train and I hope I continue to feel his presence everywhere on this journey, because I miss so much the idea that he was out there, reading everything I wrote.

  5. Hi Barbara, I love your blog! I am an avid ‘armchair traveler.’

    You are so lucky to have had that time with your father, heartbreaking as it is to watch our parents last days. I went through it with my mother for ten years. I think most of that generation held similar views. She was a difficult person and grew only more so as she developed dementia. I was not with her when she died and figured, well, that’s that. I had no expectations of after death ‘visits.’

    To my surprise, shortly after her death, I had a vivid dream, in which we were together, in a new house, painting the basement. This had significance, as she always had a superstition that if she painted the basement she would have to move. I felt it meant she had ‘moved on’, finally free of her useless body. Later, I had a series of dreams that we were in a great place, full of candy, like a faire or carnival, and so on. She was shining and joyful, nothing like the person I knew. So, I guess, underneath our personalities, there is something more.

    I hope you encounter your Dad, and he can show you how his ‘trip’ is going.

    • Hi Roxan: I DO feel that Dad is with me. One small story to illustrate that this may be true. After Mom died my fingernails grew long and beautiful – I’d always bitten them down to the quick before. My sisters both said, “You got Mom’s nails!” After Dad passed, my nails simply refused to grow. They split and broke, and I started biting them again. One day I looked up and said, “Dad, can I please have my nails back?” Immediately, they started to grow again. It was absolutely like he wanted me to know he was still with me. I wish I had dreams about him and Mom, but I seem to have difficulty remembering my dreams. Thanks so much for sharing your story with me.It was a great help.

  6. Hello Barbara. It’s been quite a while since I last commented on one of your posts but I have been keeping up with them as I get them in my email inbox.

    What I wanted to say was this: I am really sorry to hear of the death of your father. Your acts of compassion towards him in spite of his negativity and the possibility of doing other things with your life is very moving.

    I just hope that when my time comes, and it’s coming for all of us eventually, that I will have somebody by my side with a fraction of the compassion that you obviously displayed towards your father.

    I hope this finds you well and that your travels are going well for you too.

    Matthew.

    • Thank you so much Matthew – both for your kind words and for letting me know that you keep up with my blog. Despite it being a difficult process to go through, I will always feel blessed that I was able to do this for my father. My time back in the States definitely wore me down, leaving me with an extra 20 pounds and a few health issues, but now that I am back on the road, where I am most happy, I am getting better and stronger every day.

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