In the old world—where we come from—people celebrate Memorial Day on November 11th under various names, in the English speaking world usually as Remembrance Day. This wouldn’t be Ghulf Genes if, on such a day, I failed to note the coincidence of November 11th with the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, Martinmas. St. Martin, a fourth century figure, plays a prominent role in the life of the older members of our clan. Our formal family name is Szentmartoni Darnay; translated directly from the Hungarian that means “Darnay of St. Marin.” St. Martin was born in Pannonia, the name by which the Romans called what later became Hungary. He came from Savaria (Szombathely) on the western edge of Hungary, where my family had sunk down its Hungarian roots after drifting east from German lands in anno long ago. Martin was a soldier who wandered West, like we did, became a monk, and died in Tours, in France. Now by sheer coincidence (if there is such a thing) when our daughter, Michelle, applied as a student for a year’s stay in France under the AFS foreign exchange program (that program itself a product of war, on which subject see more here), she was assigned to a family in Tours, France. And later yet, when she returned to France to study there, she settled in Tours again and lived within three blocks of St. Martin’s Cathedral in the old, medieval part of the city.
We have our own November 11th holiday in this country, Veteran’s Day. But as Wikipedia rightly suggests, our May memorial is more akin in spirit to Remembrance Day as celebrated in the old world. There it is a day on which, as Brigitte remembers, it was customary to visit cemeteries to remember the departed. My father barely escaped death on the battle field; one of his brothers, Lászlo, died in that war. My mother lost her youngest brother, Loli. Loli gave me an ingenious, small wind-up elephant—it could walk across the table—about four weeks before the battle field claimed him. Brigitte lost an uncle, Fritz, her cousin her husband-to-be, Otto. All of these men fell in World War II—and on the other side. We remember them still with that strange quiet that time brings. And it is well to remember that all sides have memories. Since then, although men have served under arms—and a great-grand-son of ours does today—we have been spared the ultimate sacrifice, for which we give thanks—even as we reach out to those who still lose sons and daughters to the unending conflict of this earthly realm.