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Caught Between the Warring Twins

Elek, Margit, and Emil Paris

Emil, Margit, and Elek Paris

I originally posted this on Multiply.Com in January 2011:

It’s been a while since I revisited my past. This time, I’m going back into the period before my birth. The above picture was taken at some point in the 1930s and shows the Paris twins, Elek (Alex) and Emil, and their sister Margit.

Can I tell which one of the men is my father? Probably, it is the one on the right, because my father Elek was always better tanned and more athletic but not so well dressed as Emil. Even later in life, I sometimes had to wait for them to start talking before I recognized them, because they had very distinctive voices.

Elek and Emil could never live far apart from each other. When Emil bought a condominium in Hollywood, Florida, my Dad followed—in the same Carriage Hills condo complex. My father died in October 1985; and Emil died a few months later, of pretty much the same combination of diabetes and heart failure. At my Dad’s funeral, Emil was visibly shaken, as if his world had been taken away from him.

All their lives, the two twins competed through their children. Dad had the two sons, my brother Dan and myself; Uncle Emil had a son and daughter, Emil Jr. and Peggy. At times, the competition got bitter, especially when my cousins faltered in school and in their personal lives. Dan and I, however, always liked our cousins and regretted any bad blood between the brothers. They were just that way.

Margit was a different case: She never married. I don’t even know whether she dated very much or even wanted to marry eventually. Some years after this photo was taken, she opened May’s Bridal Shop in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and lived on the premises spending her time sewing bridal gowns. My job when visiting there was to pick up fallen pins with a magnet. I would also look with admiration at all her old calendars with Currier & Ives illustrations.

I don’t remember when Margit (whom we called Nana) closed the shop and retired to Florence, South Carolina, but I think it was in the early 1970s. She didn’t last very long because, shortly after I returned from Hungary in 1977, I got a call that Margit had died suddenly. The timing was unfortunate, as my parents were still in Hungary visiting. So I notified my brother Dan and the two of us attended the funeral—after sending a telegram to Dad in Hungary. He was very broken-up that he couldn’t make the funeral in time, but was grateful that Dan and I went.

Whatever the competitiveness between the frequently warring twins, I always felt that my Uncle, my cousins, and my Aunt loved us for what we were. Although Margit was closer to her brother Emil than to Elek, that never impacted on the next generation. I did feel, however, that my Dad had never said certain unkind things about my cousins that I wish he hadn’t. Cousin Emil Junior was always good-hearted and frequently protected me from neighborhood bullies when I was a little shrimp of a kid; and Cousin Peggy was, I always thought, incredibly cute.

A life is always strange when one looks at it all of a piece. I cannot help but feel that I have grossly oversimplified the complex web of interrelationships that existed among us. The important thing is that I accepted the few bad things because they were more than made up for with kindness and love. Elek, Emil, and Margit now exist inside of me; and all the conflicts have been resolved.