I Would Always Add the Word Szamár, Donkey in Hungarian
Time for you to learn a little Hungarian. This post is about what I was like as a little boy. I was never considered to be a smiling, happy-go-lucky kid. I would describe myself with the Hungarian word szomorú, which, according to my Órszagh Magyar dictionary meant “sad, woeful, sorrowful, doleful, melancholy, gloomy …”—you get the picture. Then, to cap it off, I would follow it with the word szamár, meaning donkey or ass. Szomorú szamár. (In Hungarian, the “sz” diphthong is pronounced like an English sibilant “s.”) I could summarize it better with the character Eeyore in the Winnie the Pu stories by A.A. Milne. But then, I didn’t know about Eeyore until decades later.
Before you start thinking this sounds unrelievedly grim, there was another size to me as well, one in which I was considerably happier—but only in private. When I was enjoying a book, or drawing imaginary maps, or playing with my friends, I was a different person. It was only among adults and people who were not close to me that I was a melancholy ass.
You see, I was always the shortest and youngest-looking kid in class, and the most unathletic. That hurts when you are the son and nephew of the terrible Paris twins, semi-professional soccer players in Europe and America. Even when I was a senior at Dartmouth College, I was picked on by the local high school kids who thought I was one of them. By then I had my pituitary tumor that accounted for my slow or even non-, growth.
At St. Henry Elementary School in Cleveland, we had to attend daily Mass. You’ll never believe what I prayed for: In place of happiness, I requested wisdom. Well, I never got either, really, so it was a bit of a wasted effort.
I am no longer a melancholy ass, though my friends will probably admit I can be an ass at times. But that doesn’t bother me unduly.