Alex’ grandmother or Nagymamma (pronounced “nudge mummy”) was Hungarian. She spoke a little English and was one of the toughest old ladies on the planet. She was also blunt as a 2×4. My grandmother’s were not rough or tough or blunt.They were elegant, quirky and lovely…they were Southern.
If Alex, the kids and I arrived at her house for Sunday dinner fifteen minutes late, the doors would be locked, the lights turned off. If you were late you didn’t eat.
She lived through the Nazi and both Russian invasions of Hungary. And boy did she hate the Russians, even more than the Nazis. One time she told me, “A Nazi will steal your wedding ring, a Russian will cut off you finger to steal your wedding ring.”
In 1956 when the Soviets invaded Hungary, yet again, Nagymamma was prepared. Unfortunately, Hungary is right in the middle of a beautiful but troubled neighborhood and has been invaded by countless forces for thousands of years. So Nagymammy knew exactly what soldiers did when they occupied a foreign country, because she’d lived through it so many times. The soldiers march in, drink all the liquor and destroy what they don’t’ drink. As a result the locals don’t have any alcohol thus making the invasion and occupation even more miserable.
Nagymammy felt certain the Russians were getting ready to invade her home land months earlier so she came up with a plan. Alex’s grandmother was known for her homemade Schnapps. Well, she called it schnapps but it was hardcore moonshine with a little bit of fruit. The stuff was crystal clear and brutal. A single shot could clear your sinus cavity for a week or render you speechless for the day. A little bit could cure most diseases, three shots and you’d go blind.
Nagymammy cooked up over fifty hectoliters of schnapps (that’s over 1,000 gallons), bottled it then sent her husband into the field with a post hold digger. Together they buried all those bottles then waited for the Russian soldiers to do what they always did. Drink and destroy.
Several months latter her region of Hungary was bone dry and sick of sobriety. That’s when Nagymammy and her husband went back out into the field and started digging.
Over the course of a year that tough old woman was able to dig up and sell enough of her schnapps to get her family out of Hungary and to America. The Hampo family’s American Dream was fueled by some wicked schnapps and a remarkable woman who was tougher than the Russians.
Tags: American Dream, Hampo, Hungary, Irene Melik