“Maria is eighteen, she can decide for herself.” Vasili was angry that his father could not see it.
“She is still my daughter, and she will remain in Circ until she is married. Then she can do what her husband wants to do,” Mikhal said with finality.
“I will watch over her as well as any husband. I am her brother. She will find a good husband in America, and will have a better life there than she will find here.”
“And what is wrong with this life?” Mikhal asked indignantly.
“We barely have enough to eat. The Kovalyaks and Tomkivs have lost children because they could not feed them. We only eat bread on Sundays, and not many of them. I am tired of eating potatoes every day.
“The Hungarians tax us for more than we can afford, and put us in prison when we cannot pay.
“I have heard about the mills that make steel. They will take any workers, and I must make money to help our family. Maria can work in the clothing factory. We will send money back to you.”
“I told you, I have been there Vasili—”
Vasili cut him off, “Yes! I have heard this too many times.”
“It is the truth, and it will be the same for you. I dug coal for them and got sick from the mines. I came back as soon as I could with some extra money.”
“Where has that gotten you now?” sneered Vasili.
Ignoring his son’s bitter answer, Mikhal asked, “And what about the army? The Hungarians will be through here soon, looking for you and your friends. They will not give you a passport when you owe them three years’ service.”
“I owe them nothing!” shouted Vasili. “I do not need a passport if I stay away from the police at the train stations. When we get over the border, it will no longer matter.”
Mikhal asked, “And where will you get the money to travel, are you a Magyar now? Do you have secret money I cannot see?”
“Yes, I have been putting money aside every time I work on the Baron’s land. I have enough for both of us now.”
“It does not matter. I forbid it.”
Vasili turned and walked slowly to the door.
He turned and gave Mikhal a threatening gaze. “I am going, and I will take Maria with me. I have promised her that I would not leave without her.”
“Then do not leave.”
Vasili threw the door open and strode from the house, angry but more certain than ever that he was right. Maria met him a few feet from the front door.
“What did he say?” she asked, hopeful that this time her father would relent.
“It is always the same. “I was there, I know better than you!’” Vasily’s mocking tone was biting.
“Please do not do that Vasili!” Maria pleaded. “He means well but I think he does not realize that you are a man now and you can decide these things.”
“I may have to go alone. I do not know how to change his mind.”
“Let me try. Perhaps you are too much like him, and you two can never agree.”
“Fine, but this is the last chance. I am leaving for Munich next week. I want you to see America, but I will go alone if I have to.”
The next morning, after Maria had fed the pigs and chickens and let the sheep and cows out to pasture, she found Mikhal near the house, repairing the fencing.
As she approached, Mikhal, knowing why she wanted to see him, said, “You can stop right there and go back to the house. I have not changed my mind since yesterday.”
“I know, but did you not meet Mother there in America? Why can I not have the same chance?”
“Your mother and I knew each other from here. It was easy. You will know only Vasili. Do you think that a rich American is just going to come along for a poor Rusyn factory girl, marry you and take you to his giant house in the city?” Mikhal reproached Maria, but his voice was gentle.
Maria began to cry, quietly at first, but then sobbed uncontrollably, her shoulders shaking and her face red and wet with tears.
“I-am-tired of being-hungry. I want-to live-” she could barely whisper the words, yet they were a stinging rebuke to Mikhal. His Anna had died only last year, and he remembered how they had fallen in love in America, and how she had secretly sacrificed her own life so that he and the children could live.
He stood from the fencepost and stretched out his arms to her, taking her in an embrace.
“Do not cry, little one. Maybe Vasili can take care of you.”
She pulled slightly away, wiped her face with her sleeve, and smiled broadly, her eyes focused on Mikhal and full of love and happiness.
“Thank you Father. Thank you. You will be proud of me. You will be happy that you allowed me to go!”
Maria ran and gave Vasili the good news.
“I do not know how you did it, but I am proud of you.
“Next week we leave this Hungarian hole and we start off for America!”
In the morning, Vasili sought out the friend he knew would help him. He saw Alexey opening the gate to let the cows to pasture.
Alexey Borovsky was one of Vasili’s best and most trusted friends. They had known each other as long as they could remember. With Nicolos Petrovich, they were always together, and always getting into some kind of trouble. The babushkas all knew them and scolded them every time they crossed their paths.
“Nicolos Petrovich,” they would shout, “I see you behind the shed. If I catch you I will give you the switch to your behind!”
Of course, they could never catch the three young men, but the laughter would echo off the houses as they ran for the hills.
Vasili, Alexey, and Nicolos were inseparable. They had stayed together, learned to hunt together, and at times argued when they went after the same girl.
Alexey had helped several other men escape to Poland so they could journey to America.
Most of them, like Mikhal, had returned of course, having made money, but having paid the price with their health. Most of the men ended up in the coal mines, or in the steel mills. In any case, they were the bottom of the rung, and were given the worst and dirtiest jobs. But they needed to make money and come back home so they could feed their families. Very few of them intended to stay. It was extremely difficult to get an entire family out of Hungary without passports. And the Hungarians would never give a passport to a family with a man of military age.
But Alexey was the kind of person that knew how to get things done. He knew the right people to talk to, and had spoken before about getting fake passports that would be good enough to get Vasili out of the country.
“Do you not have chores, my friend,” inquired Alexey when he saw Vasili waiting by the fence.
“Are you going to stand there like a frozen hen or do you want something?”
“I need a favor,” said Vasili.
“Of course you do! And I am the man to grant you that favor, eh?”
“This time it is a big favor.”
“Bigger than showing you how to be a good farmer?” joked Alexey.
“I was a good farmer when you were still wetting your diapers.”
Both laughed, but then Vasili’s face took on a very serious look.
“What is it, my friend, what troubles you so much?”
“My father has finally given me permission to take Maria and go to America.”
“And why is that so bad? You have been trying for two years with your father.”
“Because you know I cannot get a passport, not a legal one anyway.”
“Ahh, so now I see why you need me now.” Alexey said with a large grin. “The problem is that no one is making the passports anymore. The Hungarians found out about Janos in Lubotin. He has disappeared and everyone is afraid now.”
“Even so, we need to leave as soon as we can, before they come for me, and before my father changes his mind.”
“Hah! I understand. As a matter of fact, I have decided to also leave. I will not join the Hungarian army. Besides, I know you need the help.”
“What I need is to get past the police guarding the train station.”
It was only a matter of two miles to the Polish border. Once in Poland, nobody cared about the Hungarian passports, and they would be free to head to Bremen, where most of the ships were docked that would take them to America. But the Hungarians were watching the trains and the border carefully. They knew that the Rusyns would rather flee than serve their three years, even though it was considered the patriotic thing to do.
“We can handle it. I am the sneakiest man in the Carpathians! My friend Petra is the conductor on the train that comes by in two days.”
“I need more time than that!” Vasili exclaimed.
“It is either that or you swim the Poprad. After this trip, my friend will not be on that train again until next month.”
“Fine then. When does the train come through?”
“The day after tomorrow at 10:30. The train only stops for 10 minutes and we have to get on from the other side so the police do not see us.”
“But what about tickets?”
“Do not trouble yourself about tickets. Petra collects the tickets, and he knows me. I’ve ridden that train many times for free.
“Meet me here at 10:15.”
“Thank you.” The simple statement was all that was required between friends.