Shall we dance?

susans-sculpture

daughter Susan’s wood wall sculpture she claims was inspired by my love of dancing

Joseph Molnar was a charming and debonaire, well traveled continental, who had lived in and traveled to many countries — and loved many women. Born and raised in Hungary, he studied in France and, besides Hungarian, spoke English, French and Spanish fluently, and perhaps others. My husband, a Parisian, first met Joseph on a train in France.

Religion was extremely important to Joseph. He loved and enjoyed them all. As a Catholic, he attended Catholic, Protestant and Jewish services — and did so regularly. They could be in French, Spanish, English, or Hebrew — it didn’t matter. The first time I met him, by then in his mid-sixties, which I thought ancient, was at such a service.

He sat me between himself and my husband-to-be, and said: ‘A rose between two thorns’. A line, perhaps, but a young woman doesn’t forget something like that.

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Hungarian actress Ilona Massey.

Joseph called himself a bachelor, but had lived with a woman in Mexico for 20 years. I argued that anyone who had done so could no longer call himself a bachelor. He’d laugh, but never talked about her or any of the women in his past. I learned by chance about one special love.

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Silver candlesticks, unpolished

In helping him move from one apartment to another, (to across the street from our home so we’d be closer) I came upon a lovely, very old pair of ornate, silver candlesticks. They were tucked away in a drawer and hadn’t been used or polished for years.

‘They’re too lovely to hide,’ I said, ‘I’ll polish them for you. They should be on your dining table where you can see them every day.’

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A little more detail

That’s when he told me he had had an affair with the actress Ilona Massey’s mother in Hungary and she had given them to him. Ilona Massey was such a beauty, I can only imagine how beautiful her mother was in her youth.

The following Mother’s day, Joseph came across the street with a greasy, brown paper bag under his arm in which he carried those precious candlesticks as a gift for me. I still treasure them. (I’ve been advised not to polish them any more– that it rubs off the artistic details.)

Joseph was the sole male member of several Hungarian, French, or Spanish ladies’ church groups. He would be sure to ask every member to dance with him at their dinner-dances.  No wonder they loved him.

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Dancing with Joseph

My husband had two left feet, but Joseph could dance to anything. We did the Csardas at Hungarian dinner dances, and the rumba, tango, Viennese Waltzes, or what-have-you at other times. The two of us became a team, and even won two competitions!  I look back to those evenings with much pleasure.

My children adored Joseph and he returned

joseph-and-rafi

Rafi with Joseph at Cinco De Mayo celebration

their love. He had been a furrier, and had scraps of animal furs he’d give to Susan when she’d run across the street to visit. She loved the fur and Joseph. Little Rafi enjoyed going out with Joseph by himself and would climb on his lap whenever the lap was available.

So, what happened to our dear friend? He was hit by a car as he ran to catch a bus across a busy Los Angeles Boulevard. It was holiday time and he was in a hurry to get to a church  party. He died before he could leave the hospital when he was about 71. We were devastated.

Shortly after his death, the children wanted to visit ‘Uncle Joseph’ at his grave site. We did so. If memory serves, I think Susan wondered where ‘Uncle Joseph’ was and what he was doing. Rafi, about four at the time, knew and with certainty stated: ‘Uncle Joseph is dancing in heaven.’

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8 thoughts on “Shall we dance?

  1. Wow…I didn’t realize that Joseph was only 71 when he died, Mom. Of course he seemed like a very old man to me — I was just a little kid. But wasn’t he born in 1895? I seem to recall marveling at that fact, as I had never known anyone born in the previous CENTURY, so this sticks in my mind. I wish I had been old enough to truly appreciate what an interesting man he was. To me, he was just “Uncle Joseph”, the extremely kind, elderly friend to our whole family who was the closest thing to a grandfather I ever really knew.

    • It was a sad ending for such a great guy. Joseph’s memory lives on among those who enjoyed calling him Uncle Joseph. He was a dance partner to Muriel and his famous line that she will never forget “a rose between two thorns” reveals that Joseph was a true caballero. Joe

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