Andrew Szabo – Who is he? – Dallas? London? Hungary? …

Or, How Andrew Szabo – The Marketing Chef Came to Be! 

A short story

By Andrew Szabo

 

Andrew-Szabo-The-Marketing-Chef

Andrew Szabo – The Marketing Chef

As a professional speaker in America, the first words out of Andrew Szabo’s mouth immediately sends a message.  The audience recognizes that I speak funny.  I can’t help it … 18 years of English schooling resulted in mannerisms, turns of phrase, and an accent that makes me appear smarter than I am.  But there’s more.  Almost 20 years in Dallas have me comfortable with a more laid back style of living, deeply rooted in community and relationships.  But there’s a part of me that’s neither American nor English.  Its essence makes me passionate, it reveals my rebellious spirit, and fuels my fascination for food, wine and life.  It is the authentic underlying roots of my brand, my intensity and approach to business.

Each one of us brings value into the world with an uncommon uniqueness that is the essence of our “personal brand.” It sets us apart, and is often a combination of our experiences, our life history and the backstory that came before of us. The backstory provides a depth of realism, authenticity and credibility to the main plot, the central story of how or why we do what we do. What’s your backstory?  Mine starts in Hungary on a cold November afternoon in 1956.

The windswept trees, leafless and grey, border fields of uncut hay.  Above, a blanket of bleak low clouds and solemn skies reflect the mood of the country… despondency!  Freedom sparked by hope; quickly extinguished by a blanket of retribution.

The country lane reverberates with the ominous thunder of an approaching Soviet tank.  The road and field are but a few miles from the border between Hungary and Austria. Russian troops seal the last remaining chinks in the Iron Curtain ruptured by a spontaneous nationwide revolt of Hungarians refusing to be Sovietized.

For ten days, Hungary stands as a free country severing the shackles of Soviet suppression that stood since the end of the Second World War. It is the first severe blow to the USSR’s occupation of Eastern Europe. Enraged by this challenge to their authority, the Russian Politburo sends waves of tanks and troops to crush the Hungarian uprising and send a message to the eastern bloc that rebellion will not be tolerated.

The day before, my mother-to-be, Susannah Szabo, stands perched on a Budapest street corner.  There is no traffic.  Her arms intertwine with her husband of four months, George.  She shivers as the sights around her amplify the memories of the last two weeks.  She leans in a little closer to my father to gain a little warmth, or comfort or both.

Andrew-Szabo-Parents-Wedding-1956

Andrew Szabo’s Parents’ Wedding 1956

To their left, an abandoned Soviet tank sits immobilized. A student’s Molotov cocktail clearly hit the target a few days before.  To the right, in the middle of the square, a statue of Stalin, the Soviet Socialist hero symbolically lies fallen.  Stalin’s head, decapitated by the impact, has rolled to rest in a grotesque fashion along the street’s tramline.  The steps leading up to the empty statue’s plinth is littered with the miscellany of revolution.  The ropes used by the students to pull the statue down, a single boot, a fur hat, rocks, bricks and a few spent ammunition cartridges. Poignantly, the Hungarian flag with the communist hammer and sickle torn out – the symbol of the uprising, that had flown so proudly just a few days before, now lays tattered, torn and blood stained.

The Soviet military forces have killed over two thousand innocent citizens and left another thirteen thousand wounded.   Having witnessed the angry Soviets shooting indiscriminately, not caring if it was a man, woman or innocent child, leaves Susannah dismayed.  They had lived through the domination of the Nazis in World War II, lived under the Soviet occupation for eleven years.  Their hope for freedom, so desired by Susannah, George and millions of other Hungarians had been bloodily erased.  The West stands paralyzed – no help, no hope, and no future.

Susannah asks herself: “What does tomorrow hold?”

My mother turns to George and whispers, “I can’t bring up a child here.”  George nods his head slowly, his lips pursed, closing his eyes recalling all that has happened. He thinks, “I can’t … I won’t take any more tyranny.”

That evening they each pack a single small rucksack. In tears they bid goodbye to their parents. They tell no one else for fear of betrayal.  In dawn’s early light they plead with Miklós, a Budapest cabbie to take them to the Austro-Hungarian border.  Three hours later they speed down a long country lane, in the distance, a row of grey, leafless trees shiver in the November wind. They peer through the cab’s dusty windshield – “how much further to freedom” my parents wonder.

Susannah broods, “Can we cross the border without getting caught? … I’m an only child … getting shot will devastate my parents!”

Meanwhile George analyzes, “Is it too late? Where will they go after Austria? Germany perhaps? I can speak German fairly well. What about America? Too far from parents.  England perhaps?  But I don’t speak any English. How hard is to learn a new language at 28?”

Suddenly, Miklós swerves to the right driving off the road plowing into a neglected field of tall, uncut hay. “What are you doing?” shouts my father.

Undeterred the driver continues a few meters further until a hedgerow hides the vehicle from the road.  He kills the engine. “I saw a Soviet tank come round the bend in the distance – you’d better pray they didn’t see us!”

The three of them slow their breath as they hear the noisy tank approaching.  As it draws level no one breathes. The armored vehicle’s deep throaty diesel engine coughs.  Simultaneously the three Hungarians think, “The tank driver is cutting the engine.”  Susannah closes her eyes and like a good Catholic prays to St. Christopher, the patron saint of safe travel.   George looks away not daring to look towards the road, wondering, “will this depressing grey sky be my last view of earth?”  Miklós rests his forehead on the steering wheel clutching it with increasing tension until his knuckles turn white. He curses in his mind over and over again, adding, “why did I agree to this foolish recklessness!”

The tank splutters, backfires and noisily continues on. The three nervous Hungarians exhale collectively.  They sit in silence for five more excruciatingly slow minutes until there is not a single sound.  Even the birds appear to have fled from the country.

Miklós reaches into the inside pocket of his threadbare woolen jacket, pulling out a soft packet of cigarettes. He lights one up. “No further!” he exclaims and then adds, “Sorry! I can’t do this … you’ll need to walk from here.” George shakes his hand and in a strong voice declares:  “We’ll be fine” seeking to reassure himself as much as his new wife.  Susannah hugs him and kisses him on both cheeks, as is the Hungarian custom.  They set off towards the row of trees walking westwards towards a lighter sky while behind them, to the East storm clouds gather. “How symbolic,” reflects Susannah.

Two hours later they inch forwards to a gap between two machine gun posts – the light is failing – they can’t see if they are manned or not. “Have the Russians secured this part of the border yet?” George asks the three other fleeing refugees they met just twenty minutes ago.  As one they shrug their shoulders.  Danger lies in the unknown.  They have formed an unspoken tacit pact; each person cognizant of the sliver of security in their numbers should they be spotted.  By dispersing they could increase the chance of one or more escaping. They again creep forwards, silent now, heads low, one behind the other, their grey woolen coats hanging, dragging behind them through the mud and dusty hay.

Twenty minutes later, as yet unsure of their exact location, they hear an authoritative shout behind them: “Halt! Halt!”

What welcoming words! It was in German. They are in Austria! They have escaped from the Soviet tyranny – they are free at last! The Austrian border guard welcomes them and directs them to the nearest refugee camp.  They join the other quarter of a million, mainly young Hungarian professionals, like George and Susannah, who had fled across the border in the last few days.

Andrew Szabo - Born: September 20 1957 - London, England

Andrew Szabo – Born: September 20 1957 – London, England

From Austria, the Szabos are flown to England.  They arrive in a British Army base in the South of England, that has become a hectic temporary refugee camp for the liberated Hungarians.  Christmas Eve, the camp colonel invites my parents to stay with he and his wife. And on a cold Christmas morning, Andrew Szabo is conceived. Nine months later on September 20th 1957, I am brought into the world in London and not Budapest.  Close to the River Thames and not the River Danube.  And, I grow up with a fondness for the national spice of Hungary: paprika rather than England’s ubiquitous malt vinegar.  Espresso versus tea.  But with an equal partiality to red wine as well as bitter ale.  In my mother’s kitchen, I learn to make goulash, stuffed crepes, chestnut pudding and a host of other Hungarian culinary delights.  My mother inculcates in me an appreciation for good food, wine and hospitality. Years later, my great delight is still to entertain good friends.

In 1980, with Hungarian blood coursing through my veins, a classic English education, I come to America to begin a career in hospitality and to marry a good Midwestern girl from Indiana — Melissa. We end up settling in Texas.  In 2006, while on a family trip to Tuscany, I was inspired to marry my love of food and wine with another passion: marketing.  And so, Andrew Szabo – The Marketing Chef was conceived! Yes I’m a little different. I speak funny. I’m passionate, a little rebellious and I like to spice things up. After all I’m a Hungarian with an English education now living in Dallas!

That’s Andrew Szabo’s backstory – what’s your backstory?

Author’s note: Thanks for taking  
 

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