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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Literary Fiction Author Mathias B. Freese: My namesake - Cantor Matyas Balogh

 Cantor Matyas Balogh

I don’t have much to work with. There is a torn photograph and a business card, both over a hundred years old. The card has faded and is foxed much like an old book or print. In the photograph my great grandfather is wearing his cantorial hat and has strong eyes, quite possibly hazel. He was a hazan, Hebrew for cantor. The card is written in Hungarian such as Boldog Ujevet Kivan (in boldface), fokantor beneath his name, Hebrew letters at the bottom left and what I believe is the town of Monor, which is in Hungary, at bottom right. (Anyone who can translate these words?)

I was named after him, Mathias Balogh Freese, which has been a bane for much of my life. Often mispronounced, I grew up detesting it. Bob or Dick would have been better. My mother caved to my grandma Flora who always extolled her father and most likely pressured her to name me after him. The name looks good in print but I wasn’t in print for all my childhood and young adulthood. Who calls a kid “Mathias”? Even today if a nurse calls me in to see the doctor she often mispronounces the name, often in a Spanish lilt, or struggles through the three phonemes. So it is MAYtheeuss, MUHthias, or Monotonous. (Try to mispronounce Steve.)

In Hebrew school I became Mordecai, not too bad. In Spanish class I was called Mateo. Mathias and Mathew are closely related linguistically, for they mean “gift of god” in Hebrew. That I can handle. For years I was called Matty, much a girl’s name and one classmate was called Mathew which made me jealous. Odd to think, that Matty kept me immature in my own self. When I was teaching in my mid twenties an older teacher and friend told me he couldn’t call me Matty and told me to go by Matt, which I did. I liked that. I renamed myself, how unusual, as I look back.

So Shakespeare’s line about what’s in a name is poetically clever, but not psychologically true, not for me. We are defined by our names. Naming is a critical issue, for it is also labeling. So in 2024 Sidney, Sylvester and Beatrice don’t make it, they are punitive to the children who are dubbed in such a tone deaf manner. Kirk Douglas is much more mellifluous than Isadore Demsky Danielovich, and Tony Curtis wears better than Bernie Schwartz. We named our daughter Brett after a character in The Sun Also Rises, only to discover years later that the Navy wanted to recruit her as a seaman.

Several years ago I wrote, “Cantor Matyas Balogh,” a love story from my collection of stories about the Holocaust, in “I Truly Lament,” publication in 2015. I cannot explain why this love story of a cantor with the backdrop of the Holocaust for context arose in my mind. I am curious about my great grandfather. I know that he supposedly spoke many languages, as grandma bragged, some fourteen it was said (really? I don’t think so, but maybe). I heard as a child that he flirted or “fooled” around with some of the women in the congregation. Why not? Hungarian woman are scrumptious — think Ilona Massey. And the Hungarians are renown for being superior mathematicians and physicists.

He died before the Nazis and was not part of the Holocaust, but I wonder if his tombstone was turned over by the Hun. I believe he is interred in Hungary which does not explain why Grandma Flora came over and he remained. All not known to me. I have few details about him that could not fill a thimble, yet he remains in my mind. I would like to go to Monor, only if I research his ancestry and have more to go on before I depart. I wonder how many, many decades have passed without a stone being placed on his coldly unfriended marker. I would do that and in some peculiar way I would make peace with myself. And I would be moved and I would weep a little, for I am of his line. It does give me satisfaction that I had an ancestor of some brilliance.

I stop here to tell the unvarnished truth. I pay homage to him because it confirms that I ,too, am intelligent and aware; that I had a relative who flowed intellectually; that my father was a dunce and I have struggled all my life, in a way, to become Matyas Balogh; his intelligence, his gifts sustain me so metaphorically it hurts. As a retired shrink, so much is latent and manifest here, like a juicy pomegranate, so much to tease out and to reconcile with and to draw much sustenance from.

I am, I am so very much– Mathias Balogh Freese

When Grandma assimilated here, she went into vaudeville and was known as Flo Balogh (pronouncing it Barlow). I once asked a Hungarian woman if she could tell me something about the name. Chuckling, she said it was very common in Hungary and was the equivalent of Joe Smith. So much for exceptionalism.
Americanized, assimilated, Flo always urged me to become a rabbi! And she would give me lunch to encourage that. Often it was a Swiss cheese and ham sandwich with a strawberry milk drink shot with seltzer, which I loved. Ham, milk and cheese, leads to becoming a rabbi — or a goy. Meschuge! And at Christmas time I once discovered a small Christmas tree on top of the television set, probably a residue when she was in vaudeville and everybody was everybody else. I was offended at that, for my conditioning as a Jew had been set in place and the old battleax was a violator. Feed her bulbous ass to Moloch. I wonder if she was a handful for my great grandfather, for as a young woman she was a real beauty. I have a few pictures of her which are portraits from the hand of Mucha, Art Nouveau all the way.
Grandma had the gauche panache of Zsa Zsa Gabor and one hell of a father.

In the Throes
by Mathias B. Freese
March 28, 2024
Genre: Metaphysical & Visionary Fiction, Literary Fiction
In the Throes explores the awakening of intelligence and the coming into awareness of an evolutionary mishap on a forbidding apocalyptic planet.

The story follows eponymic Gruff, the first linguistic/metaphysical awakener of his species, as he navigates identity, mentation, and ontology in relation to the Gruff's natural prey: humankind.

Combining the writings of Freud and the spiritual truths of Krishnamurti, author Mathias B. Freese depicts the Gruff as an evolutionary dark creature—disfigured, maimed, instinct-driven, and grotesque—until he attains self-awareness and transforms into a self of artistic expression and wisdom.

As the title suggests, the reader identifies with self-struggle as it surges toward awakening and is moved by the apotheosis that closes the book. The nuanced theme: each one of us is an artist if only we take our selves in hand and construct a life of artistic expression. The closing chapters sing to us of Isak Dinesen's observation that an artist is never poor.

A metaphor of the evolutionary self, In the Throes is a time-processed journey into awareness—our destiny as a species.


About the Author:
MATHIAS B. FREESE is a writer, teacher, and psychotherapist who has authored nine books. After his first novel, The i Tetralogy on the Holocaust, his second work, I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust, won the Beverly Hills Book Award, Reader's Favorite Book Award, and was a finalist in the Indie Excellence Book Awards, the Paris Book Festival, and the Amsterdam Book Festival. In 2016, Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers, his first memoir, received seven awards. The following year his second memoir appeared, And Then I Am Gone. In 2019, Nina's Memento Mori, a highly regarded memoir, was published. In 2022, Freese published Again. Again and Again: Awakening into Awareness - Essays and Stories.

1 comment:

  1. I am grateful, Sharon, for the superior presentation of my little essay. Thank you. Matt