By any stretch of the imagination, Gaston Delacroix Vadasz’s route to living on the Vineyard has been circuitous. Born in Budapest during World War II in 1944, he spent the first two years hidden from the Nazis by a kindly family in a small peasant village on the Danube — although he didn’t learn of his Jewish heritage until he was in his early 40s.
While he was hidden the first two years of his life, with no memories from that time, Vadasz has many distinct recollections from age 4 or 5 of spending summers with the same family. After the war he, his mother, and his brother would come to escape the heat of the war-torn capital for fresh air and simple pleasures. In his upcoming memoir, “A Glass Always Half Full: A Journey of Hope, Dreams, and Reality,” Vadasz writes evocatively about how it was a peek into the past of what a true Eastern European village was like, with horse-drawn wagons, having to draw water from the well, sipping raspberry soda made from the berries they grew, and awe over attending his first harvest.
At the same time, Vadasz remembers the constant admonition by adults to be careful what you said — or did — because “walls have ears.” He writes, “I knew from a very young age that there were things you simply never mentioned related to the earlier era that you heard your parents talk about. The price of this mistake was severe. There was the possibility of your parent getting fired, or being ‘kilakoltatva,’ meaning given 24 hours to move to the country … Or alternatively, simply being beaten to a pulp in some cellar by the state secret Hungarian police, thug enforcers of the Communist regime.” Despite the trying times, his family tried whenever possible to hold on to the old ways and traditions.
Vadasz writes heart-stoppingly about being in the epicenter of the Oct. 23, 1956, Hungarian Revolution: “The single focus of the crowd was the statue of Stalin, the man who butchered millions of people. The initial attempts to hack away at the base of his boots were abandoned, and magically, someone with a welding torch, powered by a generator from some nearby construction site, did the serious job of cutting the bastard off at the knees. The ropes attached to Stalin’s neck snapped. A sidecar motorcycle sped past me, and the driver shouted that they were getting some metal cables from the shipyards. Within half an hour, there were more than a dozen around his neck, and three or four heavy-duty trucks tugging at the ropes. This sight was right out of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ when he was tied down with hundreds of ropes by the Lilliputians. We were the Lilliputians. The statue started to bow to the will of the oppressed nation. The immense crowd seemed to take a deep breath and, as the bronze giant hit the pavement with a lifeless thud, the heretofore withheld sound from 50,000 to 60,000 throats gave out a wild shriek. Everyone surged toward the statue. It took me close to 10 minutes to get close enough to see the fallen statue as people kicked, spit, and urinated on it.”
Equally as compelling was his harrowing escape over the border at 12 years old with his mother into Austria, and their winding journey to the U.S., which Vadasz says, “included the two-month process of getting 2,000 Hungarian refugees to a 17,000-ton World War II troop carrier, which was taken out of mothballs, and then traveling from Bremerhaven to New York City and the brave new world. Then there was my landing in New York and seeing the Statue of Liberty, which to this day brings tears to my eyes.”
Vadasz has many great tales of his “Americanization” in this new, strange life. And then his successful career in advertising and broadcasting, which, in 1994, brought him and his wife Linda to live as expats in Hungary. They lived there for a fabulous 19 years, and Vadasz not only established a radio station, but they also had a vineyard and raised peregrine falcons.
The couple’s first taste of Martha’s Vineyard was around 40 years ago, as daytrippers. Like many others, he and Linda immediately fell in love with the Island.
“There’s a certain feel and cachet to this Island that has a vacation heft, a weight that allows you to relax and slow down,” Vadasz says. They rented a house for many summers, and said, “As we spent more time here, we realized that the year-round community was involved in a lot of the same activities we were involved in in large cities.” With many adventures in between, the Vadaszses moved here full-time approximately 13 years ago, joining their daughter and her family, who were already well established here.
Vadasz is entrenched in much that makes the Island so vibrant. He takes Hallie Brevetti’s Broadway Dance Class at the West Tisbury library, serves as a tour guide with Martha’s Vineyard Tours and Transport and ResortMan, is a member of the Hebrew Center, participates in the Peter H. Luce Play Readers group, and attends countless cultural events. Of late, he’s focused on bringing “Glass Always Half Full” to fruition, and in this light, has shared pieces of it at Pathways and Writers Read, and has participated in many of Moira Silva’s memoir writing classes.
“As I have relayed my life to others, I’m often told I have an interesting life … and I think that I do,” he says.
Thinking about his abundant life here on the Vineyard, Vadasz says, “Looking back, my love of the earth parallels what I have here, and what I grew up with in Hungary as a child.”