I was zipping my kid over to camp near Lake Huron this past August , when my gardener’s eye caught sight of a white hydrangea by an old square red brick farmhouse, in a yard of trees. Slowing, I saw a sign above red geraniums on a small market store to one side of the property: “Sebok’s”.
Thinks I to myself, we have to get to camp, but I am going to stop into that store on my way back.
Alone, I step out of the sunny yard into the dim store. I make out a large man behind a counter.
Me: Hi there, I’m just wondering, do you know how this store got the name Sebok?
Sebok: (grinning) Cause that’s my family name! SEE-bock!
Me: Oh, you don’t say Sebok?
Sebok: Around here we say Seebock!
Me: So…it’s not a Hungarian name?
Sebok: We are Hungarian. My sister knows all the relations in Hungary! She writes letters!
Me: Well, I stopped because I know one too, Gyorgy Sebok, he was my piano teacher. He was a very famous gentleman, he was a concert pianist.
Sebok: Yep, it’s an odd name. There’s a movie star Sebok, too! But there aren’t many Seboks. Let’s see (counts), there’s three including me here, a few more out to Pilkington, then a few more Stateside. Lots of relations in Hungary.
Me: Let me find you his picture (google-imaging Sebok on my phone). Here. You see? There are lots of pictures of him. Do you think he looks like a Sebok?
Sebok: (looks through for a bit, then breaks into a wide grin) Yep, that’s a Sebok alright!
Me: Wait, why? How do you know?
Sebok: Always with a cigarette!!
[I look up at his grin, then down to Sebok’s grin on my phone. I swear I hear a smoky chuckle from heaven.]
Me: You mean you’re all smokers? Mr. Sebok was well known for smoking – he used a holder.
Sebok: You see, this here was a tobacco farm.
Me: So, this is your family farm?
Sebok: We always did tobacco, before this farm even. We started this farm in ’59. (Looks at me). Why you’re like a baby compared to that! (Chuckles)
Me: Wow. Do you think I could take a picture of you outside by your sign?
Sebok: Sure! But wait – (goes to the back room, pulls out an old framed painting). You need this in the picture. This was the original farm. Look, see all the tobacco buildings. There was the kiln for drying tobacco.
Me: Well, thank you very much. You know, a lot of people may want to see this. He was really a beloved man. He helped many people. He went through the war, he was in work camps. You could hear him play on Youtube. There is a documentary about him.
Sebok: (beams) I’m always looking up things on the Youtube! I will do that! You just write his name down here (hauls out a big old guest book).
Me: I’ll buy these preserves.
Sebok: My wife makes them. The apricot jam, now that’s an old Hungarian recipe, it’s gooood!
I drive home through the evening sun over gentle fields. I come back into town, arrive home, open the preserves. The apricot jam is like a memory of dark flavour, an intense jelly.
Something moves in me. Until this moment, I have not known of a small empty gap, created long ago from the sense of war loss conveyed through Mr. Sebok’s music, carried since then within me. In this moment, like a crevice in an old stone wall finally shifting after decades in a certain balance, it settles, is filled in.
I walk blindly out of the house and down the peaceful evening street. I think of all the farms, the villages before that 20th century, all our families.