[Photo of Demitasse]


I was born in Budapest after World War II to Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivors. My father came from a village in northeastern Hungary called Vaja, where he and many of his ancestors had farmed large estates for generations. After the War, the land of course was gone, nationalized by the Communists. But kindly neighbours had hidden and kept many small family treasures. In the Budapest apartment in which I grew up, these candlesticks, bonbonnieres, and pretty pieces of china were kept in an elegant china cabinet.

We left Hungary in the wake of the Revolution of 1956. Because we came out legally in the spring of 1957, we were allowed to take a few precious items of sentimental value with us. My parents included me, a child of nine, in the decision making process, and I remember that they heeded my counsel to bring a less valuable set of silver candlesticks than the tall modern ones that they purchased after the war, because I said to them, "We should take the candle sticks that came from Vaja."

The demitasse set is also among the few objects we brought from Hungary with us. It was once part of a large set of fine German porcelain: Graf von Henneberg, Ilmenau. The set was also displayed in the china cabinet and was brought out when my parents served espresso to company.

I cherish a particularly fond memory related to these demitasses. My father liked his espresso sweet and would place a sugar cube or two in his cup. I would sit on his lap, enfolded in his arms, as he sipped his coffee. When he was done, there was always a residue of coffee-infused sugar at the bottom, which he would scrape out with what we called a mocha spoon and feed to me.

The warmth of my father’s arms around me, the taste of coffee flavoured sugar, the prettiness of the delicate little object—they form a kind of gestalt of a happy, indulged childhood, and in particular of the closeness that existed between me and my father.

There are darker memories associated with the demitasse set as well, which are recounted in the chapter called "Demitasses" in my award-winning family memoir "Shoshanna's Story: A Mother, A Daughter, and the Shadows of History" (McClelland & Stewart). But I prefer to dwell on the tenderness of the “coffee memory,” and on the fact that this little artefact connects me to a family past in the Hungarian countryside.

  • childhood
  • coffee
  • porcelain
  • history
Elaine Kalman Naves
Country of origin
Country of residence