Our grandparents were farmers, rich in land, but not rich in worldly goods.Banostor
When I was very young, my grandfather was a working farmer. He grew acres of wheat and corn, had huge vineyards and never ending orchards. Later, as he grew older, he leased his land to others and didn’t have to work as hard.
In the summertime, my grandparents’ house was full of people.
Branka and I came to stay for two months, first arriving from Belgrade, then after our parents immigrated, from New York.
Our uncle came from Holland with his Dutch wife and two young children.
Our aunt Angelica came in from Belgrade with her husband and two daughters. Our grandmother’s elder sister frequently traveled from Bosnia to see us all.
Most of the action at the old house took place in a large, centrally located veranda, surrounded by columns and screened windows on all sides.
In one corner stood a wood burning stove, used for all summer cooking, both to save electricity and to keep the rest of the house cool.
All meals were served at the large farm table stationed in the middle of the veranda. We children usually squeezed together on a long wooden bench, the adults sat in surrounding chairs. There was room for all.
We ate all our meals together.
Breakfast was served at 8 am.
All adults drank thick Turkish coffee, men drank plum brandy, children sipped freshly boiled milk.
This is what we commonly had for breakfast. Eggs (that I was in charge of collecting from my grandmother’s chicken coop) prepared in different ways. Fresh feta cheese that my grandfather picked up very early that morning from a neighbor, on his way back from the bakery. Fresh, warm bread. Jams that we had made the previous summer. Salty, smoked prosciutto that my grandfather had smoked the previous fall and saved for us (especially me, who loved it more than anyone!) Sliced tomatoes that someone had picked from the garden. A selection of fruits that were picked from the trees just outside the veranda windows.
We all sat down, ate, talked and laughed.
Neighbors dropped in. Another chair was added, another plate brought to the table.
After breakfast, dishes were cleared away, the house cleaned and strengthened out. Everyone helped.
I loved idling the next part of the day by the river. Danube flows wide and powerful through our village and swimming across it was a test of strength and endurance. But mostly, I read books in a shade or sat and talked and told stories with cousins and friends.
Lunch was served at 2 pm.
Slowly, we walked up the steep cobblestone road back to the house – tired, lazy, hot and hungry.
Magically, the table was set, as we all gathered for the main meal of the day. Our grandmother Branka and aunt Angelica had prepared golden chicken soup with homemade noodles, vegetables with dill sauce, roasted chicken with potatoes, freshly picked lettuce and roasted red peppers with minced garlic on the side.
We ate and we talked.
After dishes had been cleared, people found quiet corners to spend the hottest part of the day – to read, play cards, take a nap, crochet, talk.
At 4 pm, the smell of strong coffee woke us up from lazy stupor. People slowly migrated to the farm table. There was coffee and tea, and always some kind of delicious surprise. A chocolate torte. Poppy seed strudel. Seasonal fruit cake with apricots and fresh cream.
In the coolness of the afternoon, we played volleyball, soccer, hop scotch or jump rope. Grandmother sat on a bench and kept score. Grandfather watered the garden and gave advice from the sidelines.
At 8 pm, the dinner was a light affair. Leftovers from the midday meal, a slice of cheese, a piece of bread and jam, fresh fruit.
Evenings were spent sitting on benches in front of the house, talking to neighbors, as we got older – going to dances.
Sometimes, if there was a good television show, a dozen old ladies came to watch, and we children pretended that we owned a theater, cut out pretend tickets out of newspapers, and sold them for candy.
Or best of all, we gathered around our grandfather in the coolness of the dark evening and listened to stories. Ghost stories. War stories. Tragic stories of brave but fallible heroes. Of magical maidens. Of heartbreak, bad luck and astonishingly good fortune.
And sometimes, I leaned my head against my grandfather’s shoulder and without wanting to, I fell asleep.
The next morning, we all gathered around the table again.