The Joy of the Hunt

December 20, 2011

Gracious Living Day by DayMy father’s family comes from Vizic, a small village buried deep in the forests of Northern Serbia.

Vizic on a winter evening - 2010 Vizic on a winter evening – 2010

All the men in our family (except my father who, although the eldest son and thus the nominal heir, left the village when he was twelve and lived in cities from then on) and most men in the village, were and still are, avid hunters.

My grandfather, deda Djona (pronounced Jonah) went hunting almost every day, especially in the later years of his life.

My grandfather - deda Djona - he is the last man on the right - with members of his hunting club , 1967 My grandfather – deda Djona – he is the last man on the right – with members of the Vizic Hunting Club, 1967

I remember him well, setting off at dusk in all seasons of the year, his hunting rifle hanging over his shoulder, slowly walking down the main street of the village, nodding greetings to all he met, heading for the forest.

Deda Djona was a solitary hunter, although he did belong to the village hunting club and on occasion went on big, organized hunting expeditions.

Most of the time, though, he never killed anything, but walked the perimeters of the village, silently guarding it. The terrors of the two world wars (he was born in 1901, and Vizic seemed to always be in everyone’s way) left deep scars on both his face and on his soul. Although by nature a fun loving man, full of joy and  mischief, at dusk he always seemed restless and watchful.

His second son, Jova (pronounced Yova)  inherited our ancestral home and the land holdings.

A born farmer, a born hunter, a man who enjoys life more than any man I know, my uncle Jova (I call him cika Jova) and I have always had a special bond.

Vizic hunters gathering for a hunt in front of the village church, December 2011 Vizic hunters gathering for a hunt in front of the village church, December 2011 Uncle Jove and a friend on a recent hunt Cika Jova and a friend on a recent hunt Vizic hunters, December 2011, uncle Jova second from left Vizic hunters at their lodge after the hunt, December 2011, cika Jova second from left eneration of Vizic hunters, including my cousin Dejan, first on the left The next generation of Vizic hunters, including my cousin Dejan, first on the left

Women and girls didn’t go hunting when I was growing up, but my sister Branka and I were regularly allowed to accompany our uncles on hunting trips since our early childhood.

The other men teased us at first and grumbled that we would slow them down, or cry out in fright, or fuss about being tired. So, having to prove ourselves, we walked for miles in pitch dark forests, carried their guns and water jugs, and never complained.

Except one time.

On a late summer evening, when I was sixteen years old or so, the men assembled in my uncle’s yard, greeting each other loudly, laughing, sharing gulps of plum brandy (sljivovica.)

The hunting dogs, beside themselves with excitement, barked, wagged their tails in expectation, ran in circles, squealed with joy.

I begged cika Jova to let me come along, but he was worried that the terrain was too muddy and rugged after the recent torrential rains. He also mentioned that I didn’t have appropriate boots.

I went looking for someone whose boots I could borrow, begging all who would listen for help. My cousin George, a few years younger than I, volunteered to stay home and lend me his boots, a sacrifice I could never forget.

I laced the boots on, assuring cika Jova that they were a perfect fit.

I carried cika Jova’s hunting gun and pranced like a young pony as we headed out of the village. But the further we made our way into the depths of the dense forest, the more I slowed down.

The boots were at least two sizes too small.

I bit my lip, I tried not to cry, but as the blisters formed, I couldn’t help slowing down more and more.

Cika Jova always kept me by his side, and he noticed and understood the situation without me saying a word.

While the rest of the hunting party walked on, he stopped, helped me take George’s boots off, then gave me his own boots, about five sizes too large.

Ashamed and miserable, I slowly squished through the mud in those huge boots. My uncle, without a bit of anger or rancor, cheered me on as he walked beside me back to the village, on that rough forest path – barefoot.

As our laughing, singing voices rang through the darkness, I thought I felt my grandfather’s spirit – guarding us.

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