Two Weddings

April 17, 2012

Gracious Living Day by DayMy mother’s youngest brother Dragoljub has lived in the Netherlands since the 1960s.

He moved there after marrying a Dutch girl named Ans. This is how it happened.

Dragoljub - as a young soldier      Dragoljub – as a young soldier

In the summer of 1964, Dragoljub was stationed on the Adriatic coast as a conscript in the Yugoslav army. Ans was there on holiday and the two of them met and fell in love. Over the next year they wrote dozens of letters to each other.

The following year Ans came to Serbia to meet our family. I was six years old at the time, but I remember well the excitement of being introduced to my first foreigner.

Ans spoke German with my uncle and grandfather (who had learned German while he was a POW during WWII,) but had no language in common with the rest of us. Despite the barrier, I found her charming, good-natured and kind, always laughing and ready for adventure. I loved her from our first meeting.

To my traditional grandparents, though, nothing about Ans was familiar or comprehensible. She was worldly and liberal, independent and emancipated. Traditions didn’t bind her. Ans was her own woman.

We were as foreign to Ans as she was to us.

She liked our family (especially my gentle mother) but our southern European ways were incomprehensible and puzzling to her northern sensibilities. We exasperated her at every turn. Family was central to our way of being and Ans found us old fashioned and feudal. Her favorite expression was, “Only in Yugoslavia!”

By late autumn of that year, Dragoljub had moved to Holland and he and Ans decided that they would have two weddings. One was to be in Utrecht the following spring for her friends and family. The second wedding would be in Banostor the following summer for his friends and family.

No one from our family was able to attended the Utrecht wedding, but there were hundreds of pictures, and they looked as exotic to us as if they were of the Dutch royal family.

The small wedding took place at an old Lutheran church, the reception at a fancy banquet hall.  The bride’s wedding dress had a severe, modern design, while the other women looked resplendent in gowns and large hats. The groom and his attendants were dressed formally, in top hats and tails, white gloves in their hands. The wedding couple was at the center of the ceremony: walking down the isle, dancing the first dance, cutting the cake. The bride threw the bouquet.

The entire occasion was over by early evening.

The bride and the groom - their wedding in Holland       The bride and the groom – their wedding in Holland

The wedding in Banostor I remember well. I witnessed from the sidelines as my grandparents, my mother, aunt and other relatives prepared for the occasion: set up tents in the garden, cooked all the food themselves, baked cakes and a magical array of confections, arranged barrels of my grandfather’s home-made wine and plum brandy.

Every member of our extended family was invited, as well as, of course, the entire village. No one was sure how many guests would be in attendance, but the assumption was that there would be hundreds.

A gypsy band arrived early the morning of the wedding and didn’t stop playing until the next. People were singing, dancing, shouting, eating, drinking and one was surrounded by a cacophony of sounds, colors and fragrances. The bride and groom were hardly conspicuous in the crowds of revelers; in fact, except during the church ceremony, I hardly remember seeing them that day.

The Serbian wedding - Ans is standing second from left and has already changed out of her wedding dress. I am the girl sitting in the lap of Ans's father.       The Serbian wedding – Ans is standing second from left and has already changed out of her wedding dress. I am the girl sitting in the lap of Ans’s father.

What I do remember from that occasion was the electric excitement and elation, the pure joy of jointly celebrating my uncle’s transition to a new stage of life.

Most of the guests, and this included the very old as well as the young children, stayed up late and celebrated most of the night. The gypsy band was at the center of it all.

Ans and her parents were a bit bewildered at first, but they got into the swing of things and seemed to have as much fun as the rest of us. We embraced them as our own.

Only in Yugoslavia!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ana April 17, 2012 at 7:49 am

My roommate and best college friend gets married this summer, and they will have two weddings too. In the same day, I get to be part of an [abridged!] Indian ceremony and a traditional Catholic one. I can’t wait!

Of course, I think I’ll miss the gypsy band nonetheless…only in Yugoslavia. 🙂

Also have you seen Monsoon Wedding? I think you’d enjoy it; it’s a charming film about a wedding in India, though a lot of the family comes back from the States for the ceremonies.

Hope you’re doing well!

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Liliana April 17, 2012 at 8:01 am

You lucky girl, I hear that Indian weddings are the best (even abridged!)
I have seen Monsoon Wedding, but now that you reminded me, I will have to see it again. I loved the movie.
Do you remember meeting my aunt and uncle when they came to the US in 2002? Your cousins were visiting from Novi Sad at the same time.
Love and hugs to you. Take care, angel.

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Ana Progovac April 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Oh yes – didn’t we all play volleyball on your lawn that year? I think we have a big group photo I vaguely remember taking as well. =)

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Liliana April 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm

That’s right! I can’t believe it’s been ten years already.

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