I am a very little girl, maybe three or four years old. I am sitting with my baby sister on the floor of my uncle’s kitchen in Belgrade. The adults are sitting around the table listening to my aunt read a story from the evening paper. They are so absorbed in the story, they pay no attention to us children, and they assume that we are not listening.
But I am all ears.
This is the story. On a dark, cold winter night two thieves break into a house in a small village in Vojvodina. They kill the old couple who live in the house, but they don’t stop there. They kill all the animals as well: the dogs, the cats, the pigs and the chickens.
I sit on the floor and pretend to play with my sister, but I think that this is the saddest story in the world. I have grandparents in Vojvodina. I worry that this could happen to them. I think of their house without them, without the animals: empty, cold, deserted. Then I suppress this memory into my deepest subconscious.
But this summer, as I entered my grandparents house, the story came back with all the power as when I was three years old. My grandparents have been dead for twenty years. Although cousins who inherited the property come to visit, no one has lived in this house all that time.My grandparent’s house – now
This house is a dead place now. It is falling apart: the stucco is peeling, the walls are cracking, the garden is overgrown with weeds. This place, where my mother was born and where I spent most of my childhood summers, where different generations of our extended family gathered for long leisurely meals, where we told stories and tried to make sense of the world, this place is empty now.
The objects that were here fifty and more years ago are still here now. The old water can. The lace curtains. The green wooden chair with flower-patterned cushion that my grandmother had crocheted.
But the house is empty. The garden and the yard beyond it are empty. No people live here, no animals live here.
The time of my family in this particular place, in this ancient village that has straddled the shores of the Danube since the Roman times, has passed. We have been here since the 12th century. Soon, it will become someone else’s turn to take stewardship of this land.The old house in the 1970’s when it was full of life I am standing in front of the house with my cousins Bettinka and Nick and my sister Branka – 1980