Then and Now

August 29, 2013

Gracious Living Day by DayThis is one of my earliest memories:

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                         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.

The water can

Lace curtains

Green chair

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.

Old house - when it was full of life.                                     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                      I am standing in front of the house with my cousins Bettinka and Nick and my sister Branka – 1980
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff August 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

It’s at once sad and yet utterly comforting. These things – curtains, chairs, tables, gardens – are so much more than what they seem…

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Jelena August 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Jeff is right. These things are the vessels of memory. They endure and somehow offer confort.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

(William Carlos Williams)

Reply

Liliana August 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Thank you, Jeff and Jelena. You two make me feel so much better.

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Rosanna August 31, 2013 at 1:56 am

Perhaps it’s because I have my (now deceased) Czech-born maternal grandmother’s old, disintegrating, handmade quilt~~~(with the quilt squares already worn-through many decades ago, and the cotton batting coming out!!)~~~carefully folded across the back seat of our Toyota Corolla, i.e., just to protect the seat and to give my dear grandmother’s quilt one final, “gootd use”………… well, I have this *urge* to fly to Belgrade; and to pack-up………… an old water can………… some lace curtains………… and a green wooden chair with a flower-patterned cushion that your grandmother had crocheted………… (plus everything else in your grandparents’ small house)………… for you and Branka!!

Although I don’t know for sure, but somehow I think you and Branka, and your own respective families, might simply *c.h.e.r.i.s.h.*………… all of those specific objects which hold such vivid, lasting MEMORIES………… more than your cousins (who inherited the property) do, particularly when your cousins come to visit your/their grandparents’ house………… now their house………… that’s falling apart, with peeling stucco; cracking walls; and with the garden overgrown with weeds.

Anyway, there’s ALWAYS ~ (‘sure know from personal experience!!) ~ “family dynamics” involved in inherited possessions and/or land; and my humble perceptions, Liliana, may also be entirely and completely inaccurate, too!! Thank you for posting these lovely, very-evocative, nostalgic pictures!!

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Liliana August 31, 2013 at 8:05 am

Oh Rosanna,
your observations are accurate and right on target. But, like you say, family dynamics are very complicated.

I considered for a second bringing back with me the water can and the lace curtains and I even fantasized bringing some of the furniture (the chairs and especially the enormous old chiffonier that held my grandmother’s dowry). But I didn’t bring any of it. I simply couldn’t take it away from the old house and leave it naked and alone.

Sending you best wishes,
L.

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