We (my uncle Joep – my mother’s brother who has lived in Holland since 1964 – his son Nick, his granddaughter Sophie, Sam, Nikki and I) unlocked the gate to the deserted house and were greeted by memories. Objects had remained the same, but there were no people to give them joy and give them meaning.
We adults walked through the house pointing to each other something or other, crying and spooking the kids. We felt sad and very sorry for ourselves. To stay in that house was torture.
We decided to walk to the village cemetery. It took us a while to find our family’s graves – they were overgrown in weeds. We pulled the weeds with our hands, cleared the area as much as we could. When we finished, we were covered with mud.
Everyone was hungry. We walked to the village store, bought some bread and salami for sandwiches, and sat on a bench by the river. The Danube was huge. I had never seen it like this, because it had just gone through one of the biggest floods of my lifetime. On the other side of the river, my cousin owns a famous fish restaurant, but the ferry wasn’t working and there was no way to cross.
The salami was old, and no one wanted to eat it. It was starting to rain.
We walked over to a tiny cafe, a cafe that was not there the last time we visited. A few men were sitting at tables, but we recognized no one and no one seemed to recognized us. We sat in a corner, by a window, ordered coffee and watched as rain drops pelted the river.
A tall, overweight man got up from a nearby table and slowly walked over to us. He greeted my uncle and then turned to me. Through the prism of time and change, I remembered him. He was a distant cousin, the last Rakic left in Banostor.
The cousin ordered drinks all around, and everyone in the cafe started coming over to say hello. We knew these people after all. They were our friends and companions from summers past, now older, heavier and grayer, but they all knew us, and we knew them. The cousin invited us to his house for lunch.
And so the village took us in as their own. For a long time we sat in that cafe talking about old times, about our grandparents, about our summer visits. They didn’t forget us, just like we hadn’t forgotten them. We were still part of their lives.
The next day, an elderly neighbor brought us crepes and honey over for breakfast. The widow next door brought coffee and plum brandy. The old mailman across the street made us a pot of stuffed peppers for dinner. A very distant cousin (I am not even sure how we are related) came to invite us to her great-grandson’s christening.
And then the cousin across the river sent word that the ferry had started running and invited us over to her restaurant for a fish fry and a barbecue.
I cannot tell you how good it felt not to be alone, to be recognized and acknowledged, to still be part of that beloved world. Our grandparents had died, our old house was deserted. But our village still took care of us as one of their own.I, Joep and Sophie – feeling blue Delicious fish fry and barbecue at my cousin’s restaurant Part of the tribe Banostor – view from the ferry