August 3, 2010

The Old Well

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Garden, Serbia tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:24 am by Liliana

The Old Well

The Old Well

In the corner of my grandparents’ garden stood an old well. It had been there for a long time, hundreds of years.

During the early part of my childhood, before there was plumbing installed in the village, all the water for cooking, bathing, drinking and animals was fetched from the bucket in that well.

The children knew not to go near it. The well was very deep and dark, and if anyone fell in, they would not survive.

Although there was electricity in my grandfather’s house, in the early 1960’s my grandparents didn’t own a refrigerator. No one in the village did. No one owned any kind of modern day appliance – no electric ranges, no washing machines and certainly no dishwashers. Those came gradually and later, in the late 60’s and 70’s. Before that, people used wooden stoves for cooking and heating, and all the washing was done by hand. The water was pulled from the well.

Because there was no refrigeration, the food had to be eaten quickly. Chickens were prepared by my grandmother the same day that my grandfather slaughtered them. Fruits and vegetables were picked and consumed the same day. We ate what was ripe and in season.

Sometimes, my mother made ice cream and we children helped. I still remember the steps.

My grandfather would bring a bucket of heavy cream, skimmed of the milk that his dairy cows provided that morning. He would place it in the cool of the veranda while we washed berries or pealed fresh peaches, or other fruit from the garden trees.

Our mother would cook the cream with the fruit, stirring and adding a bit of sugar if needed, until the concoction thickened. Then we poured it into porcelain cups, which she placed in the well bucket, and lowered into the coolness of the water so it would solidify.

But no matter how long we waited, and the time seemed awfully long, our ice cream was never the same as the ice cream we bought in the store. It was cold, but never frozen.

It was smooth, creamy, fruity and delicious. Different generations assembled in the cool shade of the veranda, eating ice cream with tea spoons out of those delicate porcelain cups.

“This is not frozen enough to be ice cream,” one of the children complained.

“Maybe not ice, but it is cream,” my grandfather answered. And no matter how many times he said it, we always laughed.

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July 28, 2010

The Old and the New

Posted in Family, Holidays, Serbia, Traditions tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:46 am by Liliana

Horses

The old ways

The village in Serbia where my father grew up is located in a deep valley with tall hills all around. The hills are covered with thick forests.

When I was a child in the 1960’s, there was no paved road to the village. There was an ancient cobblestone pathway that got terribly muddy when it rained and became practically impassable in spring and fall. The only way to get through during those seasons was with a wagon pulled by strong horses.

My father left the village as a young boy, went to school, and spend most of his life living in a big city, where my sister and I grew up. His brother inherited the family house and land and stayed in the village to take care of their parents and be a farmer.

Our father and uncle were close and loved each other but there was always rivalry between them – city against country, new against old, modernity against old customs.

Every Serbian family has a Patron Saint’s day and ours is in October, the rainy, muddy season of the year. Our entire large, extended family would assemble in my uncle’s house and celebrate. It was the biggest event of the year.

The year I was five, 1964, my father bought a car. He was excited to drive it to the Saint’s Day celebration, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t rain and that the roads would be dry. He wanted to display to his brother the industrial superiority of the modern times.

Well, I will never forget how hard it rained as my father, mother, sister and I drove through the thick forest. It poured. The road was thick with mud and pretty soon, the car stopped. My father tried this and that, but the car wouldn’t budge. He tried pushing it, and we got out to help.

Pretty soon, our fancy clothes were wet and muddy, and my sister and I started to cry. Our father knew that it was time to give up.

He left us to sit in the car with our mother and went looking for help. We sat for what seemed like a long time, afraid of the dark, rainy forest. Our mother sang songs to us.

And then we heard the sound of a wagon and joyous voices. Our father was coming back with our uncle, his wagon and two horses.

Our uncle was delighted. Delighted to see us but also delighted to attach the new car to his old horse wagon and pull it into the village.

The family was waiting as we descended into the valley. Everyone was amused to see that the old ways still had their place.

It wouldn’t last. These days everyone in the village has a car. The old cobblestone road is paved.

And no one keeps horses anymore.