– You said that in the 60s they started with leaving Uzdin?
– The first time in Uzdin a man Enci Ilia left by boat, in 1912-1913, from my family. He left and stayed only two years and came back. He was a blacksmith by trade. And he came back because he left his family here. He went alone.
– What relative was he?
– My grandmother’s great-grandfather.
– So five generations ago. And where did he go by boat?
– To New York. Enci’s child, the eldest is 93 now, left with the intention of going to France. But at that time they still didn’t get in. He fraudulently crossed from Slovenia to Italy and from Italy he crossed the Alps with guides, horsemen, who knew the area and passed him and his wife.
– What year was this?
– In 1961-62. They weren’t taking in citizens from Yugoslavia yet. It wasn’t until 1963-64 that France took in immigrants. And my uncle, a tailor by trade, immediately got a job there in the garment industry and in time brought a sister, a brother. They were two brothers and two sisters.
– Where in France?
– In Paris. They first lived near the Garre de Lyon. And they all stayed together. My Pavel, who’s an engineer, didn’t go there until 1969, he slept in the bathtub. All three families slept in a one-room apartment, one on top of the other. Then they all worked and were assigned, from the 70s.
– They wanted France instead of Italy because the pay was better?
– Yes. In the garment industry, France was over Italy. My grandfather and grandmother left. And then this one went (my uncle), he went to school there, as a model maker. This one worked and eventually came and had 70-80 employees, who had ready-made tailoring fabric and only had sewing machines. And they also made money from our Serbs who came, took their stuff home. Those when they came from work, they worked for him, plus to make money. And in 1970, Enci, who went to Italy had good thoughts that even more money was being made in America. And he left in 1972.
– So who was Enci?
– Enci Ilie was his father, who first went to America. Enci Ilie’s son was Enci Gheorghe and he went from France to America, to Detroit.
– And what did he do there?
– He worked in the garment business again. In the meantime Petru Vereșan, who is from my uncle’s family, also left in 1974-75, because they earned twice as much as in France. Only one of his cousins remained, Enci Ilia, who was named after his grandfather, worked in the garment industry in France until the 2000s, when the Chinese began to enter. He worked for Pierre Cardin, for well-known companies. He gave me clothes, I know I gave them to a neighbour today, he keeps them for weddings, they don’t skimp, the material is great.
– So it was a family tradition to tailor.
– Yes. On my mother’s side they were poorer, there were more brothers, that’s why they went abroad. One out of a hundred went if one of them had a family fortune, and if the family didn’t get along, they left. The big part who were not professionals left. In the 60s they left, you didn’t need anything, you put on the train what you took, you announced yourself to the factory, immediately they made you a sejour card and you could work. That’s how it was in those days. My cousin Pavel, Ilie’s son, ended up as an engineer, so he had money. He went to Switzerland two months later and put the money in. He was putting it in, because he was getting tax. What should he do with that money? He bought acres of forest in France. I’m going hunting with my cousin. They have friends who have 20,000 hectares. My uncle invested in the forest. And today my uncle, if there are near him 2-5 hectares, he still buys. He lives near Versailles.
– Is that Elijah?
– No, that’s Pavel. Elijah died in 2014.
– This Elijah was the grandson of the first Elijah who first went to America?
– Yes. But nephew to nephew. He’s in 1961. I’m 1962. And he’s alive today in Detroit, Enci Gheorghe, who until two years ago worked, then had to clean clothes. He didn’t want to work anymore because he retired and let’s get someone to work. And Romanian employees came from Romania, around 2000, he immediately hired them and sold them the business. And he felt bad that he wasn’t working. He was almost 80 years old and he went and asked them: would you let me work for 3-4 hours? Until two years ago he worked, that’s how he felt.
But this uncle of mine, Petre Vărășan… let me tell you the John Travolta story. When he went there in 1974 he got a job with a Jewish guy in Detroit and he had a clientele that was still rich. One of them came to make a car, to shorten his jacket. And after about six or seven years he says to the Jew, “Please leave me the keys because I want to keep working.” He left him the keys. And after 6-7 years the Jew comes to him – his name is Petru, but he calls him Peter – and says: “Peter, do you want me to sell you this shop?” Well, I don’t have any money. But he tells him: “I’ve seen you, I’ve been watching you for 6-7 years, you’re a hard worker, you just have to get busy, have your own business, as the Americans say”. “I don’t have any money,” he says. “We do the transaction without money and in a year you give me that amount of money. If you in a year’s time are not able to make that money, you are not capable of this business. You are a worker and all your life you will earn money for whom?”
In ten months he made even more money, went and gave him the money. And the Jew said to him, “Peter, you will remember me all your life, you will be full of money. In America the clientele that went to this store, they also came to him. He shortens the pants, $20 or $50. That’s where the wealthy clientele came. In that area Tampa was the only one. And so he worked 20 years in Detroit and got a condo in Tampa (in Florida, just past the Gulf of Mexico), only the rich stay there. There is no industry there, only offices, by the Gulf of Mexico. He’s right on that Clearwater Island. He also had his house and his condo, like from our place on the way, it has the ocean, jacuzzi, everything, guards, no one can bathe. He’s working and to this day, he’s got… he’s younger than my mother, he’s 72. And that’s how he got his clientele. He did clothes for Mike Tyson’s manager. Word got around the world and he ended up doing clothes for John Travolta and Tom Cruise, he doesn’t come to him, he just calls him on the phone. They get clothes from Europe, Pierre Cardin or Gucci and they have to be fitted or he fixes them. He used to make some of his own, leather pants, jackets, and he sold some, but he didn’t get much publicity, only his clientele that was out there got it.
– Can we find him on the internet?
– Peter Tailor Shop.
He’s been here all year. His sister died and last year with Corona he came, my mother was sick in bed. They were very close. Especially my mother’s side of the family. Those on my father’s side are all Enci and Vereșan.
– You’re first cousins?
– No, he’s my mother’s uncle. So he was my mother’s brother.
He’s 72, still working, has a life… still plays tennis. Well, he knew Hulk Hogan, that’s how he acts, “Hey, man.” Too bad I don’t have pictures of him, when he was in France, with big curly hair, because he’s blond, like my mother.
– If you find the pictures, send us on whatsapp. And tell us about yourself, how many times you’ve been abroad.
– I’ve been gone since I was five years old. I didn’t tell you, in 1968 my grandfather, Peter Vereșan’s father, died and they brought him here from France to bury him. Adam Vereșan called him. He wanted to be buried in the land of Uzdin.
The first time when I was five years old I went to Paris, I have photos, near the Eiffel Tower. And all my relatives, my uncles, my cousins, we all went out together to Versailles, to the Eiffel Tower, to the Sacre Coeur. I have photos from 1967.
– How long were you in France then?
– A month or two. When I was young I could have been a great footballer. I loved life. If I didn’t go to the sea, I went to Paris, my holiday. When I came from Paris, I came with money, two-three months, it seemed, all the uncles gave me money. My cousins wouldn’t let me pay when I was there with them. It was a different life. Now these generations have drifted apart and there’s no more of that family harmony that there once was. The cousins, the relatives, it was holy. He helped him with a word, with guidance… now I’ve seen it in my cousins, the generations change abroad. It’s a pity for us in Uzdin, because I tell you, it was always a pride when someone came here.
– How old are you?
– Sixty. Born in 1962.
– And when did you first go to stay over there?
– All these people I’m telling you about never joined the army. In 1983, that’s when I met Ophelia, and it was love at first sight. Her brother was a drawing teacher here, so I saw her, with some friends of mine I thought, I must meet this proud girl. But I’d never worked in my life before. And the teacher said: would you like to come to my village and help me, I have a couple of hectares, I’m digging corn. My mother wouldn’t let me work. So I went, that’s how I met her, and I didn’t like her and I went to France. Summer came, June, the holidays, and I went to France. And then it wasn’t mobile, it was just like that, a landline. My brother left and I said I’d send her a present like a friend, a skirt, a perfume. And she calls me, why doesn’t he come home? She was very serious. And then I got a longing… great thing in life how a man feels. And I tell my folks. But then in 1983 they didn’t check you at customs, but it had to be as a kind of guarantee. And an uncle who was as much connected to Yugoslavia made that guarantee for me. What will the communists say, that you want to stay, that your uncle, your cousin, all of them, didn’t join the army. And when she announced herself on the phone, I felt a longing and said to my grandmother: I’m going home to get married.
– How long had you been in France then?
– 4-5 months, I said I was going for good. Before that I stayed for a month, two, three, I was here until the tenth grade, I was late for school because I played football as a child. I trained in Red Star. I started playing here in Uzdin and they saw the quality, back then the sport for the village was great and I went on. And I played in the village of Alibunar, the whole area of Vojvodina knew about me. I was married, Sabina (daughter) was small, one year old and I went to Sloboda Tuzla (football team from Tuzla, Bosnia). In Tuzla Branco Anovici took me to see how I play, and I stayed for a week to try (trial). I remember that in one week I earned money, a thousand or so marks. And I had to start in the winter with them in trainings. And I went home and told my wife to go there and she: we are not going there to the Bosnians. You can play and here in the county team. She didn’t know how to swear. I was more explosive. I raised chickens, pigs, what I didn’t raise, and frogs I took to Italy. That was the best business I ever had, with frogs. From 1995 to 2001.
– So you raised frogs here?
– No, I didn’t. Here the Timis is swampy, it overflows and the frogs on the bank come out at night and go back into the water during the day. And we made carbide lamps for them. At one time I had a house from an uncle of mine on my father’s side, who was away in America, and it was an empty house. And then the Romanians came here to work. And I kept about 25 Romanians, they came and went, I worked in agriculture. The idea with the frogs came to me because I heard from someone that in the past, twenty years ago, someone from Novi Sad took care of them. And somehow I found an acquaintance, one from Zrenjanin. The Italian came with a truck, with a cold room and twice a month he took the merchandise. Then in Serbia there was the war, there were these problems. He wanted to invest here, to set up a factory where they only cut the frogs. And they didn’t allow us to do anything.
– And how much did you sell for per kilo?
– With a mark per kilo. Men worked in agriculture for 10 euros for two hours, but to collect frogs they were paid 20 or 30 euros. I also had people from here and from the surrounding villages bring me the goods. And my friend came by truck. I wasn’t the first hand, because I was supposed to be here and he was going to Novi Sad, to Hungary. And that’s when the Italian died, the children didn’t want his business anymore, he left about 30 restaurants, a lot of money. And in 2001-2002 we were no longer allowed to sell outside the country. But in the 1990s, the Italian and I got interested in opening up a business in the Danube Delta. And that’s when I first heard that they had Russians in the Danube Delta. And just when we wanted to do these transactions the Italian got sick.
– And what did you want to do there, the factory?
– No, to catch frogs. Here was the Danube-Tisa canal, there were other, bigger frogs. We had 400-500 kilos a day. The Romanians then slowly started to stop coming for work here, they started going to Greece. And I started to work with poorer families from here in Uzdin, from all over the marshes, they brought me the frogs, I immediately weighed them and give them the money. And I went with them, I took them with the tractor, because they had nothing, I got them bicycles. And I made them carbide lamps so they could catch the frogs at night, only at night. I took 20 of them with me on the tractor and I went to the Romanian border, catching frogs.
– So that was between 1996 and 2001. And during this period from when you stopped playing in Bosnia until 1996 you stayed in Uzdin?
– No. I played here in the county, in Covacita for about 3-4 years, in Alibunari I played. In 1990 I came to Uzdin for 6 months to help them. In 1996 I was both coach and player. I had a talented football generation of my own, only we didn’t have leaders. And we all scattered. And the best ones played for money elsewhere. And then I came in 2001, when Milosevic fell, it was hard. I have always been pro changes in life, and to this day I am, that one can always live better. Always to find solutions, to be different. I came in 2001, the leadership was still socialist, still communist. I was in opposition. And when the community of Romanians was created, I was the vice-president of the Romanians. I told them, I don’t need money, give me material, iron, tiles, cement, sand and so on to build the stadium, because everything was ruined. There were about 200 trees, I don’t know what they did, they sold them, because I wasn’t here at the time, and the wall was ruined. And we collected all that material and built the stadium, the rooms. But you should know that in 1965 Uzdin was in group C. It was also politically motivated, they sang a forbidden song (Hora unirii). At that time our ancestors told us that they were legionaries. And then they sang Hora Unirii, from the Danube to the Seine, and they stopped that generation and since then Uzdin has been going downhill. At that time the village was bigger, there were three thousand of us, three classes, 70-80 in generation.
In 1926 he founded the first football team, there’s a photo, a German founded it here. When I went to France I left them 16 children like my Patric, 16-17 years old. I went to France, new management came from elsewhere, no more work, they play from Sunday to Sunday, they bring trained players from Belgrade. It’s not the team “Unirea” anymore. In 1965 they even made an anthem: (they sing) “We are called Unirea, our pride is in our hearts / We are the pride of the village and at the head of Banat / For what we know, we respect our adversary / But we won’t let them win / For our dear Unirea we fight with pride”. And there is more. That’s what that generation did, the golden generation.
And back in the day I found an album, I had a fight with those. It was a forgotten painting, from around 1950, I think, I took it to be restored. I had photos of several who had died, I went to their descendants and they gave me the photos. And interestingly, a Serb from Putnikovo carries all this tradition, he is also a policeman, Tale Andrici is his name, he grew up with us from a young age. There’s still this collection at the stadium. He takes care of it.
I wanted to go, I really liked living in France. As a kid I remember that kindness, when you go into a shop, it’s different, the Latin mentality. And I went after my daughter.
– So your daughter went to France first?
– Yes, she did. I was there in 2010, I ran a shop. The girls studied and I needed money to give them. But I didn’t have that much money because in agriculture you sell the corn once and spend the money immediately. I had the store across the street from school, it was called Banana, the name is still there on the wall, they haven’t erased it. That’s what they called me in football, and everybody knows me as Banana.
– And your daughter when she went to France?
– In 2011, my youngest daughter. My eldest daughter is in Timisoara. She went to study in 2004. But my wife had an accident here in Padina, when she took my daughter to school in Alibunari, because that’s where it was the economics highschool in Romanian language. And then she went to university and she stayed since 2004, she found a boy from Orșova, student, they got married in 2010. She stayed in Timisoara, she used to work in cosmetics. She worked in Unirii Square in a rented space, then moved to the Mall and worked, and then opened her salon 5-6 years ago near Continental, the television filmed it. I was in Paris and didn’t even go to the opening.
– And so the youngest daughter left in 2011 and then you left too?
– Yes, in 2012 I left too, I stayed for seven years. Five years I didn’t come here at all. Then I came, because they did the wedding.
– Is the son-in-law Romanian?
– Yes, he’s from here in the village.
– And what did you do in France during this period?
– During this period my son-in-law worked with double pane windows and I worked with him from the beginning, then I met another owner, he sells cars, trucks, he has places where he sells cars in Paris.
– And you want to go back to France now? When did you return to Uzdin?
– I went to Timisoara for the christening and from there I went to Paris and the following year my uncle said my uncle was coming and I came home, with the intention of going back. My boss closes the company there from 10-15 July until 1 September, they all go on holiday. And then my mother fell into bed, she had Parkinson’s. And I had to stay with her, I didn’t want to give her to the nursing home.
– What year was that?
– Now that my mother’s been dead for a few months. November 2021.
– So how long were you in France?
– Seven years, almost eight. Since 2012 I’ve been staying, I used to come on holidays for a month or two. I came in 2019, I wanted to go back and my mother fell into bed.
– And now you’re thinking of going back to France?
– Well, I’m thinking about it, because that’s where my daughter is, she had her first daughter, Clara, a beautiful little girl, that’s how much I loved her, she speaks Romanian, French, English, Serbian. She will be five in the autumn.
– And what’s the story with Iliescu? Which uncle of yours?
– Uncle Spăriosu Todor. He hasn’t been to France, he has no business there. He was from my father’s family, he was more wealthy, he didn’t go abroad much. Maybe they were visiting.
I have to take you to the stadium too, to see a wonder, history. I played football at Uzdin for 45 years, I was maybe better than these young guys. I played football, I didn’t quit. I had this generation of kids like Patric, all day long they came to me to train, all Romanians. And I’m sorry they got lost.
– Is there a player from Uzdin who at some point made it to the top?
– It is. My best friend went to school in Vojvodina in Novi Sad and made it to the first and second division. He played for Proleter Zrenjanin. We were more peasants, we were not educated sportsmen, more drinking, more sleepless night. We didn’t have a professional life. Another friend of mine played for Arkan Obilić, and with Barcelona he played in 1996. He was not so good, he played right back, he only knew hot to shoot with his head. And we came back here and wanted to do it, but it was a bit late. We were older, we didn’t have others younger than us. And here I am glad that Uzdin has risen with these guys who play elsewhere, only play for money. We played for Uzdin out of pleasure, out of pride, there was never a time when we didn’t sing the anthem. (sings) “The footballer’s cute when he walks through town / And you’ll see the ladies raise the shutters / And you’ll see the girls…” There’s more. There was harmony. We listened to stories of how football was made here and the history of Uzdin. The old people gave a lot to culture, to sport, they were united, they went by carriage, by train, we still travelled by bus. One time we had an old bus here, the CAP repaired it, and people went with us, spectators of ours, when we went we sang, it was a harmony, a pleasure. And here we are, the last generation to have caught up with those people who were so hard-working and organised and knew how to bring this Romanianism together.
We were table tennis champions in the former Yugoslavia.
– The champions of Yugoslavia?
– Yes! Well, don’t you know the history of Uzdin, hasn’t anyone told you?
– They told us you had a very good table tennis team.
– Before Partizan, before Zagreb, before Slovenia. When the Slovenians came to us, when we put them in the second division, and they lost here I don’t know how much. With the taxi they came from Belgrade, Uzdin wasn’t even on the map and they lost. That the Slovenians were great at table tennis, and the Croats. It’s not a school, it’s not a child who didn’t pass, discipline, work. Kids went through that selection. And the best students, the most disciplined ones, they didn’t let them go to the cinema, they didn’t let them have ice cream, a strict discipline. He took them in the sixties and eighties, and in the eighties we started getting into the first division. And then they started to break us up, they started to buy Ilie Partizan, Mircea Măran coach, Bosică, in 91 Ilia played in the Champions League with Partizan in Timisoara. A tradition that still continues to this day. Three sports per two thousand inhabitants – handball, football and tennis.
– And there are still good kids now, still performing?
– It’s a great area here. If Lupulescu’s brother came back, or the coaches who are abroad, and worked with them for a few years, they would produce champions. We then had a gift in the 80s when we got into the first division, for a set they sold the match to Zagreb, Vojvodina sold, so we wouldn’t be champions here. And the coach told them: don’t worry, next year we’ll beat them all. We’ve been champions for years. And then they started to break us up, the big clubs started to buy them.
And Ilie won the Olympic gold medal, and he went to America and there the Americans took Ilie Lupulescu and Ioniță Bosică, because they knew they were in table tennis. They were at the Olympics in Greece coaching. And Ilie played for America at the Olympics. Lupulescu family has three Olympics.
– And he’s in America now?
– Yes, but now he’s back, he’s here, next door to me. He came on vacation. He was a man of enthusiasm, wherever he took, whatever sport he took. He said to them, “I’m coming, a good football team is not made immediately, I’m going to make up my team, to grow a generation of players. He happened to stay in tennis, because he played both football and tennis, he went to Subotica to specialise, he was a coach and then he came back in the sixties and came back here and started working with our boys. He left in 1992 for America. I was sitting at the table with him and he said to me, “Hey man, I’m going, but you know I’m not going to work in the factory, I’ll find something I like. And he found a job in table tennis, but Americans are not good at table tennis, he didn’t make it.
– Let’s go to the stadium.
Photo credit: Ionuț Suciu