Stories 2022


– Grandma, first, please tell me how old you are.

– I’m 84. I’m an old lady. Yes, I’m also sick. I’m retired… but I get out in the yard, help out, feed the birds, sweep, help with the food, help my daughter a little bit.

– And all your life you’ve been like this?

– Yes!

– Have you always had so much work?

– Always, because there were more of us, we had 3 children and then my old parents sold their house and moved in with us. And we were the older family. And I always went to work and when I came home I did the cooking and the washing and the ironing, everything.

– And you had help?

– Well, Ana helped me, and my mother helped me a little.

– They were the women of the house. Did you have a job at some point?

– Yes, I always did. I worked in a fruit garden.

– In Nădlac?

– In Nădlac, at the association, that’s where I worked.

– Grandma, you’re old enough so…How did the world look like this when you were little, when you were born? What did Nădlac look like?

– Nădlac was very nice and friendly. In Nădlac, that was the tradition, on Sundays, when I was about 7-8 years old, we went to see our relatives. Every Sunday they came to some people, another Sunday they came to us, there wasn’t a Sunday my parents didn’t meet my relatives.

– Were you a big family?

– Yes, but then there were more children than now at my parents’ and we always went in the evening, in the afternoon, after we had eaten. We went and stayed 2-3 hours and came home. That was every Sunday.

– And what happened at these meetings?

– My parents worked the land. They worked in the summer, a lot, but they didn’t work in the winter. They didn’t work in the winter, that’s why they had so much time to visit people. After they had collected everything from the fields, they started to prepare for the holidays, for Christmas and then, until spring, they stayed at home.

– What do you remember from when you were a child?

– Until I was 3 years old I only stayed with my mother. My father was at war. And he didn’t come home. Not at all! For three years. My mother had to take care of her old mother, then she died and I stayed with my mother. It was very hard for us! My mother had to take care of our food… she worked and then my father came, then he went to war, 7 years he was at war. And we lived only with my mother. It was hard. My mother put me in school. There weren’t clothes like there are now, backpacks. I had backpacks like baskets. And I had a slate, not notebooks. My mother put a scarf on me so I wouldn’t get rained on.

– What did you write on the slate?

– I had pencil, but it wasn’t really a pencil, nor chalk…

– Oh, because if it rained, it washed out.

– They erased the blackboard. It was one side with lines and one side with squares. And the alphabet book, those were all my books.

– How much schooling did you do?

– Five grades.

– And then you went to work?

– I didn’t go right away, my mother went, but I stayed home.

– Children usually went to school only five years?

– Some went for longer, but that’s what my parents decided. So I could be at home and that was it.

– What did women do back then? What were their chores?

– In winter they knitted socks for the kids, blouses, scarves, that sort of thing. She would spin hemp, so thin, and weave and weave.

– Did you have a weaver at home?

– Yes, I did!

– Everybody had?

– No, not everyone.

– But who?

– Who was in charge of these. My father knew how to do it and he did it, we had everything we needed. And from that material they used to sew skirts, because there wasn’t much money. He dyed it with walnut leaves.

– Oh, you could find material?

– There were many Jews there and they had material at home. You would buy material only to have for good, Sunday clothes and sew the rest. They made rugs out of rags… so beautiful, all colours and that’s what we had on the floor, we didn’t have rugs.

– And the rest? What else did they do?

– In the evenings, they were always talking.

– And in summer?

– In the summer they went to the fields.

– And at home?

– The old people and children stayed at home, but in the evening they came home. Sometimes, when it was summer, when the wheat was cut, they didn’t come home.

– Where did they stay?

– Well, they stayed there, you know, in the fields. In the field they threshed with the machine, not with the combine. There must have been some cars he used to use. The first time it was like this: the wheat was grown and cut, the men cut with scythes and the women, with sickles, took the sheaves and tied them. And they put it like this, on a big pile and they came with those machines, they threshed only wheat. Sometimes they went on Monday morning and came home Saturday night.

– They stayed that long?

– Well, there was a lot of wheat once in Nădlac. And a lot of corn. There is now too, but not like then.

– Did someone bring them food or where did they get it?

– They made food for everyone who worked there.

– Oh, they went from one to another. ….

– And then they went to the neighbours. They made food.

– They took turns.

– Yes, they made good food.

– What kind of food did they make?

– They used to make a lot of soup. They cut veal, they cut sheep…

– Did people have that many animals?

– Had, yes! Very much had, especially outside, in the field, there were a lot of animals.

– And what did they do? Soups of what?

– Mostly Romanian soups.

– Oh, the Slovaks didn’t make them?

– I already had a child, I was about 23 when I ate my first soup. We never made soup.

– Not at all?

– Not at all!

– But they didn’t know or…

– They didn’t even know. The Romanians did, but they said it was Romanian food. The Slovaks made potato soup, pea soup, tomato soup, like that…

– Was the difference between cultures that big? They didn’t mix at all?

– Yes, when my parents were young, in their 20s, half of Nădlac was Romanian, half Slovak.

– And it was split in two?

– Yes, if a Roman went after a Slovak girl, he’d get beaten up… or Slovak after Roman, beating.

– Ah, so marriage was out of the question.

– No way. But when I was young, it had already started so mingle.

– Was your husband Romanian or Slovak?

– Slovak.

– Ah, so you had no problems.

– Yes, yes, he was Slovak.

– And our parents were Slovak too.

– Yes, Slovak.

– Do you know if any of your grandparents or distant relatives came and settled in Nădlac?

– When my mother was… when I was born, she was 20. And she was born in Hungary.

– In Nădlacul Mic?

– At that time Slovaks came to Nadlac. They built the church and came, they had clothes and food and a club on their shoulders. There is a very big picture in the church in Nadlac, how the Slovaks came to Nadlac.

– To the evangelical church?

– Yes.

– Did your mother tell you anything?

– Yes, but she was born there and then she came to Nădlac, immediately, as a child, so she doesn’t know.

– Oh, she only knows Nădlac.

– And after that she never went to Hungary.

– At all?

– Not at all, not at all. And my father was born in Nădlac, yes.

– What language did you go to school in? Was school the same as now?

– It was Slovak and Russian.

– And you didn’t do it in Romanian like now?

– Very little Romanian was done then if you went to Slovak school.

– Did you?

– Yes. And I was a pioneer with red tie.

– It was already under communism.

– Yes, and when it came to it, they asked the parents – let the child be a pioneer? And my parents decided they wouldn’t let me.

– Why not?

– Especially my mother, they thought they had only me… They had two other children, but they died small… And if I grow up, they’ll take me to Russia and they won’t have me either (laughs). That’s not just my mother, many mothers didn’t want that.

– What, did the children go to Russia?

– No, no…

– Oh, it was just a myth.

– It was just talk.

– They were afraid.

– Fear. But then they let me, I was a pioneer and I took Russian and Slovak at school. And the Romanians had Romanian and Russian language.

– And there were separate buildings?

– Yes, like they are now.

– Not anymore.

– I don’t know now. Do you know where I went to school? Where the church is and there’s that big monument. That’s where I went to school from first to fourth grade. It was about four grades. There were a lot of kids, little ones. There was the big yard and they tore it all down and made a nursing home.

– I didn’t know there was a school there.

– There was a big school there, yes.

– You see now they’re all mixed up, just different classes, but it’s in the same school.

– I know, that’s how it was when our kids were there.

– You could make your house wherever you wanted when there was that division between Romanians and Slovaks? If you wanted to go as a Slovak on the Romanian side, could you?

– No, no, you don’t even belong there.

– But there was like this, a… not a hatred, but…

– A law! It was the law that they beat you up and you couldn’t do anything. That’s how it was, from the Romanian church onwards there were Romanians and here there were Slovaks. There were Slovaks and Hungarians, they were together.

– Yes, some Slovaks came from Hungary.

– There were also some Jews, but very few.

– And there was a kind of distancing from the Romanians, they didn’t want you?

– No, no. That’s what my parents used to say – you had no business there.

– And they didn’t explain why?

– I don’t know. And when my mother was young she went to balls like that, there was never a Romanian among Slovaks or a Slovak among Romanians.

– But the balls were common? Did Romanians and Slovaks come together?

– No! No one had the right to come to the ball, neither Slovak to Romanian nor Romanian to Slovak.

– And the Slovak balls were held where the high school was. And the Romanian balls where?

– There, where the school was…

– As you lived until recently in Nădlac, do you think that the separation between Romanians and Slovaks is still felt?

– No, now they are like the same vine, friends.

– What happens after two young people marry? Did they stay with their parents, did they get their own house?

– No, once upon a time, a long time ago, when my parents were young, after some young people got married and their parents didn’t have a house or something, two or three families lived in one house.

– And how was that house divided?

– A kitchen, they cooked together, they ate together. It rarely happened that they didn’t get along. Once, the parents ran the house as long as they lived.

– You couldn’t speak against them.

– No, you couldn’t say it wasn’t so. That’s the way it was decided, that’s the way it was done. And if the parents wanted a girl to marry someone they liked, but she didn’t, she had to marry…

– She had no choice… And how did you choose your husband? Did your parents choose him or…?

– No, I chose him.

– Did they leave you like that?

– There was no contract.

– And where did you meet?

– At the dances, sometime. I was 17, he was almost 20.

– And you got married right away?

– No, after four years. Then he went to the army, did two years in the army, then we got married.

– And you lived with your parents?

– I stayed with my parents, we stayed 2 years and then he decided he wanted to go to Brad to work in the mines. My brother-in-law and some friends went and we went there.

– And how long did you stay there?

– We stayed a long time. We stayed in Brad for 6 years and then he met some friends who worked there and we went to Moldova Noua.

– How did you get there?

– Well, he went to work, because there was a coal mine there. And we stayed there, that’s where Ana was born, and my Palo was born in Brad.

– And Jancsi?

– Here in Nădlac.

– And you went back to Nădlac?

– After that he had a big accident and retired sick. But he had to work four hours and found a job in Nădlac and I came here.

– And then you made your home?

– In 1971 I built my house. Then he was injured, in 1970, but we had everything ready and he was still quite ill and we made the house. And then they took away his sickness pension, they said he was good for work, that he could find work for himself at the mine. We went back to Moldova and stayed for four years. Then he changed his mind, he didn’t live there anymore and we came home.

– And did he work after that?

– He did very little work here in Nădlac, because he got sicker and sicker. When we came home, the house wasn’t finished. We gradually finished it.

– What did the house look like in the beginning? How was it divided? 

– Well, the house was built only up to the kitchen. But in the beginning we didn’t have a bathroom.

– Did people have bathrooms like that in the house?

– Yes, they did. And where the kitchen is, upstairs, there was half kitchen and half pantry. We kept jam, compotes, broth and stuff. And where the second room is, Michael’s, there was a pantry, because that’s where we kept, when we cut the pig, we had a big pantry.

– And it was just the two of you at one point?

– Yes, it was just us, then us and the children. After that my father got very sick, sold their house and came to stay with us.

– And there were two of you, three children and two parents.

– Yes.

– And what did you have in the yard? What did you keep?

– We didn’t have grass, we had trees and everything, tomatoes, peppers, onions, we had everything.

– And animals?

– Animals were separate. There was a building and we had a kitchen down there. Outside in the yard we had a peasant oven, we had a stove and we made food there…

– And was your house bigger than others in Nădlac or did everyone have more or less the same house?

– Many, many had a house like ours.

– So the living wasn’t that bad? People didn’t live badly.

– No, we kept animals, we kept birds.

– And so everybody kept animals?

– Not really… they didn’t keep… whoever wanted to work, had to. Who didn’t, had a few chickens and that was it. We had a pig, our neighbors there. We had geese, we had everything.

– And whoever didn’t, what did he do? Did he buy?

– He bought.

– Did people buy from each other or just from shops?

– They bought, people went to the market on Thursdays.

– Was the market still on Thursdays?

– The biggest market was on Thursday. There was Sunday and Monday too.

– And now it’s still like that. You used to make these at home… you said you put jars and broth?

– We always did.

– And you made cheese?

– I made cheese because I had goats. Cows, sheep and goats we had and pigs we had a lot, geese.

– And who took care of them?

– Me and my husband.  

– So, you used to make bread at home?

– We made bread at home. When we had cows, we had cheese and cream.

– You made cakes, what did you make?

– And cakes, yes.

– Did you make haluske? What kind of pot you used to make them?

– I had a pan, first, from my mother, so heavy, black. And then Michael brought me a cast iron pan from a gypsy.

– What did you make them with?

– With poppy, with cabbage, with cheese… And I made them with semolina, that’s what I did. That was made on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

– Yes, Ani told me that you had the menu by days a week. You didn’t have to worry about what we’d eat tomorrow, it was fixed.

– Tuesdays we had beans or Fridays. And the rest we had tomatoes, we had potatoes, we had vegetables, we made soups…

– How was Sunday dinner?

– White soup…

– Both for the Romanians and Slovaks?

– Yes, that was the tradition. If I had to work on Saturday, Sunday morning, I got up early and cut either chicken or turkey or duck. I always had something, but mostly chicken.

– You didn’t have guinea hens back then.

– I didn’t, but I had everything else.

– What did you put in the soup? Noodles, dumplings, what was it?

– On Sundays you made soup with noodles, but thin. I made the sheet, dried and cut with a knife, I didn’t have a machine. After that, ooo, when I was in Czechoslovakia I took from there that little hand machine.

– And you didn’t make dumplings?

– We used to make grey dumplings for pea soup.

– What else was there besides soup?

– Well, there were potatoes and meat, always. In the summer we had lots of chicken, we made stuffed chicken, we made bread, we made these things next to potatoes.

– You’ve never had a problem with food.

– No.

– If you didn’t lack food, what did you ever feel you lacked?

– You know what we lacked the most? Money.

– Money for what? If you had food…

– He had his sick pay and I had what little I earned. A child went to the army, Palo went to tractor school, Ana went to Timisoara, we had to spend money. We had to share the money to make ends meet. We didn’t have any birds, we had pigs, we had cattle, we couldn’t sell them.

– Why?

– We had to give money to the children.

– And you didn’t have a hen that layed eggs? To have more, to sell.

– No, no, I kept them just for us. I had plenty, but I only made them for us. I never sold a chicken, a chicken, nothing. I kept it for us, to have.

– You should’ve thought about your money…

– We have to figure out how our money’s going to get us by. And we did the house after we came. He was sick, but we managed.

– Did you build the house out of savings or did you ask your parents for more?

– No, from our savings.

– So you’re on your own.

– We’re on our own.

– And who worked on it?

– A foreman, he had three cousins and they came to the foreman to help him. We didn’t pay them.

– You didn’t pay?

– No, the cousins, none of them wanted it. They came in turns, one came for two days, then another, so they decided to help us.

– People helped?

– Yes, they helped… At work or if we had a lot of corn, it was work to shred the corn.  They came to help us, we went to help them, that’s what we did.

– What was like the pig slaughter? When the pig was cut?

– We always did before the harvest.

– And when was that, approximately?

– In November.

– Oh, and you cut the pigs so early?

– October, end of October we cut a pig. And we cut two pigs in those Christmas weeks.

– Why did you split them like that?

– Because we went out to harvest… so we’d have something to eat, make something to eat.

– And what did you do with it?

– Stew, liverwurst, sausages, but only thin sausages.

– The salami from Nădlac?

– That one in December.

– And that’s when you did the pork feast?

– In the evening we had the pork feast and the parents in law came in the evening.

– They only came to eat?

– Yes, they did. They never came to help us work, only in the evening.

– And where do you cut the pig, at home?

– At home. We had a fence and there we had a clean yard, with stones and we cut it there. And further on we had a big, enclosed field. We had a big bucket, that’s where we did everything. There we cut the geese and hung them on a nail to drain the blood… We didn’t have a freezer with drawers, we had a refrigerator with a freezer.

– Oh, it was small.

– Small, but the first time we didn’t have one at all. We put all the meat in the salting and smoking.

– How did you salt it?

– We had a big barrel, which was just for meat. You cut up the pig, cut all the meat nice and neat, put salt on it. Every day they took out the meat pieces that were at the bottom, put it aside and put what was at the top first.

– Every day they rotated it?

– Yes.

– For how long?

– Well, bacon for six weeks.

– And then you took it all out?

– We took it out, washed it and dried it.

– Where do you smoke it?

– We had a big smokehouse.

– What, it was homemade?

– At home…

– Didn’t everybody have one?

– No. My husband was sick at the time, but we made it for others. He made good money then, it was December.

– Oh, he cut pigs for someone else?

– He didn’t cut them, just smoked them. He smoked the sausages, then the meat, the bacon.

– What kind of food there was at the pork feast? Was it different for you than for the Romanians?

– In the morning we had something to eat, some bacon, some meat, just like that. In the afternoon there was white soup. They used to say: white pork soup is never as good as it is now.

– White pork soup?

– Yes. When you cut the pig, that’s the bone, you cut it in half and boil it. And they make white soup out of that, with noodles. Then the meat was taken off the bone, tomato sauce was made and that was eaten at mid-day. And in the evening they always made sarmale (cabbage rolls). The legs, ears of the pig went to the stew. And sausages, roasted liverwurst fried in the peasant oven.

– Do you know how the Romanians used to make the pork feast?

– I’ve never been.

– You mentioned at one point that your husband liked to play games. They used to get together and play games, rummy…

– That’s how it was when Ana was already in Timisoara. We used to go to his cousin’s house and play Rummy. They played cards, 60 was called the game, and until 12 o’clock at night we’d sit around.

– And how often was that?

– Ah well, 3 times, 4 times a week, pretty often. Once at our place, once at theirs. When we came, the women stayed upstairs, where the TV is now, in that room and the men were downstairs in the kitchen. They drank, smoked, played cards and we played Rummy. And when we knew they were coming over we’d make some cake, some juice. I used to make a lot of juice from cherries, I had a lot of strawberries, I had a lot of raspberries. There used to be no juice at the store. Soda… there was, we used to go with bottles to the soda shop to fill them up and put in the juice.

– But how did you make juice from cherries?

– We peeled and sugared it and drained the juice.

– Oh, you didn’t crush them.

– I mashed it a little to drain it and I boiled it and I put a little sugar and I put preservative in it, but now I don’t need preservative. You have to boil the jar very well, the bottles have to be sterilized. I used to put them in the summer, wash the bottles and put them in the basket upside down in the sun. That was sterilization.

– What else did you put in the jars?

– I put cherries, cherries less, because I didn’t have any. At home, in the courtyard, in Nădlac, we had a cherry tree so big that we gave it to all the family and made compote and jam. We also had apricots, we didn’t buy plums. In the street we had two rows of plum trees, behind the house we had a very big tree of riglo plums, the big ones. That’s what we put most of. We used to put cucumbers. There were fields with watermelons. We used to make watermelon pickles.

– You said you made bread at home. When the bread ration came out, did you go and get it?

– No.

– You never bought bread?

– When my husband was an employee, he had a card and you could buy black bread.

– And then you didn’t bake at home?

– Yes, I did.

What he got was a small round loaf of bread and a half. That was the children’s portion, too. And when the children came with the bread, they ate a quarter of bread, because it was warm. (laughs)

– They ate it on the way…

– On the way. I used to bake bread once a week.

– And how much did you make?

– Well, we made 4, 5, 6… We had a one-pound pan, that was always for morning meals. I got up at 4 in the morning to knead the bread.

– And you knead it by hand, not by machine.

– By hand, I didn’t have a mixer. And I kneaded for an hour. When I finished kneading I let it rest, let it rise and I turned on the oven and then I put it in the pans, because I had pans that were specifically made for bread.

– Did you make cakes for Christmas?

– I did, without nuts.

– You didn’t have raisins?

– We didn’t have raisins… raisins came later.

– When there was a funeral, did they give away cake?

– Yes, but it was the women who made the cake. And if there were any left – they always made more – they went home to relatives who were close to them or who had small children, and they gave them parcels.

– What else was given after the funeral, at the alms?

–  Always mutton stew.

– What was the difference, as far as you saw, when your parents died and when Jancsi died? What happens at a funeral? What’s the difference?

– Well, you know how parents are, parents are old, sick and waiting to go. And this came out of nowhere. He fell down, had a heart attack and went. That was the hardest. And my husband died, it was very hard! I waited for days for him to go. But after Jancsi I couldn’t calm down. I even went to the hospital… it was very hard and it’s hard now.

– I believe you…

– Well, that’s the difference, the parents go first, not the child, that’s…

– So when they died, there was no chapel in Nădlac?

– No.

– And where was the body kept?

– At home, in one room, you had to take everything out.

– All the furniture?

– All the furniture.

– But why was the furniture taken out?

– You put the coffin and then 2-3 rows of chairs, you took chairs from the parish, from the neighbours. We took from the parish.

– And the priest came home?

– Yes, that’s where he did the service and the wake was at home.

– How long did the dead stay at home?

– No, not long. The Romanians stay three days, like here, the third day is the funeral. My husband died at 4 in the morning, on Thursday and Saturday there was a funeral.

– Was it customary to prepare your clothes?

– It was, this is my good suit, this is my good dress.

– And how was it… the ceremony, what happened? Did the priest come? Did the cantor speak and the rest, did people talk to each other, were they quiet?

– They would sing continuously and pause a couple of times and sing again.

– What were they singing from, the Bible?

– From the church book, in the evening they sang and he had a prayer book. After each song the cantor prayed and the people prayed after him.

– Were people religious?

– They used to be, more than now.

– And what did it mean? How often did they go to church, just on Sundays or on other holidays?

– Well, if they were old, they went to mass every morning. From 8 to 9, just a little bit, it’s not two and a half hours like on Sundays.

– And there are those who go every morning?

– There are some who go now, but since this illness they don’t go to church in the morning.

– I heard at one time that there were some blank pages in the Bible that listed important events, from when the pig was slaughtered… it was used as a kind of calendar.

– We have such a book in my room. It’s from my parents, the church book. It said when I was born, after my brother was born, and after my sister was born. And the brother lived 7 days and the sister 2 days. So, in the cemetery where they’re buried, there are about three rows of little children.

… When I was 7, many Slovaks went to Czechoslovakia.

– They went to work?

– They just left. They went with luggage, wagons, with crates, with goods, whatever you wanted you could take.

– And what were they doing there?

– There they were working in the livestock industry. If they were – let’s say – smarter, they worked in a factory, so they got housing there. And the husband’s sister stayed with her aunt and after that the aunt got bored with her. And she had nowhere to go. Her home was the boarding school.

– But it had to be paid for?

– No. She didn’t pay anything, because she couldn’t afford it. It was very hard for her. She finished school, then enrolled in a course and worked in the textile factory, and that’s where she met her husband.

– And you think it was harder for them there than it is for you here?

– It was very hard for her then, she didn’t think about it. She was a maid, out in the fields, working for the rich. And they were never satisfied with what she made. When she finished school, took a course and went to work in the factory, it was easier.

– And so she did better than you here?

– Better, better.

– Did she have more money?

– She had more money. She was a very nice lady.

– Were you considered a rich family in Nadlac?

– In between. Not rich, but not poor either.

– And what did it mean to be rich?

– To have everything. To have a lot of land and stuff…

– And the poor were…

– And the poor were the ones who… didn’t have anything.

– And how did they do that? Did they come to people to work?

– To work, yes, yes… to work and they paid them what they wanted. And when you were still my grandmother, when you got old, you didn’t get a penny from anyone.

– Why?

– Because you couldn’t work, but now you have a pension.

– And then there was no pension.

– It wasn’t. As long as you could work, you were paid, When you couldn’t work any longer, you handle it yourself.

– And what did you live on?

– From the kids.

– The children helped you, helped their elders?

– They helped, because they were faithful, you know? But their children had many children… rarely where there was a child.

– You were a special case because you were alone.

– Yes, my parents wanted to have more children. But they said why make a baby if all die? But that’s how it was…

– Did a lot of children die then?

– Yes.

– Usually the women gave birth at home, right?

– Yes.

– Did they have a midwife?

– There was a midwife, a simple woman.

– Didn’t the family doctor or some doctor come?

– Well, there was no family doctor, there was an old man, but he didn’t come. When I gave birth to Jancsi, there was a doctor. I gave birth at the birth home.

– Was it in Nădlac?

– It was where Bakos is.

– At the dispensary.

– That dispensary was part of the birth center, and they had separate beds in a room where the mother and baby sat.

– And how long did you stay there after giving birth?

– A week. And if the midwife saw something was wrong, she’d call the doctor. But the doctor didn’t touch the women.

– He wasn’t allowed to?

– He never wanted to, he just gave directions.

– In the old days, when there were several people living in a house, a room… …I saw there were those beds with curtains all around, to hide the mother and child. That room was just for her and the baby alone?

– No, the whole family, just her in that bed.

– Six weeks till the christening?

– Yes.

– And she didn’t do anything during that time, she wasn’t allowed to do anything?

– No, not to flush, not to sweep, just to sit there. She walked around and stayed in bed. That’s what it says: a woman has to be in bed for six weeks.

– And after that it was the christening in church?

– In church.

– What did christening mean, what happened?

– Especially on Sundays they baptized. After the service there was as a party. At home, not restaurant… 

– And what happened at that table?

– They made white soup, they had poultry, they made roast meat, some cake as they knew it and that’s it.

(…) In Moldova Noua, there are Slovaks up in the mountains and they are housewives, very housewives, yet their wives walk around with wide skirts…

– In Nădlac, they still wear traditional dress?

– My mother did. When I was about 10 years old, they still did, and then they stopped. Very rarely when they had such a skirt, but tighter, more different.

– They weren’t the big ones…

– No, they weren’t.

– Did they wear them to church?

– They changed in church too. They were silk skirts, very beautiful… long ago. And married women, when my mother was young, didn’t go around bareheaded, but only with headscarves. After she got married, with headscarves.

– How did you feel about this transition? So sudden, all of a sudden?

– Not so suddenly, it happened slowly… My mother was still wearing them. She went to her folks like that, with her beautiful shiny skirt. They had little silk dolls and little heels and pointy shoes. There was a foreman making them.

– Were the slippers different? These were for meetings and events…

– Yeah, sure.

– And what did they wear around the house?

– They had slippers, wooden slippers.

– Wooden?

– Wooden. Oh, I was so proud when my father made me wooden dolls! Yeah, and I had a heel.

– And you went to school with them?

– No, I went to the store, like this.

– And some people walked barefoot?

– Yes. They went to the market barefoot once.

– It was nothing special.

– No. When I was about 10 or 12, I went to the market barefoot. And me with my apron so nice and tight and my bow tied and barefoot. If you caught any thorns, you didn’t know what to do (laughs). Yes, I walked like this, dressed beautifully, but barefoot.

– And if it wasn’t for those beautiful clothes, what were they walking around in? Did women walk around in pants?

– No.

– Not at all?

– Not at all! No, no, no. They wore their panties up to here, knee-high, thick.

– But you had one of those long stockings with the pantyhose at the bottom?

– No, just knee-length. It was knee-high stockings, reinforced over that gum, and they didn’t fall down. And those knee-length panties.

– You didn’t have those panties…

– No, and the panties, in the summer, with the little leg.

– They were like shorts.

– Like this. But you didn’t walk around like that, skirt without those pants. He said you were crazy (laughs).

– If you don’t wear those big skirts at home, what do you wear?

– I once wore skirts, but smaller. It was cotton material, very good material, sewn skirts.

– Where do you wash them?

– In the trough, wooden trough. It was made, like vanička.

– But it wasn’t special for clothes?

– That’s where you bathed on Saturdays. But only on Saturdays. During the week you washed… as you washed. The trough was quite big and on the top there was a plank in the middle, that’s where you kept the soap. And only household soap.

– Now I know you can buy caustic soda, but what did you use to make soap before?

– Caustic soda.

– Where did you get it?

– It was at the store.

– So somehow everyone made their soap at home.

– Others didn’t have any. They sold soap at the market.

– And you couldn’t find soap at the store?

– No, no. I had a brother of my mother’s and his wife used to make for me and for Bencsicska, the baker and her sisters, from cream, soap with perfume. That’s all you washed your face with.

– Like that, only on good days.

– Let your face smell.

– Speaking of Bencsicska… were there many women like her who made cakes?

– They did, but not a lot of them, not many of them. She had a very big workshop.

– What were the most important holidays of the year? Did you have Christmas and so on?

– Easter, Christmas, Pentecost…

– And the other smaller ones?

– Yes, we did, yes, but Slovaks don’t wear red on holidays. Yes, but Mary on February 2nd, Peter and Paul in July, these are smaller.

– Saint Anne?

– Anna, yes… that’s in July

– What did you say about Saint Anne with the eggs? What’s the story?

– Not about Saint Anne. St. Mary’s, which is August 15th. And from then on, from August 15th to September 8th, they collect eggs.

– And what do you do with them?

– They’re put in big 30-count boxes and every week they change: what’s down, they put up and they keep until Christmas.

– Why?

– To have eggs… because then at St. Mary’s there’s a lot of eggs, the chickens lay them. But I didn’t like the eggs collected at St. Mary’s. When you break them, the yolk spills out. They didn’t smell, it’s true, they didn’t smell bad at all, but I like the yolk, when you lay them, has to be whole, that’s a good egg.

– At Easter they made painted eggs?

– Yes, yes.

– Who painted eggs like that?

– Everyone painted at home… we’d go, collect nettles, some leaves from there. We would boil the egg in water, so that it was white, clean, washed and boiled and you would put the leaf and put it in the stocking, punčoske, tie and boil and there it stayed white. And then you put the colours you wanted.

– What did they do at Easter? Lamb stew or these?

– Yes.

– And the Romanians and Slovaks?

– Both Slovaks and Romanians.

– What else?

– I liked the Romanians, a week after Easter, there were those little Easter baskets.

– Easter of the dead, yes.

– I went to the cemetery. I’d come home full of eggs and cakes, but they were good eggs, not old ones, colourful, beautiful…

– Yes, it’s a big celebration… They always do it at the cemetery and now they still do it.

– The cemetery was full-full.

– The Slovaks have a very big Day of the Dead.

– Day of the dead, but nothing is given.

– What do they do then?

– Just go to the cemetery, decorate… It wasn’t like that when someone died. And my grandmother when she died, my mother went to the cemetery rarely.

– If the family was a little poorer, what were the dishes, what could they cook?

– Lettuce, they ate that.

– Did everyone have salad?

– Everybody had lettuce in the garden.

– And then they made shalatouka?

– Salatouka, zucchini, but not these, yellow ones. Soup, soup, but not cream, just soup. You’d cook more with milk, if you didn’t have cream… if you didn’t, just milk. Potato, potato soup, cumin soup, tomato soup. You didn’t make sausage when you cut the pig.

– Is that all?

– That’s all.

– Once a year?

– Once we cut up a pig before Christmas. They made cabbage, that’s what they had, some sprouts, and that was all the food.

– They put pickles in it?

– They did, but not like this. With salt or in a barrel. You didn’t put gherkins, peppers, what you had in the garden. Some peppers and cucumbers, how many you had. I didn’t put that much. You didn’t eat pickles and compotes and stuff every day. You’ve been looking at how much you’ve got in the pantry.

– What’s a tradition that you think is lost?

– The meeting between people, to come on your birthday, to visit… going from one to the other. One went to his cousin, to his brother, because they were big families and he had someone to go to, he had sisters, he had brothers.

– And then one had someone to meet.

– There were people to meet and they met with love, they held each other. Both young and old.

– Each with his generation.

What do you think are the biggest differences between Romanians and Slovaks? Not so much now, but in the past when they were more separated? What were the differences? 

– I think the Slovaks were more hard-working…

– Me too… (laughs)

– And they had big houses, it was clean, they had animals, they had horses, they had everything.

– And the Romanians didn’t?

– They did, but not like that. And you see, the Slovaks used to come to the market on Thursdays by wagon…

– Was the market the same?

– Yes, it was.

– Both Romanians and Slovaks.

– Yes. They came by wagon, they had poultry, everything… others came with pigs, but Romanians less so.

– They came to buy.

– They come to buy or to look.

– Was the market a way of socializing, sitting and talking?

– Yes, yes.

– Did people meet up, just to talk?

– People met at the market. At 10 o’clock they would beat the drum and shout who had what to sell, who had lost something, if they had found it, that sort of thing…

– In the church tower, there was a man who sounded the trumpet?

– Yes.

– How long had he been there?

– Since the church.

– Since then?

– I’ve been up there a lot, I had a girlfriend, she worked up there. There’s always been someone and a quarter calling, half, three-quarters and hour. That’s since the church was built 100-something years. Now maybe it’s electric. It strikes at exactly four in the morning.

– Why was it then?

– Then a man who has animals has to get up to feed them.

– You get up at four in the morning and what time do you go to bed?

– Well, we didn’t get up at four, we got up at six in the morning.

– And what time do you go to bed at night?

– Well, it depends on how much work we had. Usually after 10, at 11. It depends, in the summer, but in the winter we went inside earlier, we watched TV, how was the program then, only one by Ceaușescu, (laughs) in the evening. We had nothing else. We had TV, but you know how it was.

– So what… what were the differences between Romanians and Slovaks?

– Well, what else… it seemed to me that the Romanians never had as much work as the Slovaks. They had time to sit on the bench outside in the street every day.

– Yes, it’s the custom to sit outside.

– But not so much with Slovaks.

– Didn’t you sit outside to talk?

– Not really… if they didn’t sit on the bench, they sat on the edge of the ditch.

– Yeah, I know.

– No, but on the bench, almost every house had a bench. But we never did.

– But I really noticed that difference. Where the Romanians are, there are banks in front of the house. On the other side, no.

– You see? Now the Slovaks have more time, like they had.

– They’ve put up another bench.

– Now they are employed, they came home, maybe they don’t have so many animals, they washed and in the evening they go out to sit on the bench. But that’s what the Romanians did…

– Yes. It’s a tradition.

– A special tradition.

– Have you ever felt like that, that there’s a quarrel between Romanians and Slovaks? Something like: “what are you doing in my country?”

– No! No, no, there’s never been anything against Romanians.

– And did you feel that Romanians didn’t want you or…?

– No, no no… I didn’t. I’ve known Romanians and my husband especially, but I didn’t have a quarrel. Nobody said to me: you’re Slovak, why are you like that, no. I don’t know about others, but we didn’t.

– You didn’t tell me about weddings. What were weddings like before they were in hotels and restaurants, when they were held at home?

– At home, it was done.

– And how did the bride come?

– The first time, a week before, there were two boys who were the callers. They had ribbons in their hair like gypsies do. Pink ladies and light blue men, that’s what the callers were. First they went from the boy to the bride to call him to the wedding. Then from the bride to the groom, and then relatives, friends called.

– How many people were at the wedding?

– Depends… there were 100 then.

– 100 was a big wedding.

– It was a big wedding and on Thursday they all got ready, they went with cars, with tractors, with trailers. And on Thursdays we prepared the place. We put tarpaulins, we put benches, we put tables. Friday we cut the birds. And on Saturday morning there was a cook who came to the wedding to do it and she had about 4-5 other women working next to her.

– And what did they cook?

– White soup and on Friday night they always made sour cabbage with mutton, like a thick stew.

– What was it boiled in? In a pot?

– In a big pot or two. And they used to bake cake. They cut it into slices and ate it. Alcohol, wine, juice.

– Did you make wine at home?

– We had it at home. If you didn’t have it, you bought it. And on Saturday morning we had soup.

– In the morning?

– Saturday, because Saturday was the wedding.

– Yes, but in the morning? Not in the evening?

– At 2-3 they prepared for the wedding at the church. And the civil marriage was on Thursday, at the council.

– And then on Saturday at the church.

– Saturday in church.

– And who came? Bands like now came and played at your wedding or…?

– Yes.

– Grandma, I saw in some picture… it looks to me like you had a white wedding dress, right?

– Yes, I did.

– And how did the women look like that, they all had white dresses?

– A seamstress sewed it for me.

– And everyone else did?

– Yes. Who had it. I had a good seamstress. I had very nice dresses, because I was an only child and as I told you, my father earned well.

– He spoiled you.

– He spoiled me and loved me, it’s true, very much. And I loved him very much… I felt sorry for him when he died.

– Before, they didn’t give money at all at weddings. They gave gifts.

– What kind of gifts?

– When I got married, I got a glass of beer from my neighbour – a good neighbour of my parents.

– And what else?

– From my father’s brother I got a meat grinder, a nut grinder, two saucepans.

– So, it’s useful in the house.

– Yeah, and I had a cousin who made the brooms, the baskets. Plates, forks, that’s what you got at the wedding. But it happened that three times you’d get the same plate or saucepans or something.

– But they were still good.

– They were all good.

– You were using them. Now they don’t give these out anymore.

– They don’t, but you buy what you want, what you need. It’s not like now, if you go to a wedding or a christening, you go with a bunch of flowers. Nobody gave them flowers.

– It was a waste.

– Waste… that you throw away so much money and after 2-3 days you throw it away. That’s true.

– What kind of cakes did they bake at weddings?

– At weddings? Well, they made all kinds of cakes, they made doboș and chocolate cake. They made very good and beautiful cakes.

There was nothing left the second day. Many got drunk again and slept in the corridor, just outside the door. 

– Well, Grandma, I think we’re done…

– All right, dear. I don’t know if you liked it…

– I liked it very much. Thank you very much.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec