Stories 2022


– Can you tell me something about the family you grew up in, the house, what was it like back then?

– So I come from a purely Slovak family. My parents are Slovak and the generations on my father’s side. My great-grandmother is Lehner, so she is half Slovak, half German, but from Hungary, Hodmezovasarhely, where the Slovaks were Hungarianized… like Sándor Petőfi. Actually, it’s not Sándor Petőfi at all, it’s Petrovich Alexander, 100% Slovak. Only the Hungarian culture has appropriated him. Both on the father’s and mother’s side, the grandparents were craftsmen. It was another custom in the house. In the families of craftsmen, the archaic traditions that were specific to the peasants of Nadar were not preserved. Of course, due to the fact that I lived with my grandparents on my father’s side, all the customs were passed on to both my parents and me. The culinary aspect and the celebration part, practically everything was respected, even the dress. So my grandmother on my mother’s side wore wide skirts, but because she married a tradesman she changed her outfit to tradesman’s attire, i.e. regular dresses, as they are now. And Grandma on her father’s side never wore any.

– But what was the difference between wide skirts and dresses?

– It was the wide silk skirts and the blouse was…it was called leveska, it was hunched up to the waist, here it was cut and like a low skirt. So these were festive clothes, over which you put another silk fringed handkerchief. It was said that such a dress was so expensive that you could buy a field that was about half an acre of land. That’s how it was valued…

– So not everybody could afford to buy them.

– They didn’t have much. So this was the holiday outfit, the church outfit, but then the day outfit was still a wide skirt. A wide skirt, which was indigo blue material. Professor Stefanko’s father was a painter. There were painters in Nădlac who knew how to make such materials. So on the white canvas they put the wax pattern and then put in indigo paint with which they printed the colour. That was specific. And embroidered blouses with different patterns.

– Yes, I’ve seen them at the museum, so short. That I initially thought were children’s, so tiny, but actually not.

– Yes, yes, they were just like that. So underwear wasn’t really worn. They were worn by the artisans, but not by the peasants. And when the women had their period, there were no tampons. They had some rags, poor things. A barbaric style, when you think about it. And then they had red skirts. Because basically that blood, you could tell they were bleeding…

– Yes, yes, to cover it up somehow. And the hygiene wasn’t…

– Yes, well, the grandparents on my father’s side, especially my grandfather, frequented the more select society of Nădlac. Not that society in Nădlac was too divided, but you knew your place. Now everyone puts their hat or gloves on. Back then if you were of the artisan caste, then it was automatically incumbent on you to put a hat on at church. And at the ball there were distinct, the youth ball, the dance. In the afternoon, from 3 to 6, it was for the peasants. Here at the gym, in front of the gym, the brass band was playing, calling the youth to play. Why from 3 to 6? The vast majority of the youngsters were servants of the rich, and at 6 o’clock they were already running home to feed. Most of the youth were in the barns, outside the village. And they were leaving. And then for the peasants the brass band played and for the craftsmen. And there were intellectuals. The intellectuals and the craftsmen didn’t get along at all. Only for the artisans was the gypsy orchestra, the lute players. And gypsies with white gloves. There was a lute player, Ildi, who played the violin, always with white gloves and a bow. And I still have at home the gloves that even the men of the trades had to wear when they came to dance. Silk gloves, because generally the tradesmen’s girls had silk ball gowns and you shouldn’t put your sweaty hands on their dress. But I don’t know what kind of hand they could have, because I have a pretty thin hand and it barely fits. Those gloves are over 100 years old.

– And there were also craftsmen.

– Yes, yes. And I have two other pairs, which I also borrowed for the theatre, very beautiful, made of mesh, with no fingers, only the thumb covered, because it was a dress with puffed sleeves. And so they danced. 

– Oh, now I wish I’d seen those. 

– Nadlac always had a select society. The rich were against education and schooling, so that the youth could prosper in Nădlac. No, so there was a lot of conflict in 1945, when there were a few people who thought more progressively, that without school we can’t progress and move forward. We also need doctors, we need lawyers, because those who were from Nădlac went to high school elsewhere, to Timișoara. And a lot of them went to secondary school. The gymnasium was after finishing elementary school – grades 1 to 4, 5, 6 – and grade 7 they were already going to the boys’ gymnasium in Periam and the girls’ gymnasium in Sânnicolau. From there they went to school. So there were some teachers who finished there.

My father finished and went to the boys’ gymnasium in Aradul Nou, because he really wanted to become a teacher. He didn’t want to continue as a carpenter. That was his dream also when he finished the 7th grade and he had to go on to Dimitrie Țichindeal. Back then he didn’t come home every week. The music teacher loved him and said to him: “Hrdlicska, you can’t enroll because you are Lutheran. Do you have any money on you?” “I do, teacher.” “Let’s go to the city and baptize you Orthodox.” So my father was baptized Orthodox, as a formality. 

The leaders of the church in Nădlac didn’t know that my father was baptised Orthodox too, even though my father served as a cantor at the church during the holidays. He had a great respect for the Orthodox religion because he lived his adolescence at boarding school in the Orthodox spirit (he finished in 1945). They as boys were supposed to sing in church, as future teachers, right? Before Christmas the carols, and songs on the radio, because we had no TV, listened to Orthodox services. When he died, there was also an Orthodox priest.

– How many classes were there in Nădlac?

– I wanted to tell you about the establishment of the school, then in ’45 after the war. This building was built in 1907 by the church for business purposes, because on one side, upstairs, there were banks, the People’s Bank, there was the notary’s office, there was a lawyer’s office, and downstairs, this space next to Carrefour was a shop rented to Jews, with everything, a grocery store. In the middle was the current gymnasium, which was a hall for balls and shows, because Nădlac has a tradition of Slovak amateur theatre for over 100 years. So on the stage in this building, in Slovak, even operas were staged. So it was a tradition that in the winter season, monthly there was a play. Or there were specific balls. 

There was KatarínskyBal on November 24, then Stefanovszki Ball on St. Stephen’s Day, Ana Ball, in the summer, on St. George’s Day, they were so famous that I also have invitations to such balls. And then, in 1945, when this building was nationalized, there were 6 people, including the father of Professor Anoka and her mother, who said: “Let’s establish a high school in Nădlac”. First, in 45 the gymnasium was established and they asked for a donation protocol to be made, so that the state would not take over for another purpose, for example so that they could take over this building and make a military unit. When they went to the Ministry to ask for approvals for the purpose of a school, for education, it was this idea that was supported at the time by the priest Buina. He was more progressive, he sought out the nobility, the rich people of Nădlac, who were opposed to signing the bill – “What, we don’t need gentlemen, who’s going to graze our cows and our household? That we need servants, labour, not gentlemen.” Anyway, those who wanted the Nădlac to have a higher level of culture, won.

They went to Bucharest when this gymnasium was approved. The Slovak state then sent teachers and there were also teachers from Nadlac. “Mr Gyuris, you’re a lawyer, what can you teach?” Romanian literature. “Lucica, what do you want to teach?” “Me, biology.” Mr. Fabri: “I did a little French, let’s do psychology.” So each to his own speciality. My father didn’t become a teacher when he finished in ’45 because of the education reform in ’48. Then many Slovaks came to Bihor county, because they needed teachers, and they also came from Slovakia when they didn’t have any. The standard of living was lower. And because of the education reform, teachers were no longer allowed to come from Slovakia and there was a great need for teachers. Then they recruited from Nădlac those who were craftsmen, who had learned a craft and had some school courses, a kind of higher general school. So many of them were approached to go to Bihor as teachers.

Until 1948, when the pedagogical high school was established in Nădlac. It was the first grade. Those who were very good at teaching, already in the 3rd year, they didn’t have to finish the final year, they were taken out of the classrooms and were assigned as classroom teachers. Then later they took their Baccalaureate exams. Then other classes came and that’s how teachers were trained, because the school in Nădlac had 99% of the teachers trained here until 1990 and almost until 2000. For many teachers, in recent years, the school in Nădlac has been a great opportunity to advance in their career. So the pedagogical high school was formed until 4 classes, then it became a high school of general education and in 1960 a proposal came to the Inspectorate. At that time it was still the Pecica district and the Banat-Timisoara region submitted a proposal to establish another high school in Arad county. There was discussion between Nădlac and Pecica. The former colleagues of those who were teachers were at the head of the Inspectorate. They said that they would give their approval to set up the Romanian section of the high school in Nădlac, because we have teachers there whom we know and we know that it will be a strong high school. 

– But haven’t the Romanians had a high school before?

– No.

– And what did they have until then? Only general education, right?

– A six-grade one. Nowadays few are proud that it is the Slovak section that deserves to be supported. As soon as the Slovak section is abolished, the Romanian section will also be abolished. It has no chance.

– But why should it be abolished?

– The Romanian section was established because the Slovak section existed and became a partner school with the university in Bucharest. It was like that then, that for years students used to come and do internships with us. But now you see that they don’t do internships anymore.

– I did, but you’re not allowed to do it where you want. There are partner high schools in Timisoara.

– Yes. And in Nădlac there was a partner high school with a university of Slavic languages and Czech and Slovak, obviously. To let a high school operate only for two parallel classes… the high school in Nădlac has no future.

– Do they teach Slovak in Bucharest?

– Yes, yes still. And a lot of people enroll. Every two years, 5-7 to 10 places. I even went to the embassy in the autumn and talked to them. There are lecturers who come from Slovakia and apply because it’s easier to get in. It is English, German or Spanish as their main language and secondary they choose Slovak. But 90% are employed as translators, for different companies, they work because of the Slovak language.

– Are they native speakers or do they start from 0?

– No, no, from 0.

That’s sad that another centre will disappear. The Slovak language is in decline because children have generally started to communicate with each other in Romanian and parents don’t support them to speak Slovak. So it’s no use them knowing that this is Slovak, but the language of conversation is Romanian. 

– But it must also be maintained, because there are many of them, I noticed in Nădlac, strangely, first they speak Slovak and then they forget.

– Look, I know Hungarian because I learnt more from TV. I lived with my father’s grandparents, where it was a custom that the Austro-Hungarian craftsmen families, if you were a first rank craftsman, you had to speak Hungarian. They would come to order certain works, even Romanians or Slovaks, they would speak more in Hungarian. If we turn the calendar back 100 years, that was the trend.

Back to the building. So here was the bank, the shop, the other side was the hotel. Where you guys had class, it was the kitchen. Parallel to where the history class was, there was billiards, some kind of restaurant bar. Where the physics office was, there was the dining room. That’s where the finance people came, the notary, the travelers, and they ate there. And around the corner, the classroom under the tree, under the computer room, there was the casino. The rich poker players. Big money was played. The peasants – no! We’ll leave you down there in the cellar. The porter, down in the cellar. In the schoolyard there was an entrance from the street and for the peasants there was the pub. And Fischer, a confectioner from Budapest, who came to Nădlac and married here, and his wife ran the restaurant kitchen. And there were four hotel rooms upstairs. I used to ask: “Aunt Magda, how was it?” “With one bed and two beds.” There was also a hotel with a red light bulb, just a one-hour hotel, that was somewhere else, across the street. There was a porcelain washbasin, with a water container. There when you go up the stairs, where the fire escape was leading to the attic, that’s where you can see it. There’s a door. That door was the toilet, but not automatic water. It had some very large pipe, drain, you give water and it drains. So the people who were at the hotel, that’s how they used the toilet. There was bowling in the schoolyard. People were having fun.

And in that part up to the fountain, it was the summer garden, there were tables. And where is the lime tree, there was a canvas put up, and from the top they ran film on the canvas. And the film was silent, there was no stick or CD or anything. And the lute players were playing, providing the background music. And again some of these young craftsmen would go there to have a drink and watch the film. 

– Nădlac was always full of culture. And writers and theatre, music, I mean it was a lively town.

– Those who started writing in the 60s, they were the locomotive not only for the Slovaks in Nădlac, but also in Hungary. They began to devote themselves to the written word because you see, what remains written, remains, what we say, is lost. So did my husband, he finished philology in Bucharest, he finished Slovak and Romanian. But unfortunately for him there was never a place in Nădlac and he never achieved professionally and he suffered a lot. But 11 books were left behind him. He is still writing now, posthumously, my daughter has made a selection of his prose. He would have been 70 years old and his last book, a selection of his prose, appeared at the University of Komárno in Slovakia. When the conference is held in Nădlac, the cream of universities from Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia gather here. He did his doctorate from Stefan Dovaly’s prose.

– Oh, how nice. And how do you get them out? Through the Union?

– The project through the Union and not only that it is scripted and passed through the hands of literary critics and are members of the Writers’ Union of Romania and members of writers in Slovakia. There was Stefanko, Ambrus, Buitar, Huszarik, my husband… You see, in recent years we have already become comfortable. They don’t cultivate it in our school either, that’s sad. We had teachers who were very supportive of literary creation. No, let’s write prose… maybe today you didn’t succeed, write another one. And the fruit of other people’s work shows. But our students, unfortunately, are totally disinterested in reading, writing…

– That’s it. To read first and then to write. Why do extra work than I have to do for school?

– It takes up our time… Unfortunately, you know, today we lose something, tomorrow we lose that, and when you don’t have a routine, you invent a stupid thing, just to do something. That time can be spent in all sorts of ways. Creative in the sense of working by hand, creative in the sense of writing, singing.

Too bad, I was like the dandelion flower, blown by the wind and scattered. But we must think and have only hope that God enlightens darkened minds. 

– Let us pray, that otherwise…

– That’s why we go dark…

– And I also wanted to ask you, you didn’t have such problems when you wanted to go to school.

– No, on the contrary. So my mother’s father was a butcher. There used to be 12 butchers in Nădlac and he had a butcher’s near Mrs. Kmety. I sold that house because I wanted to compensate my grandson. I’m sorry it was for sale, but my daughter doesn’t want to build the house. She bought and someone built there. Some gypsy bought it.

– Yes, yes, yes, I know, near Tosețchi.

– Near Tosețchi… So that was my mother’s parental home. And she was supported by her parents to go to school too, it was one year of secondary school, but she started in 39 preparing for the war and they had an apprentice. They used to say, “Oh, my daughter, how can we leave him at home to cash in” when they were selling sausages. My grandfather was the only one who made sausage, he learnt in Hungary, they didn’t make them in Nădlac.

– But what did they make?

– The Nădlac peasantry was used to sausages, caltabois and that was it, eventually tobaccos. But my grandfather used to make blood sausages, maioș, parizer, he made sausages, they were not used to it.

– And the salami from Nădlac? Or was that a bit later?

– No. In 1803 when they came up with the specific salami recipe. Salami is specific to the Slovaks in the lowlands. It’s the same basic recipe, with few changes, before it was more peppery. Bekescsaba was the metropolis of the Slovaks. The town was populated after the Turkish wars, by 1700 the territory remained depopulated. And the land being very fruitful, the cernoziom, this area, in the Tatra Mountains where they were persecuted by the Catholics, the Lutherans came and populated. It was the first wave of Slovak population. They multiplied so much, 11 children, how many they had, that at the beginning of the century, in 1802-1803, the second wave of Slovak descent to the plains appeared. 

The Slovaks of Nădlac are the second wave and most of them come from Slovak families who were already settled on the present territory of Hungary, 80 km from here. Here was territory inhabited only by Serbs. They applied, Maria Theresa approved for 200 young families. So they were not beggars. They were young families, like you, my children. As they are now going to Spain, Italy and others, they felt the need to separate from their parents, alone to look after themselves. And for each family, for each boy in that family, it was measured. The painting in the church in Nădlac represents the arrival of the Slovaks and how they measured the land with a chain. It was measuring with chains. Each boy was assigned I don’t know how much land. At one time there were families that had many boys, 8, 7 or who knows. There were cases when they denied it, they dressed the boy as a girl, because they knew that they couldn’t work that much land. And in the autumn the men came with the carriages, because the distance was not so great, from Totkomlos, where we used to go to the baths. 

That was the first wave of Slovaks. They came, they plowed, they sowed the wheat, they left, they wintered in the large families where they were and in the spring, these young families came with farming tools, with the priest and the prayer book and the teacher. So they were not people who had no religion, they could write and count to 100. They also came with their own teacher and settled on St. George’s Day, the 24th. That’s why they say they ring the church bells in the morning at 4 o’clock. There are two options. The first variant is that at 4 o’clock the Slovaks settled here in this territory. Or the second variant is that they introduced the ringing of the bells at 4 o’clock because they didn’t have a clock or a telephone and they ring the bells, because you have to get up to go to the fields, to feed the animals, to get on with life.

– What were the relationships between family and friends. Did they meet?

– Surely Grandma would tell you about the happy, funny relationships and such a mental comfort they were for those who lived in the villages. In the evenings they would visit each other, have a get-together. All peasants finished their farm work the latest by November 1st. It was not a monotonous life. Probably that’s what kept them going because they lived to an old age and weren’t stressed like us. Look, we finish work on 23 or 24 December and on 1 January we start again. They, the farmers, the peasants, finished their work and started the winter work. The women until Christmas would spin and after Christmas they would set up their looms. The men weaved baskets, made brooms, everyone did something. They’d eat, but not three kinds of special dishes. In a pot they made beans and the family ate them together. And the way of life was simpler. We complicate it because that’s the standard of living. They had a light schedule: in the morning they ate well, then they went about their business.

Let’s take the other, hard aspect. In one room they slept, on a bed… it wasn’t wider than that. Men needed to rest, they were men who worked hard. There was his young wife next to him. On the other bed was the second pair, behind the door the third pair. So let’s think about the intimate life. It was stressful. Why were there so many children after all? Where could they have ducked? Or it was very patriarchal. There were families where the daughter-in-law wasn’t allowed to sit at the table until she gave birth. She sat at the table, stood up and ate. My father, the boss, sat at the table, everything served him, he stood by the basin: mother, water! And he waited for mother to pour water over his hands. So that’s what they expected, that I was the boss of the house. What was the poor thing to blame for not being able to have children? She was excluded from the family. 

– She was? And where did she go?

– It wasn’t that she was excluded…

– She wasn’t accepted.

– No. Or when they had servants… they slept in the stable. That young boy, there somewhere on a hearse, in that ammonia from the horse, from the cow. The children, when we see now that they have mattress memory… As an aunt told the story, she was orphaned and had a stepmother and slept on the bed, you know, the peasant stove had a bed. What a bed, she used to say, “She used to put me on the bed, I’d wash up and go clean my clothes outside at the well.” And those were cold winters. He said I was itching with rheumatism, no wonder, what “Those little hands when I was 12, the water froze on my hands”

– But the children were not spared the household things. From what age? They start that way from the very youngest…

– The youngest, the little girls, had to go and graze the geese, the boys also when they were 11-12 years old and they went with the cattle and the pigs.

They used to say that at 12 when girls went to church for their first communion, they had already started to crochet, to sew, to make their girls a trousseau for marriage. What handicrafts they knew how to make. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, there were two sisters and three brothers. There were little windows, like an A3, two twin windows that I can see now… and the kerosene lamp and the crochet lace with the thin thread. Extraordinary what splendid things. 

– And what were those for?

– So it was like you saw at the museum: the street room or clean room was also the nursery. That six weeks she didn’t sleep with her husband, if there was room in the house. If they were like that, I don’t know how they slept. When I imagine it, I’m terrified. And it’s those pillows, you see, so sideways they have a kind of lace. That’s called a “nest”. And that pattern is crocheted or embroidered, underneath it is pink or sky blue material and those were put as decoration on the bed that wasn’t really used.

– Mrs. Ana told me that in the back room, the one that wasn’t used, it was kept like this, as a dowry, to display all the dowry.

– The one on the street was for display. 

– At the museum, the room on the street was with the beds. Probably for lack of space.

– Lack of space. But that was the celebration room. And there were families who preferred the big room and they stayed in the room on the street and the back room was just for special occasions.

– Here in the front room is the oven. That’s probably why where the oven was, that’s where they all sat in the warmth. And I saw all those little baby cots… I don’t know how they didn’t fall out of them. 

– On one side, so they were crouched down, or on the children they put “kutzko”, kutzko was that part where it was warm. Mrs. Bencsik, the cook, was born premature. When my daughter gave birth prematurely, she said, “Oh, I’m premature too. My mother wrapped me up like this, if I live, I live, if not, I don’t live. I didn’t even have my ears formed yet, it was like they were glued on.” And she stayed alive. So what, there was no incubator, where did you put it? The oven was like this, this peasant oven, there was a space between the wall and the oven. In that space, that’s where small children slept, because it was warm.

Or they’d put the children upstairs on the stove… They’d swaddle the babies in until they were six weeks old. And the legs, so they’d have straight legs. Especially if it was a boy, because if he had crooked legs, he wouldn’t put his foot in his boot. It was called povoinik.

And diapers… Made of cloth and washed. Babies and boys walked around in shirts, not pants.

– She’d wear a little dress like that and she’d go wherever she could. And on the ground?

– And outside and in the house.

– The smells…

– Tough life. And now we call it hard. This way of life, not bohemian, but easy, has made us… We lack empathy, the emotional side. Some moms, at school, they come, they push their own child in front of them. Mine in the front, why not mine? We all love our children, of course. And little girls, let’s put on lipstick. And the doll has lipstick. But you, young mother, you take the little girl to the manicurist to get her nails polish in 6th grade and dye her hair. Isn’t that crazy? Totally. That means a year from now, he’s gonna put her to bed at… because she wants to.

– What were the most important events in the family? And what did they look like?

– Well, the most important and beautiful event was Christmas. It was the holiday atmosphere. And before Christmas, there was caroling at the table, dinner together. During the Christmas-New Year period they visited the families, who were named after saints Stephen, John. So it really was a family feast.

– And what was cooked?

– There were pork dishes, in our family we used to make boiled liquor, with melted honey and cinnamon and cabbage with pork, then pork roast, sausages, liverwurst, that was it. And the cakes were standard, all my grandparents’ brothers made the same cakes I think. There’s a cake with walnut, that was the family cake. Not cakes… they used to make the cakes drier. Or they used to make walnut cake with boiled cream.

– They didn’t bake cakes very often?

– They used to make cakes from leavened dough. Because they needed to make something that was cheap and in large quantities, especially in the large families of peasants. The leavened dough was used to make croissants, a kind of roulade with jam, string, these were made. And then doughnuts… So the menu was: on Mondays you ate leftovers from Sunday, on Tuesdays or Fridays you boiled beans, on Thursdays… meat there was no meat, once a week, possibly on Thursdays if there were pigeons or some meat, so it smelled of meat, traces of meat. And obligatory on Saturday there was pasta. They made noodles or dumplings. With a kilo of flour you would feed the whole family. You made them in the cauldron or in those cast-iron pans.

– And what were they made with? Cheese, poppy seed, nuts…

– Yes, yes, and they used to eat a lot of poppy. 

– But that’s somehow from this Hungarian side, the poppy. Isn’t it?

– The poppy is in the lowlands, so the poppy is the plant of the plain. Up in the mountainous, hilly area, there is no poppy. And look, they didn’t suffer from osteoporosis or anything. Poppy is best for osteoporosis. A lot of poppy is consumed. Or in small children to sleep, they boiled poppy, tea. Opium, right?

And walnut and honey and cherries. It was heaven on earth on the homestead, with fruit trees, lots of honey. No sugar, no sweets. So when there was a market, he’d buy some sweets, oranges… My parents would buy oranges, my brother and I always divided them in half, so that I would give one slice to my mother and my brother to my father. That’s how it was, we split it. 

– And what else is so specifically Slovak as a food? They did’t make soups, right?

– No, but they made soups with noodles flour and eggs…

– Like noodles?

– No, no, noodles are… you knead the dough like for noodles, but a little salt and more water, so not only eggs and… for noodles the dough is made only with eggs and flour. Well, here you add a little water, knead it and then it’s like a sieve and you rub it and little balls come out. 

– Like cous-cous…

– Like this, cous-cous. And our ancestors also made cous-cous, for example on Thursday with sausages. So you sauté it with onions, put the sausage in a little piece and that gives it colour and that was the food. And again the craftsmen boiled sauces.

– Sauces? Fruit sauces, sweet ones…

– For example, our grandfather, as a butcher, was apprenticed to a Jew. And there were two apprentice boys. He didn’t give them calabash made from rice. For them separately he made millet, some seeds, and he made them all kinds of sauces. The boy who was used to stew, the stew was specific for the peasants. And he says “I threw out the window with the spoon and the foreman was fat and came in his boots and slid on the sauce. He slapped me around…”. The sauces were made in the spring, dill…

– (she grimaces) Yes, I know the sauce. I have a problem with dill, that’s why. I can’t eat it.

– And again tarragon, dill and boiled meat. Or cherry sauce, plum sauce. Plus the sweet part with what they provided for the kids? Fruit. They cut the apples into small pieces and dried them like this on… there was a kind of basket made out of wicker – maybe somewhere in the attic you have one – and on that you put a tablecloth and put the cherries, dried the apples, dried the plums. You put them in a jar, tie them with… not with cellophane, with hemp or linen material, cotton wool, and then… If they were very dry, they’d boil them in boiling water, take them out and that was the dessert.

– Candied fruit.

– Yes. Now we’re paying good money for candied fruit, and how healthy.

– And not with sugar. They’d dip them in honey maybe.

– And we ate a lot of bread with plum jam, apricot jam, compotes. You see, in Nădlac or Slovak it’s specific, with roast they don’t give pickle, but they give compote. You eat it with compote. You only eat it with stew. A lot of pickled cabbage has been eaten. A lot of it. Pickled cabbage was used to make dishes. 

– Pickled cabbage… what else did he eat? Doughnuts? Cucumbers?

– They put cucumbers, yes. But pickled cabbage is pickled cabbage and goggles, something else was put in the brine. 

– They didn’t put vinegar on them, did they?

– No. And that was healthy again, because it was naturally fermented. That juice from the pickled cabbage is very good, even a cure for the stomach. That it contains enzymes for intestinal flora. Now even nutritionists are starting to propagate this recipe. The sooner you make it with Gel-fix jam or put with Picant-fix cucumbers… So the natural fermentation forms some amino acids that are very healthy.

– You only did school in Slovak, right?

– Slovak and Romanian.

– Where did you learn Romanian? 

– In kindergarten, living… the environment you’re in, I automatically learned.

– Ah, so you caught the period still intersecting. My grandmother used to say there was a period when there was a boundary…

– There was a demarcation, really, that they got to school didn’t know. In our family, they didn’t. All three languages. Plus, my grandparents being tradesmen, they had to deal with clients from Romanian families. 

– And how did you decide you wanted to be a teacher? You had family, but…

– I don’t know if our family’s case can be found anywhere. Three generations, with the same vocation, for the same institution. Because the daughter had an offer to stay in Slovakia. So the Slovak language helps her a lot.

– And what did you specialize in?

– I very much wanted to be a French teacher in Romania. I had some health problems that kind of held me back. Handwork has always been a hobby for me. And when I saw at university that I couldn’t cope with linguistics, I wanted to go to the handicraft school in Cluj. Well, before the exam, the handicraft school was closed. Then quickly, something similar, I enrolled in the textile school for sub-engineers at the post-secondary school. That’s what I finished. Afterwards I did the pedagogy module, but after finishing the post-secondary school I had to be assigned to Baia Mare, textile industry labourer. I didn’t go there because Stefan had already courted me, we got married in 1977 and I had classes at the Pioneers’ House. That’s when the Pioneers’ House was founded. I had everything there as creative activities. But the desire was to go into teaching. Then it was set up, I had classes at school as well, I was a textile industry major, so I was teaching at the industrial high school, I was teaching machine organs, I was teaching work organization, which was my major. And then I enrolled and in 2004 I graduated from college, the College of Technological Education in Oradea. At the age of 47. 

– You also had a lot of passion and willpower. 

What are the most important events organised by the Union? What is its role in the first place? 

– So in 90, when it was after the so-called Revolution, the ethnic groups in Romania were given the right to organize a trustee organization under the umbrella of which they could carry out various activities. First of all, when it was founded, it had activities focused on the cultural and publishing market. Then in 1990, the newspaper with our efforts was also founded, and my husband started working on it. Until he died he worked at the newspaper. So, under the Slovak state, but not only the Slovak state, all post-socialist states, ethnic groups living outside the mother country, collaborate with these Unions. That is the Union of Croats, the Union of Serbs, Hungarians and 18 ethnic groups are in Romania. They have received this right to establish themselves.

– And then its role is to communicate with the mother country.

– Yes, basically also through the Union those who got the right to go to study in Slovakia, gave them a recommendation. You have to be registered, you have to pay the membership fee, which is indeed symbolic, but it is a favour, depending on the number of members that each organisation has, and depending on that you get funding. For example, in the summer there was a camp, a summer school for 4th, 5th and 6th graders, books are published, celebrations are organized, when Catholics have a pilgrimage, it is financed. It is basically a springboard between Slovakia, Romania and ethnicity. The ethnic group, in our case the Slovak ethnic group.

– And the events where Slovaks are involved in Slovakia and Slovaks here…

– In 2008 Andrei Stefanko, who is also called the locomotive of the written word activity in the lowlands, died. And in Serbia and Hungary there were a few people like that, locomotives who pulled others after them. In 2009, the first year, the Andrei Stefanko award was established. This is awarded to people nominated by the organisation, from Serbia, Hungary and Romania, so for Slovaks in the diaspora. It is held in Nădlac and is awarded for a jubilee age, for an outstanding activity, so in this sphere of culture it is awarded. Since then, every year, for each country, to one person.

They have also started a conference on various topics as part of this award. For example, last year it was the role of religion in maintaining the mother tongue. Last year it was the 75th anniversary of the founding of the school – it could not be organised – also the role of minority education. It is very important, about us it must be known beyond the border. But across the border, for that conference, the invitation is sent, whoever wants to participate with a paper. You know, for the PhD you need as many participations as possible, paper sessions and especially seminars and conferences. All the big university centres are approached. 

And it is very important, that coming summits with n titles in front of them, so Nădlac is also known. They come back and say “I’ve been to Nădlac, I’ve seen the church, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen the parallel streets.” They have, by organising this event, put out the image of Nădlac to the world. In the old days, it was a tradition in Nădlac too, it was a big fair. It was in spring, on Saint George’s Day, on Saint Michael’s Day in September, and that’s how it was held in Nădlac. And this again was the occasion for the Slovaks of the middle category. That it was with crafts, with customs, with dances, the dances came. Plus what else was organized, for over 20 years there was that Cez Nadlak je festival, and again, they came, they presented their talent. Again it was an intercultural opportunity and an opportunity for people from other parts to come to Nădlac. 

– They came constantly?

– Yes, yes. They always came. And there were 30 solo singers, 3 categories. And then they invite the president of the Slovak chancellery in the Diaspora, ambassador, consul, from Serbia, from Hungary. So that’s what it’s all about, to network. That’s what I consider a positive point,for people who live in Nădlac. Because, through such visits, Nădlacul becomes better known. Not only because we have money. Plus, when there is that festival, the most famous folklore ensembles come and perform on stage. Also through the Union, professional fire ensembles were invited to Nădlac. Only America and Australia did. As famous as ours are the “Doina” and “Călușerii” folklore ensembles. But these are professionals. There is Sluck, an ensemble with an extraordinarily beautiful program, they were there 3 years ago, but because we have a small stage they could not perform the whole ensemble to present the program. They have 16 pairs, but that’s a ballet on stage. I remember when I was 6 years old, there was a stage set up in the high school yard when they first came to Nădlac.

– So they’ve been before?

– This is a 70-year tradition of the ensemble. It’s Sluck and Lucnica. They are two very, very famous ensembles. Then the Sámuel Tessedik award was also established for the Slovaks of the lowlands. Sámuel Tessedik was a priest, a teacher, a member of parliament under Maria Theresa and the founder of the first agricultural college in Savasz, Hungary. And being a pedagogue for the lands where he lived, this meeting of teachers, teachers, educators only was founded in his name. And so it is when they meet in Nădlac, Serbia, Hungary. It goes in turns. A letter of thanks from the three countries is given to one of the teachers, who is nominated. 

For example, I received one when I was 60 years old, for my teaching work. There are two categories: with a letter of thanks and an award for activity. Three years ago, also at their initiative, a pro-culture prize was created, for example for craftsmen. That’s how Mamouka, who died, got Cervenak, who knew how to recite 17 lines of poetry and stayed that way and knew all those church songs to sing them to you. So super doxed she was. Or Mr. Keles who embroidered, got pro-culture too. Or thanks to the Union, Slovakia gives the Golden Gorazd Award. Gorazd was a man of culture of the Old Slavs. So did Professor Anoka, and Mr. Huszarik has. So that’s given by the Slovak state, but still through the Union.

– I was so curious. I see that relations are still maintained between Slovaks here and Slovaks there. They consider you Slovaks, not Romanians? Or how do they see you?

– Unfortunately, because of some fellow countrymen who shamed us for eating the swans from Vien- “aaa, you are from Romania, gypsies”. They have an even bigger problem with gypsies.  My daughter when she first went there she was also taken like that, but now the fact that she put in maximum effort, she was very much appreciated by the teachers and students. 

– But do you still belong to them?

– Yes, yes. Slovaks abroad seem to live longer than in the motherland. And the reasons that they scattered were: religious persecution, hard living conditions, mountain life up there, that was the history. Depopulation of the land due to the Turkish invasion in the Vojvodina part, which was also so populated. They are even more powerful. Now they have a festival, it’s a locality, close to Novi Sad, so from there if you go straight on, 180 km.

We’ve lost the traditional costume. Because it wasn’t worn… There and now old women still go to church. Or they ride their bikes with their skirts and headscarves tied up there.

– Yes, we’ve lost that. 

– Not only Slovaks and Romanians. The Romanians in Nădlac don’t have authentic folk costumes either. From what I’ve seen in old photos of the Caba and Stroia families, it’s embroidered skirt. I have one like this, in 100 years maybe it has, maybe more. I have it from my great-grandmother. And the jacket and skirt my mother bought me. 

– Oh, how nice. What’s your opinion of intermarriage?

– My brother was the first to break the ice. He was assigned as a teacher near Șimleul Silvaniei, my sister-in-law was a teacher there. No, so there was no rivalry or inconsistency in mixed families, on the contrary. If there was a fight between Romanians or Slovaks, it was over girls or boys. Plus Romanian families picked up customs from Slovak families and vice versa. 

There is no “I can’t”, only “I don’t want to”. We tutor children for English. Yes, it’s an international language that you have to know. But first you have to know your local language. It doesn’t matter if it’s the archaic language, the kitchen language, as they say, in some dialect. That Nădlac has some dialect. That’s pride, to know that dialect.

– But when it was Czechoslovakia, what was your relationship with the Czechs?

– We didn’t have any connection.

– Oh, so you’re strictly on the Slovak side.

– Yes. So with the Czechs it’s basically like us and the Moldavians.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec