THE LONGEST SONG

N. P. was born in Comloșu Mic in the year 1948, the youngest. The only girl among 6 brothers. All her brothers were born in Bulgaria, except one.

            All her grandparents came from Strejeștii de Sus, Argeș county. N. P., her maternal grandfather was taken prisoner by the Russians. He drowned in the Volga while the raft he was traveling on capsized. He was trying to make it home after the war. The grandfather on her father’s side died in Bulgaria. Her maternal grandmother died 3 days after N. was born.

            I had to be brought into the world, otherwise I wouldn’t have existed. It was the longest song.

            When N. was born, her mother was 40. Her father was 47. They had lived for a long time in the Cadrilater, until Romania gave the territory back to Bulgaria following the Treaty of Craiova from 1940. They had lived until then in a town known as Bazargic.

            From Bazargic my parents were sent to Bessarabia. One of my brothers was born there.

            From Bessarabia they fled again, passing through Brăila. Winter caught up with them on the road. The war starts. The father leaves for the front..

            We passed through Brăila and my mother used to tell me that it was full of mean people, because they were throwing rocks at them. They were full of lice and had no place to wash. It was a disaster.

            They arrived by wagon to Maglavit, Dolj county.

            In Maglavit my mother worked. She sowed, she did it all. All she earned was spent on food. It was hard. The mayor was a good man though. He knew the situation the family was in. He arranged a room for my mother and the children in a stable. That’s how they passed the winter. The father joined them in Maglavit later on, returning from the front.

            In 1945, her father is posted and sent together with his family in the Banat, in Comloșu Mic.

            My father was a learned man. He was born in 1901. He was a teacher and a gendarme. He read a lot, he had seen the world. My father used to be a legionary.

            In charge of protecting the mill, her father is captured and put against the wall to be shot by order of the village mayor. He escapes because the maternal uncle intervenes.

            Because of his legionary past, her father tries to remedy the ”unhealthy origin” of the family, contributing actively to collectivisation, joining the Communist Party.

            My father used to say ”if I don’t turn as the wind dictates, I will have to suffer and so will you”. He needed to be a party member or he risked going to prison. When the collective farm was founded, he went from house to house in order to register into the collective. And my mother kept crying. She did not agree.

            Father used to say, ”I will die as I am old, but you will live in a time when commiting suicide would be the easy option”.

            Although the father becomes a party member, the family is poor, and they are deported into the Bărăgan.

            What was the reason? I told you that the mayor was mean and the secretary was a racist. Only Romanians who came to the Banat were taken into the Bărăgan. The Kulaks were not deported. Only the poor who didn’t even get a piece of bread are taking. The lists were written up by the mayor and the secretary.

            My mother was screaming. She didn’t even have time to settle in when we have to go. It was horrible. They unloaded us in the railroad station in Ciulniţa.

            ”Handle it!”

               The field in Ciulniţa stretched as much as the eyes can see. We found a foot-path that went along the railroad tracks and we decided to follow it and see where it goes. And that’s how we reached Dropia. There were 2 or 3 families of Bessarabians.

              That’s where my parents built a house with a room, a kitchen and a porch. The room turned into a bedroom for my brothers and father. Me and my mother slept in the kitchen. There was a well at the end of the village dug out by the Bessarabians and we carried the water in buckets. The house was made of poles build out of sunflowers. The fences were made out of the stalks of plants that the animals left by had eaten. They used the animals to step thistles into dust, combined it with earth and started erecting walls. For covering, the used stalks of plants and dried up straw. And it was raining inside. Mother build the stove out of earth and we gathered thistle to keep warm. The winters were tough.

           First year. We lacked food.

           My mother went to work by the day in Ciulniţa for a plate worth of corn flour. She cooked us polenta when she came home in the evening and again in the morning. We had milk from a cow.

           Father also worked in Ciulniţa in a big orchard full of apple, plum and apricot trees. When he got his pay he would bring home a sack of black bread. My other brothers worked during the winter tending cows in another village. They were children but they worked. Now 30 year olds don’t do any work. Work is now considered shameful.

          Her parents even worked at night. She still can’t explained where they could gather the strength. The food wasn’t very nutritious. Her mother made pumpkin preserve sweetened with watermelon because sugar couldn’t be found. It went well with polenta.

          Although the first year was hard, the following were better because of all the work put in by her parents.

              There was land at your heart’s desire. There were no Militia men, nobody asked you anything. Nobody came to collect taxes or anything. There were convicts working the IAS land. Political prisoners. Mother wanted to give them some food because they were chained up like animals. And the convicts wouldn’t let her help them so she wouldn’t get into trouble.

             In Comloșu Mic N.’s father would bury grain sacks under a pile of garbage so that the family would be left with something after giving the family’s share towards the collective farm. After deportation, in the plain of the Bărăgan, after one year spent in Dropia, the family had so much grain that they didn’t know what to do with it.

            They took out the beds out of my brothers’ room and covered it with grain so high you couldn’t see the window. And we lacked for nothing, mother baked bread at home. Then they bought some horses, one cow and poultry. We also had a big vegetable garden. And then they reinforced the house.

            She has beautiful memories from Dropia.

            I became a pioneer in school, when they handed us the diplomas, because I was the best in class. We had beautiful pageants at the cultural home. I remember there was also a church which the people built. I don’t know where all that strength and will-power came from.

            When the church was built, from clay, each family had to give food to the workers, who were also from the village.

            On Sundays and holidays we went to church.

            We also had a grocery store. Next to the store, there was a small tavern, and during the day my brother worked in the store and in the evenings he worked in the tavern. That’s where the people gathered and organized for the village. So they ended up founding a beautiful village.

          The weddings were poor. In the summers they were held in the road and in winter they were celebrated at the cultural home. People were united, they contributed. We even had musicians in the village.             They sang every Sunday when there was a ball. They even sang the taragot and the drum. There was also a lot of singing on the accordion. It was a German accordion.

            At the ball a ticket cost 3 lei. That was a lot of money back then. Men paid the entry fee. Out of the money for tickets they had bought furniture for the cultural home. They lived like a family, united. They weren’t greedy, they helped each other.

          Now I heard there’s nothing left in Dropia.

           In 1956, the deportees are allowed to return to the Banat.

            Can you imagine the joy?! We came back on a freight train, through the Comloșu Mare station, but not in the manner in which we left. When we left, we were so poor. When we came back, we had a train car for animals and one for us. They let us take back whatever we wanted.

           Mother didn’t want to return, but my older brothers convinced her.

           My older brother becomes and accountant for the IAS, mother worked in the collective farm, my other brothers as well, father was a night watchman at the brick factory in Jimbolia. It’s like we raised ourselves up from the muck.

           With all this, and although she was a good student, her father does not allow her to attend highschool. So she worked for the collective farm.

           She gets married at 18, forced into it by her parents. Her first husband is a disappointment.

           It was torture. All day there was drinking and card playing. After three years I gave birth to a boy, but became without a husband.

           She divorces and moves in with her child in a rented house in Jimbolia. She works at the shoe factory. She meets a man from Sălaj who had come to work in the Banat. Although she doesn’t want to get married again, she does it at the insistence of the person who still her life partner.

             With the husband from Sălaj, I moved to Chizătău. There we lived for 9 years. We build a house. I didn’t want to leave there. The boy had graduated highschool, but he didn’t want to attend university. He became a forester in Lipova.

            In Chizătău though, we had no land. In 1993 we sold the house and came back to Comloșu Mic. Here we bought a house from the state. It was a ruin. We came for the land. We had 15 hectares from my grandmother, mother and an aunt. We split the land among us siblings. From the collective farm I got another hectare. I had 26 piglet bearing sows and 8 cows that gave milk. Some winters I spent sleeping with the sows that were about to give birth.

            In the back we kept 50 fat pigs. We would bring them to Jimbolia. To Nedar. To the slaughterhouse. And then we bought more land. But without any papers because the owners were dead so we left it like that.

          Her husband becomes vice-mayor of Comloșu Mare.

          The village voted for him. He didn’t want it. He disliked politics. He was a calm man, he could talk to anybody, didn’t matter who it was, he never got into fights.

          She claims the worst living in Comloșu Mic is done now.

          Once upon a time Comloșu was a miracle of a village. I can say that no park in Timișoara looks now the way Comloșu Mic looked back then. Clean streets, flowers everywhere, well kept houses. We also had a swimming pool here. It was where the hemp factory was built. Here we had a brick factory, a hemp factory, a mill, a farm for raising pigs.

          She cannot work anymore and she lives alone. Her boy is in Germany, married, with a daughter.

         He always says ”one more year and I’ll visit”. I can hardly wait so I can give them all I have, because I don’t know how many more days I have left in me.

          It’s been the longest song.


This story was originally published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2019 book.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec

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