Stories 2022


– Can you tell me your name?

– Iosim Pancaricean

There is a village called Panc Seliște in Dobra, in Transylvania. Sărcia was first mentioned in 1330. According to what archaeologists have found, they would say that the village dates back to Roman times. Only not with many houses and not  so much population. 

I am single, separated, I had a Romanian wife, from Petroman. That’s where my relatives are from, from Petroman, my mother’s ancestor. My other ancestor is from Macedonia. Our daughters went there until Banat was together.

– And what are you doing now?

– I’m more of a peasant now. I haven’t cut the wheat, that’s why I came to this woman’s husband, because she’s related to me. And I wanted to borrow the tractor and the trailer from them. 

– And how far do you know the family?

– My aunt on my mother’s side is 84-85 years old, and I have to see how long she’s sane, how long her head will help her, so I can write in my notebook the family history. My grandmother’s side was Serbian. They’ve been here for about seven generations. My aunt told me that our old relatives were from Tărnășavaț, from Orlovat. My father’s ancestor became a son-in-law in the house and was left with the name Popovici.

– Are these the grandparents or great-grandparents you speak of?

– From my mother’s side. A generation is about 25 years old, right? So about 200 years. My aunt knows, she’s a native, but you can’t find out from her, because they think that if they’re native they’re cleaner than us. But that’s not true. As your mind goes. 

– And when did they come here?

– They were born here.

– And you were born here?

– Yes, I was born here in 1974 and my sister in 76. My father and my mother were born in ’50. My grandparents and my father’s grandparents are in ’29. My great-grandfather was born in 1910. They were all born here. His father, my great-great-grandfather, Papa Alexa was born in eighteen hundred and something, also here.

– So you’ve been here for many generations. 

– This was the Romanian Banat all the way to the Tisa. A man should know his history. And in 1922 they gave this region to the Serbians. I’m so sorry they gave it away. We and the Serbs were of one faith together. And here there was great Serbization, during the Austrians, when there were the Habsburgs. Andrei Șaguna gave the idea that the Serbs should be with their patriarch and the Romanians with theirs. If we had separated a hundred years earlier, many more would have spoken Romanian. So I don’t see any good here. We were much more numerous here than the Germans and the Hungarians, only the Serbs ate us.

– How many Romanians are here now?

– 500. There were almost 3,000, about 1,800 and I don’t know how many. They’ve mixed up, they’ve left, so there are very few of us left. 

– Tell me about your childhood. Did you go to school in Romanian?

– No. My father was a man with strange ideas, he sent us to school to study in Romanian, only until the fourth grade. And from the fourth to the eighth grade we studied in Serbian. We went in the afternoons, Fridays and Mondays, after school. I could read and write without that school. It makes sense, because only if you don’t put your mind to it, you can’t write. We had three classes a week, grammar and writing. So my sister and I can write, and my niece can write, even though her father is Serbian.

– So how much schooling did you do then? 

– I did eight classes at the normal school and three classes I studied at the professional school to be a locksmith. 

– And you did all that here in Sarcia?

– No. Eight classes here in Sarcia and three classes in Seceni, 7 km from Sarcia. 

– And it’s still a majority Romanian commune?

– No. There were only Germans until 1945-46. And when the Second World War came, Tito’s partisans drove the Germans out and colonized Serbs from the mountains, from Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were just a few families of Romanian Christians, who guarded sheep, cows, goats, pigs, they were more like shepherds.

– And here you are more farmers, I mean you work the land more?

– Yes, only the land. Rarely they are employed or have monthly pay. In the countryside it’s getting worse. It’s been embargoed for so many years, the country has become very poor. So I don’t see any future here. Many of our families have gone to America, Germany, Australia, France, Italy.

– And when did they start emigrating?

– Emigration started in the 60s and before. My two aunts were also taken to America in the 60s and 70s. They were young and the children were young. They died there, only the children, the grandchildren remained. Many went from here to America. I don’t know what attracted them. Here there are people who went or stayed, but over there in Vârșeț more left, because there is worse land, there is more poverty. 

– So, is the land good here?

– It’s not all first class, but close. As the elders said, when you cross the bridge at Seceni, you think it’s another country. So there are much poorer villages, there are smaller house made of earth. 

– So after Seceni?

– Yes. After you cross the bridge it’s a different world. That’s what the elders said. Well, that’s what I heard, that’s what they say. I

– Tell me, the room for guests, what do you call it? We call it “soba mare” (the big room).

Soba mare is where you keep things you don’t wear every day. 

– And then how is the house divided, because I think each room has a name.

– There’s the big room (soba mare) and the room where you sit every day. Then there’s the kitchen (cuina) and the corridor (conc). 

Here people kept the “clean” Banatian dialect. The people in Timisoara – including people who came from Bihor county or who knows where – speak a more elevated language, like “gentlemen”. If someone speaks the Banatian dialect, you might call him a shepherd. I don’t look at a man by the way he looks, or that he wears a tie, or that he’s guarding sheep, for me he’s still a man. Whether he’s a president, a prince, a cowherd, it doesn’t mean anything, the title, the school, only your soul culture, what you have in your head and in your soul. That you can wear a tie and be stupid. We have a saying: “ he’s so stupid that he cuts his hands instead the sleeves of his shirt”. 

– Is that what they say?

– Yes. So it doesn’t matter to me what you do or where you go to school, just how you are. 

– And after you finished locksmith school you stayed in the village and worked in the locksmith shop?

– No, I just worked in the field. All our family, my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, we all worked in the field, in agriculture.

– And what year did you finish school?

– In 1989-90, I finished the normal grade, the eighth grade and then I went to Seceni (Secanj) for three years. That’s all. If I had known about this, I wouldn’t have gone to school either, because I only spent the money on the bus. And the diploma, I never used it. My grandma, God rest her soul, said: look, they all went to school, who are you with only eight grades?! That’s how she persuaded me to go to locksmith school, but now I’m sorry I went. After school, I worked in agriculture, farming. We worked with our hands, with the shovel and fork. It wasn’t like now, we used to dig for a month, we were black from dust, from sun, you wouldn’t recognise us. We carried hay for two weeks and the sun baked us. 

Now as life is getting harder, I think it’s better to have a government job, to have a monthly payment. Rain or no rain, the money comes. But if it doesn’t rain, there’s no harvest, you get nothing. Agriculture always depends on the rain. We’re doing well with wheat, compared to other villages. The drought has been worse and the land is worse, the harvest of wheat and corn is less. 

I’m not ashamed to speak the Banatian dialect

– But there’s nothing to be ashamed of, on the contrary.

– Why, I don’t want to, our dialect is fading away. When we’re gone, no one will speak the pure Banatian dialect. My relatives in Petroman speak like me.

– Do you keep in touch with your relatives?

– Yes, very close. I have relatives in Petroman and in Timisoara.

– Tell me what you do with the harvest.

– The harvest goes to the grain bins. Some people made their grain bins at home, or they put them in a shed, in a big building where they keep the grains. But now they don’t even keep many animals. When I was a boy, there were geese on the hillside here and in the valley. And the cows went out in the fields, I remember those. That was in ’68-’69, the last years when the pigs went out in the fields. Now it’s over, they planted trees there, they made parks, the village is no longer what it was. It’s all gone. We’re only left with the dialect.

– And the pay you receive from the grain bins, is that okay?

– No, I’m not happy. Not much pay. When you buy from the state is very expensive, but the grains that you have at home are worth nothing. 

– Tell me some prices, so I know. 

– If it’s retail sale, the corn is 4000/100 kilos. And if it’s wholesale, it’s 3500 dinars. It’s a good price, only when we add all the herbicides that we put in the fields, these are very expensive. 

– What do you mean by “very expensive”?

– Well, let’s say, for an acre of corn you use 3-4 liters of fertilizer. But sometimes, if it doesn’t rain, you don’t get any harvest. It’s the same with the cows. They eat barley for 50 dinars once and if I sell the milk, I get half of that price. So it’s better to go at a butcher’s shop and buy from there than to keep your own animals. 

– Do you get any help from the state?

– Too little.

– Let’s go back to your youth, not that you’re old now. What cultural activities were there? 

– We had everything. We had dances. But it died out… I can’t remember which year. All Sunday there was the big gathering where we danced folk dances. There was no TV, you went to the dance, you went to church and that was it. When the TVs came on in the houses, that was it, all these customs died out. With the internet, it’s even worse. Now everyone has their own life. In Sarcia there was a brass band a long time ago. The brass band was founded in 1927-28. We had a theater, people in the village made a theater play and then they played theater there. And we had an orchestra. We had harmonica players.

– Is there a priest in the village?

– No. 

– And how often do you go to church?

– When there’s mass, every second Sunday of the month, because we don’t have a priest, the priest comes from Toracu Mare. And we have about 25-30 believers in the church, not many of us. But according to how many people we have in the village, more come to our church than in Uzdin, Torac and Ecica.

– I see you wear a wedding ring. Are you or have you ever been married?

– Not anymore.

– Do you have children?

– No. 

– And your ex-wife was from the village?

– No, she was from Petroman. We’ve been separated for 4-5 years. She didn’t want to, she left. She was a bit too proud. They’re from the mountains, they’re uneducated, uncultured.

– In what sense?

– Well, their culture is different and they’re more aggressive. It still gives me the feeling that they think they’re better than us, above us. They’re savages. They’ve come here and they want us all to play after them, after a handful of people. We didn’t come to Bistrita, you came here. And then you call us lazy, why do you stay with us? Don’t stay with us, no one keeps you. They’re much more aggressive, they don’t know the rules. For them, when you’re hungry, you start eating. With us it’s known, when there’s breakfast, everyone’s at the table, otherwise your turn is over. At lunch, when you’re hungry, you eat, not after they’ve eaten, you eat again. Your turn’s over and amen, till dinner. They don’t know about this.

– Tell me, what do they eat at breakfast?

– Now I’m not talking about these modern times, when they put salami or pate on the table. No, when I was a child, my grandma, God bless her, used to make omelet with fried lard and flour, and bread . Then she made polenta. She also made “wheels”, we beat 3-4 eggs for everyone, we put some spoons of flour, a little salt, a little milk, we beat them and with a spoon we fried them like round “wheels”. And that’s what we ate. If there were any potatoes left over from Sunday, we wouldn’t throw them away, and she cut them small, like a fingernail, and fried them with onion and flour.

At lunch we ate steamed dumplings. We made a dough, filled it with cheese, with cherries, and then wrap it up, put it in a big pan with just a spoonful of water. This meal is typical for Banat, we only make it here. 

– And what else do you eat for lunch?

– At lunchtime, the natives knew what they were eating from Monday to Friday. That is, on Sundays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays they made soup, and then on Thursdays and Fridays they made beans, and the other days they made peas, paprika, white juice, I don’t know what else. But on Sundays, it’s a rule, we have a soup, usually chicken soup with noodles. When you boiled goose soup, you make it with dumplings. 

Everyone who listens to me might get angry, but they should know that Banatu is both the forehead and the mind.

– Explain it to me. 

– Well, God forbid, I’m not mocking anyone, but why are the Moldovans better at than us, the people from Oltenia, or from Ardeal? Nothing. Culture? (laughing) If they didn’t bring communism here, we would have been so advanced that people from all over Serbia and Romania would have come here, in Banat. They wanted to make us all equal. But that’s not possible. 

But there’s no use in explaining this to other people, to Serbians, they wouldn’t understand. 

– Let’s go back to lunch. What’s for lunch?

– On Sunday we would make donuts. And a sort of dough roll with potatoes. And we would eat pigeon meat. 

– Tell me a recipe for pigeon meat.

– You catch the pigeon from the nest, when it’s young, so that the meat is softer. It’s very good for children and for sick people who are on a diet. You can boil the meat and make soup out of it, or you can fry it like schnitzel. And you have mashed potatoes or fried potatoes as a side dish. And there was a salad with cucumber, parsnips, onions. Sometimes people would also eat with meat compotes made of plums, or strawberries. Very tasty. 

I’m telling you, only in Banat you eat like this!  If our life remained like this, if the country didn’t change, they would have needed a thousand years to catch up with us.

– Describe to me, if you know from the old people, what time they woke up? I’m interested in the typical daily schedule. Both during the working days and on Sunday. 

– He got up in the morning at 4-5 to feed the horses, the whole house had at least 2-3 horses, besides horses there were also cows. They had to milk the cows, and the geese went downhill. And then in the morning they made the breakfast. And when the church bell rang at 12 o’clock and everyone in the house went to lunch. And when it was supper, everyone was at supper. We respected this programme. 

When there were holidays, nobody worked and we went out in the street, in front of the house, we sat and talked (this custom is called “givan”). In front of the house there were chairs and they sat there. That was still on until 1988-89, I remember. When we were coming from the field, we washed, we arranged everything in the house and then we went out, in front of the house. Now it’s over. 

On a working day, as it is now, at the wheat harvest and the others, people got up at 2-3 o’clock in the morning, and earlier, to give the horse to eat, the horse to be fed until 4-5. They also got up at one in the morning. Those who were poorer had nothing to feed the horse, so they took him by the head and led him to the pasture to graze. And what work can that horse do if it ate only grass. They would work in the field until 10-11, when it got hot. Then they made a break and took the horse to a fountain to drink water. 

When they came home from the field, you would let the horses rest a bit in the shadow, give them some hay and only after that give them water. because if they drink cold water when they are hot, they can go blind or be sick. We used to have a lot of mulberry trees in the village and the chicken would climb on it. It was very healthy that the chicken stayed outside. 

The men would wear in the field woven, home made, white shirts and women would have to wash and scrub a lot to clean them.

When my grandmother was a young girl, she had two stables, one for horses, one for cows.

The world wasn’t much better before. A lot more people helped, now everyone has their own life. People had more qualities in the old days. And now, with these sick times, with the internet, with mobile phones, everything is gone off. Many things have changed, the traditions at deaths, weddings, christenings, it’s not what it used to be.

– At christenings, what changed, what disappeared? Tell me what happened at the christening.

– TA lot of people in the village came at christenings and weddings, relatives, neighbors. Now they don’t even bother to come to the christening. Everyone has their own life. They used to have big christenings because there was money. Back then, the christening and wedding party was held at home, in the courtyard. Ot if the courtyard was too small, you would make the party in the street. Then you could invite more people, even from other villages.

At weddings, the food was great. They made cabbage rolls (sarmale), sausages, soups, lots of cakes so that all guests were satisfied. 

The wedding started a week before. The noodles were made, the hens were cut, the goose was cut, the pig was slaughtered. The grooms received gifts from the hosts where the wedding took place. And when the wedding was over, we drank a bit, we ate the remaining some food, we talked a bit. People were called to the wedding from 9 o’clock in the morning. And the wedding began with the music from Ardeal. And there was this custom to steal the turkey.

– And when did all these customs start to fade? Because you said you’d caught it. 

– A lot of it went bad after ’90. Life changed at the speed of light after ’90. Everything changed.

– And how did you survive the war here?

– You looked after your work. They did their job with the bombing, we did ours. Everyone realizes he’s not going to bomb my house. My house costs less than his bomb. It was programmed where it had to go. Not one bomb went where it wasn’t supposed to. So they did their job, we did ours. And maybe the Serbs, if they’d thought a bit about what they were doing, they wouldn’t have got bombed. They thought that the Russians were protecting them, with ideas like that, that nobody was bombing them because they were afraid of them. After the war we were poorer. 

– And what happens at a funeral?

– There are three bells at the church and they ring when somebody dies, I mean, if he’s a Christian. When a man dies, if it’s a religious man, all three bells ring three times. If a woman dies, the middle bell rings once, then it pause, then the three bells ring. If a child dies, only the small bell rings. 

The dead body is kept in the house, in a coffin, on the table, on a white cloth, and they put a brick under his head. Then the priest makes a religious service in the house. Then they go towards the cemetery. When they pass through the village, they stop at the corners of the streets and they say a little prayer. 

Then at the graveyard, the priest makes another mass. And there’s a person who gives people something to drink, some soda, mineral water and brandy. And then people are invited to a reception held at home in the memory of the deceased.

I have many traditional fabrics, clothes and old photos at home. 

– So you have a museum at home. We’ll have to visit you somehow to take pictures. Just tell me your name again and where to find you in the village. 

– My name is Iosim Pancaricean. I’m here, on Tudor Vladimirescu street, 1. 

– Thank you very much, I’m glad I have talked to you.

– Amen, amen!

Photo credit: Diana Bilec