Friday, December 21, 2007

Childhood memories of a Croatian winter's night

Marija Bango wrote a charming children's book entitled Kralj Drave (King of the Drava) about the lives of two young sisters growing up in the village of Legrad in what is now northern Croatia. Marija was born in the village in 1917 and became friends with my great-grandmother and her family, visiting them in New York after her immigration to Canada in 1960. She went on to become an accomplished poet, and divided her time each year between her home in Montreal and her stays in her native village of Legrad.

Marija's book of children's stories gives a heart-warming glimpse into her childhood and the traditional way of life that was still common in Legrad and the rest of the Međimurje area during the early 20th-century. I enjoyed reading the chapter entitled Pod snijegom (Snow Bound). Her story makes it easy to imagine myself as the little girl Marica trying to keep awake to listen to the storytelling of the grown-ups as they gather at her family's home in wintertime for feather-sorting.

Enjoy this excerpt from Kralj Drave (King of the Drava) and a nostalgic trip back to Legrad's winters past...
Darkness came early; it crept across the garden and into the stables; the chickens were dozing in the coop; the Back Room (as it was called because it faced the kitchen garden, across from the Front Room which faced the flowerbeds along the street) was already dark. Marica and Klarica's mother Agneza lit a kerosene lamp and hung it on the wall by the window. Grandma was steadily stirring corn mash on the stove, corn flour mixed with a little melted lard in the pot; a sharp hissing sound could be heard now and then as the steam rose from the water sprinkled on the cooking mash. Its aroma filled the room... The table was set. The men, five of them (Agneza's brothers), bringing with them the smells of the stable. They were quick to eat their supper because family and neighbors were coming to help sort feathers collected all year in large sacks.

The muffled sound of footsteps could be heard, snow stamped from boots at the front door. The door to the room was opened to let light into the hall. The women were the first to come in from outdoors, wrapped mummy-like in woolen shawls from head to waist. They took seats around the table while the men settled on benches along the wall, on Grandma's chest of drawers, on the edge of the bed. Since there were unwed girls among the womenfolk, there were plenty of young men. This was to be an evening of singing, storytelling, jokes and laughter until late of night. These were evenings when Marica listened, all ears, while her younger sister Klarica lay fast asleep on the bed next to her.
I'm thankful that Marija took the time to turn her childhood memories into these sweet stories about Marica and Klarica. They are a treasure to those interested in life in Legrad and similar small Croatian villages in centuries past.

If you are interested in reading more of Marija Bango's writings (both poetry and prose), here is a list of some of her works in various languages:
  • Children's stories: Pinklec na panklec (English & Croatian)
  • Stories for the young: Večernje pripovijetke (French)
  • Poem cycles: Po naši poti (Kajkavian) & Po belem svetu (Kajkavian)
  • A collection of children's games, legends and beliefs: Kre Drave (Kajkavian)
  • Lyric and prose poetry: Poetska čežnja (French, English & Croatian)
  • A study of poetry and prose: Les Beautés de ce Monde - The Beauty of this World (French)
The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Grab Bag on December 22.

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